Jane Austen’s View on Men: The Contrasts of the Gentlemen
Jane Austen’s View on Men: The Contrasts of the Gentlemen
What Brabourne has astutely perceived is not only Austen’s ability to tell extraordinary stories about ordinary people, but also her penchant of revealing, through her works, the various aspects of the nature and behaviour of men and women. Jane Austen is regarded as one of the leading novelists of her era. Some of her most notable works include Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility. A common element that the reader will find in all these novels is the author’s attempt to explore the many facets of the human temperament.
It is widely accepted that Austen’s novels delve into the consciousness of the female mind and the factors that govern their behaviour. Through her complex female characters, she expressed her own views and outlooks and displayed subtle hints of feminism. But what many readers fail to discern is her tendency to analyse the qualities of her male counterparts. The word “gentleman” has lost some of its profundity in the world as it exists today. But a gentleman in the pre-Victorian era was considered to be a man of principles and values.
Not only did he conduct himself in a manner most chivalrous and civil but also possessed a polite and sophisticated demeanour, and more often than not, the luxury of wealth. One might have been a gentleman by birth, which would include a man born in a noble and respectable family, enjoying a higher status in society as compared to the commoners. Therefore, one might say that social position and family were major attributes considered while terming someone a gentleman. Such men seldom indulged in work or manual labour and lived mainly off of the property and wealth that was bequeathed to them.
A man could also acquire the title of a gentleman by exhibiting the traits required to be possessed by one. Such men worked their way up the social ladder by attaining wealth and status, mingling with people of noble upbringing and developing a courteous and refined disposition. In order to fully comprehend as well as appreciate the implication and significance of Jane Austen’s works, it is highly imperative to consider her novels in the light of how they reflected upon her views regarding “gentlemen”, as well as men in general.
Without analysing the role that men play in the novels of Jane Austen, it would not be feasible for the reader to recognise the complete magnitude of her works. By inspecting Austen’s point of view regarding men, the reader can gain an insight into the diverse qualities that men exhibit, in addition to the relationships and experiences in Austen’s own life that govern her characters. Further it also allows us to relate to the men in our own lives. The reader will find numerous instances wherein Austen has endeavoured to explicate upon her notions regarding men.
She has examined many characters of diverse natures in order to establish the different types of gentlemen that existed in the society of her times. Austen frequently used comparison and contrast as a means of expressing her views lucidly. She brought into the picture two gentlemen of varying natures, and by weighing one against the other, ascertained the distinctive characteristics displayed by them. Jane Austen’s scrutiny of men is limited not only to their physical appearance, but extends to their emotional and mental conditions.
She has examined and judged men based on their intelligence, their sense of morality, their aptitude and their financial situation. Conclusion: The society that existed during Jane Austen’s life and times was primarily a patriarchal one. Men wore the pants and controlled all the major affairs. Through her works, Austen has attempted to deconstruct this society and give her readers a glimpse into the circumstances of the time. Her works have also permitted us to identify with her own thoughts and notions regarding society, the role of women and also her views on men.
She has employed characters of varying dispositions, in each of her works, to attain the said objective. Her works including Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility are all examples of such works. In Pride and Prejudice, the reader will find that the two focal characters that Austen has used to illustrate her approach are Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and George Wickham. The two men are largely represented through the eyes of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of the novel. While Mr. Darcy is at first portrayed as a prejudiced, condescending and supercilious individual, the latter is depicted as being more congenial and gracious.
Both however, had grown up under the same roof. The disparity shown in the two gentlemen’s natures suggests that even though two persons may be brought up to imbibe the same sets of values and traditions, it is quite possible that they may turn out quite different from one another. The rearing of a person often has a less considerable impact upon him than his own innate character. But ultimately, what Elizabeth and the readers discover is that a man cannot be judged simply by his appearance.
Wickham, who appears to be polite and quite the gentleman is revealed to be a treacherous and perfidious person on account of his deceitful actions. On the other hand, we realize that Mr. Darcy is the true gentleman, a man of honour, fidelity and sincerity. By contrasting the characters of Darcy and Wickham, time and again, Austen has shrewdly imparted knowledge as to the attributes of an honest man and a true gentleman. Emma is another one of Jane Austen’s works that provides us with an insight into the diverse natures displayed by men.
Here the distinguishing factor lies in the way in which a man puts his mental and intellectual qualities to use. Further, it also elucidates the importance that a gentleman would ascribe to his social and moral responsibilities. While George Knightley uses his intellect for the purpose of doing good Frank Churchill uses his mental capabilities for selfish and unethical reasons. The former is driven by his sense of responsibility towards society as well as the cause of morality; the latter is driven by corrupt intentions that would benefit no one but himself.
In Sense and Sensibility, Austen employs the characters of Colonel Brandon and John Willoughby to demonstrate the essence of gentlemanly behaviour. The conduct of a man, particularly towards women is a crucial feature in determining his potential for being called a gentleman. Willoughby, although suave, handsome and an epitome of the young, charming men that women covet, is far from being a gentleman. Brandon is the gentleman, having comported himself in that manner. They are both in love with the same woman and yet it is their behaviour towards her that causes to differentiate between them.
An element of emotion has been brought into play here by the author, wherein she establishes the disparate nature of the two men by depicting one as kind and thoughtful, and the other as unsympathetic and callous. The above mentioned works reveal different facets of a man’s nature that would endow him with the privilege of being referred to as a gentleman. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen has proved that it is the conduct and behaviour of the men that distinguish them from one another. In Emma, she reveals her belief that it is the aspect of how one uses his mental faculties that brings out the true gentleman.
Understanding one’s moral duties and ensuring that one is faithful to them is a sign of an absolute gentleman. And lastly, in Sense and Sensibility, emotional and behavioural traits define a gentleman. Austen here discloses her standpoint about the significance of a man’s conduct and the virtues of being considerate and sympathetic in establishing his being a gentleman. At the end of all three novels, it is the true gentleman that succeeds in winning over his love, confirming that Jane Austen was of the opinion that it is always the noble, well-mannered, kind and moral man that is ultimately victorious.
Subject: Jane Austen,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 16 October 2016
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