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Written by Julia Catherine
(3/12/2009 6:14 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Ch 14: Hard to make this one out..., penned by Karen G
Ignorance in women, or lack thereof, seems to be a favorite topic with Austen. Consider Emma's attempt to defend Harriet Smith to Mr. Knightley in Chapter 8: "...supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of a hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice...I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims that a woman could possess." Mr. Knightley, of course, counters with "Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives." But Austen has many of her male characters marry silly wives: Mr. Bennet, Mr. Hurst, Mr. Elton, Sir John Middleton, Mr. Palmer, Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr. Charles Musgrove, Captain Benwick, and Mr. Charles Hayter all fall to this fate.
However, Austen portrays many of her heroines as intelligent, sensible women who do not hide their smarts in order to gain their objectives. Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, and Anne Elliot emerge as capable women who endure and eventually thrive. Austen even has Mr. Darcy state that for a woman to be truly accomplished, she must improve her mind by extensive reading. She also sets Mr. Darcy up to ignore the silly Caroline Bingley and the insipid Anne De Bourgh, in favor of a woman who gives "her opinion very decidedly for so young a person."
So, in regard to this NA quote about ignorance, Austen may have believed that it was true in life, but perhaps was hoping for something better. It is almost as if she is channeling Elizabeth Montagu, the Blue Stockings Society founder, who said, "In a woman's education little but outward accomplishments is regarded...sure the men are very imprudent to endeavor to make fools of those to whom they so much trust their honour and fortune, but it is in the nature of mankind to hazard their peace to secure power, and they know fools make the best slaves."
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