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|Is It, Then?
Written by Jack Cerf
(3/12/2003 9:34 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, The problem is.., penned by Leif G-n
] What I meant to say was that being aware of the stark contrasts in living conditions in society, Jane must have had some thoughts and feelings about it, right? And she must also have been aware of the ideas of change that had spread even to England after the revolution in France. She might have realised that there was need for some change.
What basis do you have, other than your own discomfort, to believe that Austen was uncomfortable with the institution of domestic service, which had existed time out of mind and was absolutely essential to the comfort of those who could afford it?
I am suggesting that it is anachronistic to make a progressive, or even a doubter, out of Jane. Why should she not have simply taken the inequalities of her time for granted as the natural and proper order of things, and the French as atheistic murderers, and foreign to boot? Plenty of other English people of her time did.
JA grew up in and lived among what Orwell called the "service middle class," which is to say the people at the lower fringe of the gentry who provided England with its clergy, colonial administrators, officers and barristers. Her family had connections with India and the West Indies; her brothers were naval officers and clergymen. The service middle class tended to have a strong interest in the established order, which was the source of their insecurely held status. While it produced occasional rebels over the years, Orwell being one, it was on the whole a pretty conservative segment of society.
Some of us would be more comfortable with Austen if her social and political values were more like our own, but I think that's a temptation to be resisted. She's a critic, to be sure, but not a Dickensian critic. The objects of her scorn are people who abuse their positions in the hierarchy and fail to live up to their traditional responsibilities -- not the hierarchy itself.
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