Here are some observations from Jane Austen on sex-role differences. (Note
that organized adult team athletic games of any degree of `respectability' barely existed in Jane Austen's day,
and that the word `sport' never has this meaning in her writings -- a
`sportsman' is always someone who hunts or shoots.)
The Mr. Musgroves had their game to guard, and to destroy, their horses,
dogs, and newspapers to engage them; and the females were fully occupied in
all the other common subjects of housekeeping, neighbours, dress, dancing, and
There were Mr. and Mrs. Weston; delighted to see her and receive her
approbation, very busy and very happy in their different way; she, in some
little distress; and he, finding every thing perfect.
"Emma," said she, "this paper is worse than I expected. Look! in places
you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn
than any thing I could have imagined."
"My dear, you are too particular," said her husband. "What does
all that signify? You will see nothing of it by candlelight. It will
be as clean as Randalls by candlelight. We [i.e. the gentlemen of the
neighbourhood] never see any thing of it on our club-nights."
The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, "Men never know when
things are dirty or not;" and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself,
"Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares."
Some masculine characteristics never change... Mansfield Park, Chapter 25:
"Bertram," said Crawford, "I have never told you what happened to me
yesterday in my ride home." They had been hunting together, and were in the
midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse being
found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, and
make the best of his way back. "I told you I lost my way after passing that
old farmhouse with the yew-trees, because I can never bear to
ask; but I have not told you that, with my usual luck -- for I never
do wrong without gaining by it -- I found myself in due time in the very place
which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a
steepish downy field, in the midst of a retired little village between gently
rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a
sort of knoll to my right -- which church was strikingly large and handsome
for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman's house to be seen
excepting one -- to be presumed the Parsonage -- within a stone's throw of the
said knoll and church. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey."
"It sounds like it," said Edmund; "but which way did you turn after passing
"I answer no such irrelevant and insidious questions; though were I to
answer all that you could put in the course of an hour, you would never be
able to prove that it was not Thornton Lacey -- for such it certainly
"You inquired, then?"
"No, I never inquire. But I told a man mending a
hedge that it was Thornton Lacey, and he agreed to it."
"Maria, with only Mr. Rushworth to attend to her, [was] doomed to the
repeated details of his day's sport, good or bad, his boast of his dogs, his
jealousy of his neighbours, his doubts of their [hunting] qualifications, and
his zeal after poachers -- subjects which will not find their way to female
feelings without some talent on one side, or some attachment on the other."
"When the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room after dinner, this poverty [of conversation] was particularly evident, for the gentlemen had supplied the discourse with some variety -- the variety of politics, enclosing land, and breaking horses -- but then it was all over; and one subject only engaged the ladies till coffee came in, which was the comparative heights of Harry Dashwood, and Lady Middleton's second son William, who were nearly of the same age. Had both the children been there, the affair might have been determined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only was present, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides; and everybody had a right to be equally positive in their opinion, and to repeat it over and over again as often as they liked."
Emma, Chapter 12 (an effusive reunion between the Knightley brothers):
John Knightley made his appearance, and "How d'ye do, George?" and
"John, how are you?" succeeded in the true English style, burying
under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment
which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing
for the good of the other.
The brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits, but principally
of those of the elder [George], whose temper was by much the most
communicative, and who was always the greater talker. As a magistrate,
he had generally some point of law to consult John about, or, at least,
some curious anecdote to give; and as a farmer, as keeping in hand the
home-farm at Donwell, he had to tell what every field was to bear next
year, and to give all such local information as could not fail of being
interesting to a brother whose home it had equally been the longest
part of his life, and whose attachments were strong. The plan of a
drain, the change of a fence, the felling of a tree, and the
destination of every acre for wheat, turnips, or spring corn, was
entered into with as much equality of interest by John, as his cooler
manners rendered possible; and if his willing brother ever left him any
thing to inquire about, his inquiries even approached a tone of
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 10:
...the evening of the following day was now the object of [Catherine
Morland's] expectation, the future good. What gown and what head-dress she
should wear on the occasion became her chief concern. She cannot be
justified in it. Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and
excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. Catherine knew
all this very well; her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject
only the Christmas before; and yet she lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday
night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing
but the shortness of the time prevented her buying a new one for the
evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not
uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother
rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware
of the insensibility of man towards a new gown. It would be mortifying to
the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little
the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how
little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible
of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the
jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will
admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness
and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or
impropriety will be most endearing to the latter. -- But not one of these
grave reflections troubled the tranquillity of Catherine.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14:
She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame.
Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with
a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the
vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A
woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should
conceal it as well as she can.
The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been
already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; -- and to her
treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to
the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a
great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too
reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in
woman than ignorance. But Catherine did not know her own advantages -- did
not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very
ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless
circumstances are particularly untoward.