Splitting the difference
Posted by Erin on July 03, 1998 at 00:58:40:
In response to Jane Austen & Feminism, written by Patricia Bingham on July 01, 1998 at 20:56:16
Despite the fact that your post sparked a heated debate over Rousseau between myself and my dearest SO last night....;-), I thank you for taking the time to put this up. I have little tolerance for Rousseau --even though his brand of sexism grants that a woman can be man's social and intellectual 'equal'; but should not be insofar she limits or compromises Emile's (i.e., man's) development.
What interests me is the comparison between Wollstonecraft and Austen. From the portion of the commentary posted, it seems that there is some effort to create an idea that Wollstonecraft's ideology is compatible with the life-ideal Austen posits in her novels. Ahh..., I find this somewhat "problematical", as they say. Let me roughly state why:
Wollstonecraft is a radical feminist, in that she insists that there is no essential difference between the genders; and that what is possible for men should also be the case for women. HOWEVER, she is a conservative Enlightenment thinker, a pure rationalist, simply supplementing the term 'woman' for 'man', implying that the genders are identical ...not noting the fact, for example, the ability to give birth carries ontological significance, which negates the notion that the genders can be reconciled in the manner she suggests.
Austen, on the other hand, implies a distinction between the state of being 'equal' and being 'identical'. IMO, Wollstonecraft --much like, dare I say contemporary pop culture feminists-- fails to make these categories discrete, and therefore, her 'philosophical' claims are much less profound. In Austen, gender is clearly defined, yet can we not say that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy co-exist on equal, but distinct levels? Each a Master in his/her own right?
Furthermore, Austen stresses the importance of the emotional realm; whereas Wollenstonecraft easily denigrates it, because Reason is God. I think it is somewhat disingenuous to say that Wollenstonecraft 'concerns' herself with the plight of the ordinary woman. In her absolute, one-dimensional rationalism, Wollenstonecraft, like Mme. De Stael champions the 'woman of genius'... or more appropriately, the 'woman of Reason'. Austen is not so heavy-handed and superficial with her ideal(s). Her concern is with the preservation of the complete individual, who is both true to subjective beliefs and co-exists in and of society --the non-isolated subject is what she posits. ;-)
On a side note...
In 1968 Gilbert Ryle noted that the title of Sense & Sensibility was to be taken seriously, as indicating a philosophical interest in 'thought and feeling, judgement and emotions,' and that Austen novels generally show a deep interest in some perfectly general, even theoretical questions about human nature.'
This is very funny. Ryle is a contemporary analytic philosopher whose most notable contention is that human consciousness is the "last medieval demon", i.e. what we call consciousness is merely a way to explain our actions/intentions/beliefs --it's a construct, nothing real. Given this, I'm having a difficult time parsing his comments on Austen. :)
- Jane Austen,Mary W, Rousseau and Feminism Caroline 12:36:59 7/04/98 (4)
- The Two Camps Marie-Bernadette 02:14:45 7/04/98 (0)
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