This research tries to establish whether knowledge of music and its related areas – specifically playing an instrument, singing and dancing – had an influence on the social status of a young lady in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England. Three of Jane Austen’s novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma) are analysed and the main female characters in each are scrutinised with regard to their differing levels of musical accomplishment. Their individual positions on the social ladder at the end of each novel are evaluated and their change in situation is discussed.
The notion that young ladies had to be accomplished in certain specified areas in order to be socially acceptable was an established convention during Jane Austen’s lifetime. So-called “conduct books” and the general expectations of society required that all young ladies who were of a marriageable age and whose fathers could afford to have them “educated” had to be trained in music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages. These patrilineal and superficial demands made on young ladies apparently irked Austen to the point of ignoring them completely when she created the main female characters for her novels: none of them conformed to the prevailing social norm. Nevertheless, each of the novels ends with the main ladies having made a conquest of a gentleman who is in a socially superior position to themselves. These matches are however love and admiration driven and the lady’s accomplishment (or lack thereof) had no influence on the inevitable result.
Austen’s novels have been the inspiration for numerous adaptations, and two visual adaptations of each of the chosen three novels are studied. Each of the films or BBC TV series emphasises specific aspects of the novels and accentuates the social sphere that the characters live in. Although there are differences between the different versions (novel, film and BBC TV series), the core of each story stays the same and the results are inevitable.
Austen’s supposed feministic views are pointed out in this study. Conflict of opinion exists about whether Austen’s novels are examples of the patriarchal values prevalent at the time or whether they in fact question and contradict such old-fashioned ideologies. Her connection to Mary Wollstonecraft is explored and key concerns emerging from their individual works come to the fore. Ascarelli summarises the converging viewpoints of Austen and Wollstonecraft and remarks that (2004) “women are rational creatures, and […], in order for women to fulfil their potential as human beings, they must learn how to think for themselves”. The latter two concepts and their implications are highlighted in the three Austen novels chosen for the study.
There is general consensus that Jane Austen is one of the most famous authors in history and her six novels are her legacy. Although each of the novels is placed in a restricted milieu, the morals and values that are raised in each still resonate worldwide in our day and age.
Dissertation (MMus)--University of Pretoria, 2014.