Of Woman Borne: Male Experience and Feminine Truth in Jane Austen's Novels
Although Austen's novels have always been open to widely divergent interpretations, the two basic stances taken by critics are to view her as a conservative holding the values of the landed gentry in the late eighteenth century or as a subversive who undercuts the very premises upon which English society rests.1 Most feminist studies have represented Austen as a conscious or unconscious subversive voicing a woman's frustration at the rigid and sexist social order which enforces women's subservience and dependence, though many feminist critics, as Julia Prewitt Brown notes, are distinctly uncomfortable with what they see as Austen's "cowardly accommodations" with the patriarchal order.2 What these rival camps share, however, is a tendency to make the patriarchal order itself Austen's essential subject matter. Austen, placed as she is historically, is perhaps most often seen as a pivotal figure, looking both backward and forward; but whether critics emphasize her eighteenth-century roots or stress her affinities with Romanticism, almost always the big question is her valuation of the established patriarchal order. I do not mean to suggest that this is not a question worth asking. I merely wish to suggest that other avenues, perhaps equally worth pursuing, are obscured by our failure to step outside a masculine framework of values
Studies in the Novel, Vol. 26, No. 4, Winter 1994, 337-349.