Cultural Perspectives Decoded through the Lens of the Extended Family â€“Widows, Old Maidens and Childless Aunts Portrayed in the Works of Jane Austen
“â€¦ fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.” Virginia Woolf’s observation in A Room of One’sOwn befits the novels of Jane Austen whom she regards Shakespearean in terms of her range and depth. Indeed her characters are ordinary people, but are convincingly alive. Acute observation, incisive irony and careful delineation are the hallmarks of her writings. She presents before us the quiet country gentry, sheltered in their lives which is a result of security and privilege earned through generations and preserved in an equilibrium. The reform bills, the dilemmas of the age, the debates between science and religion hardly make their presence felt in her writings. She writes before the industrial revolutions and the world which she paints is essentially an eighteenth century world in its habits, tastes, and appearances. In the microcosmic world of her novels, the larger and sinister problems of her times seem to cause no ruffles. A deeper reading of her works brings home a discreet awareness of the times and the problems of the age that she was writing in. Social, political, legal and material concerns are drawn into her works in ways that are subtle. The tapestry of Jane Austen’s work is detailed and delicately handled. As David Daiches remarks: “â€¦â€¦ She worked wittily, with a fine pen, and restricted her scopeâ€¦â€¦.to create a world â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. perfectly proportioned and shown in the liveliest detail, and an accurate model of which this was only a small part.” This paper attempts to look at the portrait of the extended family and neighbourhood - widows, old maidens and childless aunts in the selected novels and screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s works (Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Zindagi Gulzar Hai and Bridget Jones’s Diary). The heroes and heroines of her novels are fascinating, but often it is through the peripheral characters that Jane Austen voices the problematics that plagued her times in context to class and gender. This paper attempts to explore and re-read these voices in the lines of Margaret Kirkham and Janet Todd who viewed Jane Austen as an enlightened feminist in the same league as Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft. In course of this paper, I attempt to understand the anxiety, fears, anger, vanity and helplessness of these characters as crucial modes of negotiation in 19th century English society. As Jane Austen’s novels continue to inspire screen adaptations in the twenty first century, it is interesting to note the representation of these characters in a different milieu. The paper thus seeks to explore these changes in the light of socio economic and cultural context and to re-read the works of Jane Austen as timeless classics.
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