6. Jane Austen-A Moralist
Much controversy has clustered round the question whether Jane Austen is a moralist or not. No doubt, she is not a declared moralist bus as she believes in art for art’s sake, she, unlike Fielding, does not preach morality in her novels. But Austen is also a brilliant moral philosopher who analyzes and teaches ethics for middle-class life that is surprisingly contemporary. With the help of well-knit plots, she uses irony as a tool to preach morality in all her novels. When we read the writings by Jane Austen, we realize that implicitly she is a moralist. “Emma”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Persuasion”, and Mansfield Park” are the best examples of this fact. Now, let’s discuss Jane Austen as a moralist with reference to her work.
First, Jane Austen can be regarded as a moralist because she believes in social prosperity than individual. She concentrates on man’s relation to others. Definitely, she believes in Aristotle’s philosophy, “Man is a social animal.” She also thinks that man’s duties and responsibilities owe to others. His wrong doings or selfish attitude may disturb the fabric of society. So, man’s desires have to be sub-ordinate in a society. The best example in the novel is the relationship between Lydia and Wickham. They elope passionately and without any sense causing disturbance and disgrace for their families. On the other hand, two other marriages including Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley bring satisfaction not only for these couples but also for their families.
Second, Jane Austen is truly a moralist when we observe that she wants to remove class distinction from society. Through marriages of Elizabeth and Darcy and Jane and Bingley, she wants to harmonize the two extremes of middle class- lower end and the top end.
Third, Jane Austen is a moralist because she focuses on individual’s “flaws and short comings” and is concerned with the growth of an individual’s moral personality. It means, she believes in Popes saying, “Know thyself” which should be the main purpose of a man’s life. Darcy is proud as we see him saying in the beginning: “… my good opinion once lost is lost forever.” Elizabeth is prejudiced as we see her saying: The climax of all her novels is the acquisition of self respect. In the novel, “Pride and Prejudice” she discloses Elizabeth’s prejudice and her realization of her prejudice against Darcy before she decides to marry Darcy. Their marriage then becomes a marriage baesd on love, mtutual understanding and respect. She confesses her fault deplorably and utters the following words. “How despicable have I acted! I, who have pride myself on my discernment! – I who have valued myself on my abilities.” This realization leads her to say: “Darcy was exactly the man, who in disposition and talents; would suit for her.” How happily she says in the end: “There can be no doubt of that. It is settled between us already that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” Similarly, Jane Austen reveals the personalities of other characters with their innate goodness and weaknesses. One of the best examples that can be given is of Charlotte. She has nothing to do with man. Love is also a futile passion for her. She has just one craze and that craze is of money. We can say that she is ambitious and lucrative character in the novel. We can judge her money-oriented approach in the following words spoken by her. How openly she says! “I am not romantic, you know, I never was. I ask only for a comfortable home.” Like Charlotte, Collin’s approach is also based on materialism. Mr. Wickham is loveless guy who is ready to elope with Lydia for money. Here, Jane Austen’s moral approach is clear without any doubt. We can say that she wants to preach the idea that marriage is not a deal of money between two families. It is actually a deal of living together in a relation based on love and mutual understanding. If marriage is based on money or beauty, it can never be successful the real approach that should be adopted in marrying is the realization of flaws, removal of flaws and existence of mutual love.
Fourth, Jane Austen is a moralist in the sense that she throws light on the materialism and economic concern of society. Most of her novels deal with the issue of marriage based on economic concern. It becomes very clear at the outset of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife.” Through different couples, married and unmarried, she stresses her point of view. We have already cited Charlotte’s character as an example of a character that has materialistic approach. Similarly, Collins and Wickham are also thinking of money.
Fifth, Jane Austen is a moralist because she discusses the degeneracy of clergy. In the novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, Mr. Collins, who is a clergyman is looking for a life partner. That’s why, he visits Neitherfield but he is rejected by Bennet’s daughters. Having been rejected by Bennett’s daughters, he turns to Charlotte. He declares his reasons for marriage in the following words. “My reasons for marriage are, I think it right thing for every clergy (like me) in easy circumstances to set the example of matrimony in parish ….”
Sixth, Jane Austen is a moralist in the sense that she also discusses the institution of family which is disturbed. She brings before her readers the problems a family is faced with. Bennett’s family is a family that has strained relations with one another. The heads of Bennett’s family are the personalities that stand apart from each other. They are also inactive in so far as their role in looking after their children is concerned. Their shattered and imbalanced personalities also affect their daughters. Similarly, another family that has been presented in the novel is Bingley. This family has no head and is only guided by Darcy.
To sum up, Jane Austen is no doubt a moralist and a true moralist. She uses irony as a tool to expose the hypocrisy, pretentiousness, absurdity and insanity of her characters. H. Wright comments: “Irony in her hand is the instrument of a moral vision.” She is definitely a moralist who plays with the psyche of her characters to disclose their inner working. We fully agree with the remarks of Walter Allen who comments: “She is the most forthright moralist in English.” (Words: 1092)