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Xavier Journal of Undergraduate Research

Article Title

Imaginative Feminism in Austen’s Marriage Conclusions

Abstract

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When Jane Austen emerged onto the literary scene in the nineteenth century, her work marked a decisive shift away from the popularized Gothic novel of her time and toward realism. Rather than saturating her plots with implausible events and fantastic characters, Austen’s novels impeccably depicted the realities of common people living ordinary lives in Regency England—realities that, for women, included a lack of choices and limited autonomy. In this patriarchal society, women entered into marriage almost compulsively, and Austen reflects these constraints through her use of the marriage plot. That her works focus heavily on marriage does not, however, dually mean that they enforce or promote female submission to a male other. Instead, Austen’s texts can be read as feminist in that they critique rather than support marriage and highlight female oppression. Seeking to uphold realism on the one hand and feminism on the other, Austen cannot feasibly conclude her novels in such a way that grants her heroines a satisfying amount of agency—such a feminist ending would turn her realism into fantasy. In this essay, I will argue that in order to preserve the texts’ realism while maintaining their feminist glow, Austen provides scant details about the union of hero and heroine so as not to petrify a conclusion involving female subordination. Her novels’ lack of disclosure thus prompts the reader to imagine a progressive, feminist continuation of the novel that Austen cannot plausibly create within its pages. Furthermore, I will argue that this imaginative potential has sociopolitical implications for the reader, who is in turn invited to imagine alternative possibilities unknowable within the premises of their own reality.

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