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Victorian Morality and Conduct -- Contents -- 1. Introduction -- 2. Morality and Faith -- 3. Morality and Conduct -- 4. Morality and Public -- 5 Morality and Love -- 6. Morality and Family -- 7. Conclusion -- 8. Austen´s Morality and Conduct in School? -- Bibliography.
In 1753, the earl of Chesterfield writes to his son that in his whole life, he was never able to meet a woman possessing reason or consideration, or behaving consequently for twenty-four hours. In his view, sensible men do only dally with women as they in truth do only possess two passions: love and vanity.This study examines Jane Austen´s representation of morality and conduct in her two novels 'Mansfield Park' (1814) and 'Persuasion' (1818) by the use of the conduct books read and used by the people of the Victorian time. Auszug aus dem Text Text Sample: Chapter 2, Morality and Faith: It has been universally acknowledged, that the intellectual powers of women are not restricted to the arts of the housekeeper and the sempstress. Genius, taste, and learning itself, have appeared in the number of female endowments and acquisitions. […] The Power who called the human race into being has, with infinite wisdom, regarded, in the structure of the corporeal frame, the tasks which the different sexes were respectively destined to fulfil (Gisborne, 1801/2012: 19). Faith and Christian behaviour was an important guide to live after during the Regency Period. In Mansfield Park, Edmund Betram is the character best known for trying to act after Christian principles and also aiming to become a clergyman in his future. He does not preach the Christian principles at all times, but offers his morality in every situation when he thinks it can be of use. In Persuasion, there is not a clergyman among the protagonists. Nevertheless, there are many situations where the Christian education dominates in the characters, for example when Anne Elliot recommends the works of the best moralists to Captain Benwick for reading in order to 'fortify the mind by the highest precepts and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances' (Austen, 1818/2007: 100). The
author of the above quoted Handbook Of The Good Society values religion as not being as important in education as in conduct, although he describes morality deriving from Christian education. He states that when it comes to the moral character of a person, the only case the best society is antagonistic to Christianity is when a man or a woman falls out of honour, as they do in Mansfield Park. But, in extenuation, it must be remembered that there is no court in which are judged those who sin against it. Society itself is the court in which are judged those many offences which the law cannot reach, and this inclemency of the world, this exile for life which it pronounces, must be regarded as the only deterrent against certain sins (Anonymous, 1872/2012: 13). Often, he adds, these judgements by society are passed without any foundation, and are able to ruin a person´s life. In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram´s life is ruined by her elopement and the meaning this reflects on her social status. However, this can be seen as her own responsibility through her free decision to elope with a man though being married to another (out of free will, as she had chosen Mr. Rushworth to be her husband earlier). The conduct book that was sent to and read by Austen herself, An Enquiry Into The Duties Of The Female Sex by Thomas Gisborne (1901/2912: 7) describes its mission as follows: To such persons [...][who] have imbided opinions concerning female duties, and the standard of female excellence, at variance with those which Christianity inculcates, let me be permitted to recommend, antecedently to every study and to every pursuit, a deliberate and candid examination of the evidence of a religion, which promotes human hapiness by the holiness and wisdom of the principles and rules of conduct which it furnishes for this life[...]. Accordingly, Gisborne has to be
understood as a Christian writer when quoted in the context of this thesis. His notions will be the ones given to him by his God, the entity he believes in. He wrote this conduct book and the rules it provides (ibid.: 8) 'from Christian views and dispositions; from a profound reverence and grateful love for our Supreme Benefactor, and an earnest desire to obey and please him in every action of our lives.' Men and women, in Gisborne´s notion, possess differences in their nature: 'To me it appears, that He has adopted, and that He has adopted with the most conspicuous wisdom, a corresponding plan of discrimination between the mental powers and dispositions of the two sexes.' (ibid.: 20). Austen might have doubted that, but with what she certainly would disagree is what follows (ibid.: 21): The science of legislation, of jurisprudence, of political economy; the conduct of government in all its functions, the abstruse researches of erudition; the inexhaustible depths of philosophy; the acquirements subordinate to navigation; the knowledge indispensable in the wide field of commercial enterprise; the arts of defence, and of attack, by land and sea[...]; these and other studies, pursuits, and occupations, assigned chiefly or entirely to men, demand the efforts of a mind endued with powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intense and continued application, in a degree in which they are not requisite for the discharge of the customary offices of female duty. By writing this, he excludes the female sex from the possibility of possessing any skill in the above described fields. Furthermore, he describes this 'fact' as god-given and god-willed. Another Christian writer, James Fordyce (1809/2009: 4), encapsulates it when saying 'In fine, none but the most contracted, or the most prejudiced, will deny that women may avail themselves of every decent
attraction that can lead to a state for which they are manifestly formed', by which he means the way God as a creator has formed them. Out of this form, they are endangered to break when not being raised and educated in a proper Christian way. Whether Maria Bertram has enjoyed this Christian education is the question to be raised. Her upper class family home should have provided it for her, and, in her father´s opinion, has done so. He finds himself caught off-guard with the elopement. What Maria Bertram was able to develop in her life was a character aware of what she desires for her own life. Austen does not mind wit and character in her heroines, although her Christian basic attitude made her expect the superficiality and lack of principle to derive from the end of the domestic privacy (Brosch, 1984: 95). Her heroines, by which Fanny and Anne are meant, not Maria Bertram, match the expectation that is shown towards them to act in an honest way. They show an expected lack of refinement, an artlessness, not using pretence in their acting. But his openness does not reveal an expected mental vacuum and helplessness, but shows intelligent, judicious women, aiming for their goals and solving crises with their minds (ibid.: 120). The novel Mansfield Park also includes, in a Christian way, 'condemned' characters such as Mrs Norris. She is described as being snobbish, evil to Fanny, selfish in the everyday life and fawning towards the father, Sir Bertram, these adjectives all being terms not used in the conduct books when the wished-for character is praised. About the female character, but meaning rather the superficial and coquettish behaviour of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, Thomas Gisborne [1801/2912) writes when describing 'incidents of good or evil; of the latter description are the effects which the influence of the female character produces'.
In his conduct book he writes of his notion of the three particular effects, each of them being of extreme and never-ceasing concern to the welfare of mankind, which the female conduct has to represent (ibid.: 12): First, he expects a woman to be 'daily and hourly to the comfort of husbands, of parents, of brothers and sisters, and of other relations, connections, and friends, in the intercourse of domestic life'. Secondly, every female has the duty to form and improve manners, dispositions, and conduct. The third point concerns the modelling of the human mind in the 'early stages of its growth', and to fix the principles under maternal tuition until having raised to an accomplished young woman. He then closes this topic (ibid.: 15) by saying that it is the most important duty for every woman to show felicity in following her conduct and caring for her family. In his opinion, the 'Creator' has 'stamped upon the female mind' (ibid.) certain characteristic impressions, which discriminate the talents and dispositions of women from those of men. But not only the women in Austen´s novels, also the men do not behave appropriately at every time. A character not meeting the expectations of a gentleman of that time is Tom Bertram, the brother of Maria Bertram, behaving careless and extravagant. More on these characters and their actions and behaviour is found in the following chapters of this thesis, this being situated here because Tom Bertram should have gained the same superior education as his sister Maria Bertram. A more subtle misbehaviour through lacking Christian principles in her education is shown by Mary Crawford. The lack of the moral and Christian principles in her upbringing generates a profit-seeking thinking, aiming for an improvement of her situation through marriage. Her practising of the art of seduction creates a dangerous coquetry,
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