Critics accuse Jane Austen of portraying a narrow world in her novels and say that she works on a very small canvas. In almost every novel, she writes about her personal experiences thus Jane Austen has a very limited range. She describes only the countryside family life. She decides to stay away from political issues; hence, her fiction is not for the people who want guidance for practical life. On the other hand, some critics and students of literature defend her while saying that limited range is in fact a type of positivity in her fiction. She has been suggested to write on wider topics but she declined every proposal that she received. Moreover, she herself admits that three or four families in the countryside are enough to write on. Thus, she can never be acquitted from the charges of portraying a limited world in almost every novel; however, the best she does is use irony in Pride and Prejudice besides other novels.
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Repetition of Themes
It is one of the key ingredients of her books that she repeats themes. She talks about respect, love and marriage. Every time she writes a novel there are girls who are looking for bachelors. Thus, it was the most important issue in her eyes. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family and Lucas family try to trap young men for their daughters. Same is the case with other novels by Jane Austen. It is very astonishing that when the other writers are writing revolutionary novels and illustrating the themes of independence, she is stuck with the theme of love and marriage as in Pride and Prejudice.
It has also been said that Jane Austen portrays the philosophy of life as evidenced by themes of Pride and Prejudice in a limited range as the same is all about the personality of an individual. No productive contribution to society by the characters is there in her novels. If we talk about her most famous novel Pride and Prejudice, she never mentioned anything about the businesses of the characters. Why is the Bennet family middle class and why do Mr Binglay and Mr Darcy have good fortune? She never answers these questions in her book. She just talks about manners, behaviour, reputation, love, relationship and marriage.
Jane Austen cannot be defended for her limited range as it is true that she repeats themes in almost every novel. There are rare cases when she talks about religion or political issues. Even she does not say anything about the armies despite the fact that army camps were there almost everywhere in that era. She mentions anything about them if it is essentially required, otherwise she never likes to talk about them.
Minor Incidents and Ordinary Life
It is also an allegation against Jane Austen that she always discusses the trivial events and incidents within a limited range that have happened around her. As mentioned earlier, there are many major events to write about but Jane Austen rejects the idea of writing on those issues. The Lives of every character in her novels revolve around relationships and marriages. Pride and Prejudice is the best example of it, in which the families do not even talk about other issues. Not even a single time she has pointed out an incident in this regard.
Life in the countryside seems all about making matrimonial relationships. The writer portrays women of different classes and finds a match for every lady. Every novel ends when the matches are complete. Thus, there is a presentation of ordinary life and minor incidents in her novels due to which the critics criticise Jane Austen for her limited range.
Feminist Point of View
The story of Pride and Prejudice revolves around Elizabeth Bennet. Seldom in any book, Jane Austen shows something from a man’s perspective. The reader sees the world that she portrays in her books through the eyes of female characters. Thus, she focuses more on female characters. Nonetheless, it does not mean that she expresses her biased opinions; rather she remains impartial every time she writes whether about a female character or a male character.
Jane Austen writes stories that fascinate women. She does not write stories in their favour but the women are more interested in her novels than the men. Further, she focuses more on female characters in her novel. Elizabeth Bennet is the favourite of every critic. The writer portrays her so skillfully that she feels real to everyone. In fact, people fall in love with her when they read about her in the novel Pride and Prejudice; the same is the case with Emma and Anne Elliot. Thus, there is no denying the fact that almost every book by Jane Austen has been written from a woman’s point of view, which is also a piece of evidence against her for a limited range.
Views of Critics on Limited Range of Jane Austen
Edwar Fitzgerald was a famous poet. He says:
She never goes out of the ParlourEdwar Fitzgerald
Similarly, H. W. Garrod, a literary scholar, also said that Jane Austen wrote novels while repeating the same events, characters and themes.
Charlotte Bronte, who was a rival novelist to Jane Austen comments:
She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood.Charlotte Bronte
Wordsworth, a poet, finds no imagination in her novels. He says that she just copies the events as she sees them without any blend of creativity or imagination.
Defence against Jane Austen Limited Range
Still, there are critics who defend Jane Austen. They say that presentation of themes is a unique quality rather than a shortcoming. It is her genius that she can write believable successful stories with the same themes and characters.
Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott writes:
She has produced sketches of such spirit and originality that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners and sentiments, greatly above our own.Sir Walter Scott
But he admits that:
The subjects are not often elegant and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to Nature and with a precision which delights the readers.Sir Walter Scott
Thomas Babington Macaulay writes:
She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain sense, commonplace, all such as we meet everyday. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were most eccentric of human beings.Macaulay
Likewise, Andrew H. Wright comments:
She develops themes of the broadest significance; the novels go beyond social record, beneath the didactic, to moral concern, perplexity and commitment.Andrew H. Wright