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A Look at The First Photos of Sanditon

The first photos of Sanditon are here

The first official photos of Sanditonthe upcoming production of Jane Austen’s 11-chapter long unfinished novel of the same name, have been released. We were looking forward to it before, but now we’re more excited than ever to see the finished result!

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood, courtesy Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019, Photographer: Simon Ridgway 


Rose Williams and Theo James, courtesy Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019, Photographer: Simon Ridgway 


Anne Reid as Lady Denham, courtesy Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019, Photographer: Simon Ridgway  


Theo James as Sidney Parker, courtesy Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019, Photographer: Simon Ridgway 


I’m very excited that we are bringing the world of Sanditon to the TV audience with such a brilliant ensemble cast, headed by star of the future Rose Williams as our heroine, independent and forthright Charlotte Heywood, together with Theo James as Sidney Parker, our Regency entrepreneur with an aura of danger. It’s been such fun to develop Jane Austen’s fragment into a series – now I’m eager to see our exceptional cast bring “Sanditon” to life.

Andrew Davies, Creator and Screenwriter for Sanditon

The series will be shown on the UK TV channel ITV in this coming Autumn. The series will consist of eight 60-minute long episodes. The series will also be shown on PBS Masterpiece in the 2020 season.

Did these photos of Sanditon intrigue you? For more information about the series, you can read our summary of the cast and the storyline here.


Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Online Magazine.

Don’t miss our latest news – become a Jane Austen Member and receive a digest of stories, articles and Jane Austen news every week. You will also be able to access our online Magazine with over 1000 articles, test your knowledge with our weekly quiz and get offers on our Online Giftshop. Plus new members get an exclusive 10% off voucher to use in the Online Giftshop

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A Very Special Visit to The Jane Austen Centre

An engagement at the Jane Austen Centre

Visitors come to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath for many reasons. Some come as part of a tour they are doing of Jane Austen locations across the UK, some stumble upon us while visiting Bath, some visit us on specific family outings, or on school trips. The list of reasons goes on. However, we were recently visited by a gentleman who had a more unusual reason for coming to see us.

Last week one of our visitors came to the Jane Austen Centre to propose to his girlfriend. And we’re delighted to say that she said yes!

It was a very special moment for the couple, and we wish them many years of happiness.

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Catherine Morland: A Failed Gothic Novel Heroine?

Catherine Morland - Failed Gothic Heroine?

Catherine Morland: A Failed Gothic Novel Heroine? – A guest essay by Lucie Rivet

Jane Austen is famed for creating literary characters who feel real to the reader. Perhaps for this reason, even two hundred years after her death, film adaptations, sequels and fan fictions are still being created based upon her work, and Jane Austen has never before been read by so many people in so many countries around the world.

Austen was from a family of opinionated readers, and had very little patience with some literary trends that she found ridiculous, and with readers who couldn’t tell reality from fiction. One of her most interesting literary characters is Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, which was the first novel that Jane Austen completed, even though it was only published after her death. Catherine Morland’s story is inspired by these strong beliefs concerning novels, readers, and literature.

At the beginning of the book, Catherine Morland is introduced as an anti-heroine, being really quite plain, and having nothing interesting in her family history, nor in her character. Hence, the famous first sentences of the novel: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.”

As a teenager, Catherine becomes a little bit more “accomplished – but she mainly spends her time reading gothic novels, that were fashionable among young girls of the Gentry, Aristocracy and rising Bourgeoisie at the time.

Catherine is then invited in Bath, where she meets the Tilney family. During a walk, Catherine and her new friends talk about novels. Henry Tilney shows he can enjoy a good gothic novel, or any novel, without ever mistaking it for reality, whereas Catherine shows that she is somewhat confused with this distinction.

Jane Austen will amplify this aspect of Catherine when she is invited to stay at Northanger Abbey, the Tilney family’s home. Her imagination is unleashed, in a place that looks so much like the castles of her gothic novels.

She thinks she is going to find suspicious parchments in the chest of her room. She interprets what people tell her as if they were characters of a gothic novels. She even goes as far as sneaking into Henry’s late mother’s room in the hope of finding something that could confirm that she was killed by Henry’s father. Catherine has indeed grown convinced that Henry’s father is in fact as terrible as the villains of her gothic novels.

Henry surprises her in his mother’s room, and is shocked and disappointed that she has thought his father capable of murder. His shock helps Catherine to understand the difference between novels and reality, as Henry is both quite harsh and also understanding. From this moment, Catherine is no longer a character who is only a confused reader: she is going to become a real-life, well-rounded character who will experience real life tribulations (as both herself and her brother are victims of manipulative people’s schemes) before ending up as a perfect Jane Austen heroine: marrying a man that she loves and who loves her too. So, she has failed to metamorphose into a Gothic novel heroine, but she has succeeded in her own real life. Isn’t that a better way to live?

Northanger Abbey is sometimes considered a parody of Gothic novels, and it is, in some places. However it is, above all, a defence of good novels and good readers, who are able to read with amusement, without expecting their lives to look like one of the stories they read. Northanger Abbey is far from discrediting reading novels (by the way, the only character in the book who does not read is John Thorpe – the real villain of the story). Through Henry and Catherine’s characters, Austen draws a very skillful portrait of what a good reader is, and what a foolish and ridiculous reader is.

So, in this coming-of-age novel, Jane Austen tells the story of a character who starts as a plain child, who then turns into a teenager with admirable qualities. The teenager is a poor reader and lacks common sense and real life experience, but she will then bloom into a real woman and heroine of her own life – empowered and intelligent, able to make wiser choices and to be as free. At least, as free as was possible in the English society of Austen’s time.

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Botanical Embroidery – The Next Big Sewing Trend?

Olga Pinku - botanical embroidery - the next sewing trend

We know that, like Jane Austen herself, a lot of our readers enjoy sewing. As such, when we came across the work of artist Olga Prinku this week and discovered botanical embroidery, we knew that we had to share it with you.

Botanical embroidery allows you to put any dried flowers you have to good use by threading the flowers through tulle, creating a delicate, romantic twist on a classic hobby. Olga Prinku, a graphic designer, crafter and maker, dreamed up the idea back in 2016.

Surprisingly, it all began with wreaths, not embroidery. I came up with the technique by accident, through sheer experimentation with floral crowns, wreaths, and generally playing with flower styling for my Instagram feed.

I noticed that I could position the flowers through the mesh of the [garden] sieve, achieving something halfway between a wreath and the floral flat-lay that is so popular on Instagram.

[I] happened to see tulle fabric in passing. I made the connection with the sieve and thought, ‘I must try to use it in the same way; all I’d need is something to stretch it with.’ That’s how I started using the embroidery hoop, as it made using the tulle easier.

What a fantastic idea! Maybe it could be the next big sewing trend?

(If you feel like giving it a go, but don’t want to go it alone, then Prinku created tutorials to help with the process.)

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How To Start A Book Club

How to set up a book club

We came across a wonderful article this week, which we thought readers of the Jane Austen News might like to read. It was an article all about setting up your own book club.

Here are the four key steps to setting up a book club.

First, find your book club members

When you look for book club members, “look in the areas of your life that feel most natural to you”. Maybe ask your friends who you know love to read, or work mates who you’d like to spend more time with.

However, the other option is to purposely look for a wide range of perspectives – so you can see different ideas and challenge your own way of thinking. If this sounds like your kind of club, you may want to look for a spread of ages, genders, and ethnicities. How to find members who are different from you? Maybe post a note on the message board of your library or book store.

Second, identify your book club’s purpose

It might sound obvious, but just check when you set up your book club that you all want the same thing from it. Is the focus going to be on socialising? Or is it all about the deep discussion of high brow literature? In order to make sure your new group is all on the same page, take the time to discuss what you want to get out of regular club gatherings before your first official meeting.

There’s the typical friends gathering at someone’s apartment and having cheese and wine. But oftentimes, people will be frustrated with them, because they just turn into a social event rather than focusing on the book.


Next, decide how to choose your books

A key part of a book club is, naturally, the books you read. Deciding what books to read can be done a few ways.

Books that work well are ones which allow you to reflect on human nature and on the self. Pacing and character are also important. If in doubt, have a look at recommendation lists like the New York Times bestseller list. That or have a look at particular genres if you need inspiration. It’s also worth rotating who picks the book each fortnight (or month, or so on – depending on often you meet).

Finally, work out where and when to meet

If you all read incredibly quickly, then a meeting once a fortnight could be an option, but generally meeting once a month is a good idea as it will give everyone enough time to comfortably read the book and take it in.

As for where, you could meet at someone’s house, but if you’d rather not have to worry about playing host, then a neutral space like a cafe, bookstore, or library is just as good. The main thing is to find somewhere where you all feel comfortable and which has enough space and isn’t too loud.

The original article, which this article summarises, can be found here.

Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Online Magazine.

Don’t miss our latest news – become a Jane Austen Member and receive a digest of stories, articles and Jane Austen news every week. You will also be able to access our online Magazine with over 1000 articles, test your knowledge with our weekly quiz and get offers on our Online Giftshop. Plus new members get an exclusive 10% off voucher to use in the Online Giftshop

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The “Quickness” of Elizabeth and the Question of Being the “Better” Woman In Pride and Prejudice

Being the better woman in Pride and Prejudice
“…Being the “Better” Woman In Pride and Prejudice”  is a guest essay by Seth Snow

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet says

[my daughters] are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzie has something more of quickness than her sisters.

The above passage raises several issues pertaining to Mr. Bennet’s character, but the issue concerning this essay is his view towards females, particularly his daughters, and how that view sets the stage for a serious discussion on a female’s mind in the novel.

“Silly” and “ignorant”[1] both describe what Mr. Bennet believes is the condition of the average female mind (“like other girls”).  “Silly” normally means weak-minded, and “ignorant” refers to someone whose mind is uninformed.  Consequently, following Mr. Bennet’s logic, “silly” girls are incapable of intellectual seriousness; therefore, “ignorance” would naturally follow.  However, Mr. Bennet then goes out of his way to exclude Elizabeth from the female populace due to her “quickness,” which emphasizes her mind is different from other girls and is capable of true intellectual power.  That attitude towards the female mind would then push back against Mr. Bennet’s initial premise that all girls seem prone to be “silly” and “ignorant” because Elizabeth is obviously a girl, yet she has a “quick” mind.  Why, then, would Mr. Bennet single out Elizabeth from her sisters and “other girls” here solely based on the capabilities of her mind rather than on other factors?

Initially, Mr. Bennet’s motivation may simply be his effort to separate Elizabeth from her sisters to make clear to his wife that Elizabeth is his favourite daughter.  In doing that, he is, as he often does throughout the novel, punishing his wife, for she wants him to give preference to all her single daughters since an eligible Charles Bingley is taking up residence nearby.  After all, the narrator says in the novel’s opening lines

a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Mrs. Bennet would hold strongly to that view, and Mr. Bennet would obviously not be ignorant of a “truth” that is “universal” to those residing in his neighbourhood.  That means he would understand his role as a father in terms of introducing “all” his daughters to a single, wealthy man.

Being the better woman in Pride and PrejudiceHowever, Mr. Bennet’s emphasis on Elizabeth’s “quickness” is an unusual tactic to torment his wife.  When broaching the topic of daughter-future husband, discussing the female mind is not normally relevant nor does it move events forward in terms of his daughters’ marital prospects.  So, Mr. Bennet’s effort to get at his wife has larger significance: he is distinguishing Elizabeth from the common social standard for women by emphasizing her “quickness.”

Why might he evaluate Elizabeth from a different standard?  Mrs. Bennet had previously noted in their conversation that Elizabeth is not “better” than her other daughters, which clearly bothers Mr. Bennet (which may be another reason for his sarcastic tone).  While Mrs. Bennet is not making an unreasonable claim, for a parent usually would not want to promote one child as “better” than another, her criteria for assessing “better” is based mainly on appearance and/or limited personality, which society values:

[Elizabeth] is not half as handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia.

Obviously, having good looks and humour are not faults; even Elizabeth is an attractive woman who enjoys laughing; however, for Mrs. Bennet to base “better” entirely on those qualities leaves out the mind of a girl, which then makes Mr. Bennet’s praise of Elizabeth’s “quickness” stand out with even more significance and creates a challenge for the novel.  This challenge means that the novel asks a reader to re-think what constitutes “better” in terms of assessing a female: is having a “quick” mind “better” than the usual standard for assessing what is “better” for women?  Does the novel believe that “better” pertains only to the female-marriage sphere, as a moral standard for women, or both?

To address the above questions, we should remember that the context of our main passage is daughters and marriage, so beginning with female-marriage and “better” is a logical starting point.  Moreover, because Mr. Bennet is also the first character to emphasize the priority of a female’s mind, his marriage may shed light on why a woman’s mind should have priority over what society prioritizes, for he married a “silly” woman.  This means that his sarcastic tone and push for Elizabeth’s “quick” mind is addressing a deeper internal need: he may want Charles Bingley to avoid a fate that he himself did not avoid but could have had he been wiser.  Specifically, Elizabeth, later in the novel, notes that her father married her mother solely for her beauty and charm, not for her mind.  Upon realizing his mistake of preferring beauty over mind and true character, Mr. Bennet, according to Elizabeth, developed a life philosophy to laugh at his wife’s expense, which is obviously problematic though understandable.  While much can be said about Mr. Bennet’s life ‘philosophy,’ what now concerns this essay is that he recognizes the problem of a woman whose mind has not been developed.  As his philosophy largely derived from his marrying a “silly” woman, his emphasis on Elizabeth’s “quick” mind now sets the table for several passages dealing with the question of what makes a woman truly “better.”

One of the key passages, following Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s above conversation, is a discourse about what truly makes a woman “accomplished.”  Charles Bingley says that “all” women are “accomplished” because they

paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses.

He further emphasizes that he has never

heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.

While much can be said about this passage, one issue is that Charles holds a conventional view of female “accomplishments”; these “accomplishments” are basic skills that women acquire to fulfill domestic duties, presumably one day as a wife.  These “accomplishments,” however, say nothing about the mind of a woman or even her character; moreover, Charles liberally praises “all” women, basing his view on what he “hear[s]” about them rather than judging them based on individual merit.  His way of thinking would prevent him from distinguishing Elizabeth from “other girls” as Mr. Bennet does.

Mr. Darcy’s remarks on an “accomplished woman,” however, challenge Charles’ conventional views since he, like Mr. Bennet though without the negativity, makes an individual judgment about women:

I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen [women], in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.

While some could say that Mr. Darcy is narrow-minded since Charles says “all” women are “accomplished,” which is obviously a broad assessment, Mr. Darcy does know “half a dozen” “accomplished” women personally.  Mr. Darcy’s hesitancy to judge women, solely based on what he “hears” about them, suggests that each woman in the novel is to be evaluated individually, not as a collective “all,” and that “accomplished” means something deeper than merely completing household tasks.  Mr. Darcy’s assessment then would promote Mr. Bennet’s earlier endorsement of Elizabeth while resisting Charles and Mrs. Bennet’s respective views on females.

Caroline Bingley soon, as she often does, interjects herself into the above conversation, and while there are several motives behind her doing so, we will look only at one issue concerning her definition of an “accomplished” woman.  She somewhat surpasses Charles’ definition of “accomplished” and says a woman must have

thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and, besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.

In context, Caroline, at a basic level, seems to believe that a gentleman such as Mr. Darcy would be attracted to her “accomplishments,” which are per usual for her education, so it is not unreasonable to think that she is showing off her resume, so to speak.  If her definition of “accomplished” is the standard bearer, then Elizabeth would seem inferior to Caroline, which is what the latter wants.

However, Mr. Darcy says that the more “substantial” element to a woman is

in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.

While Mr. Darcy has numerous motives for saying this, I will say only that his view of education is important for the novel since he believes in the development of a woman’s mind.  That is, a woman’s mind is active, not passive, during the educational process so that it can “improve” itself. (Caroline’s education involves, more or less, a familiarity with subjects but not necessarily a deeper understanding of them; moreover, her mind is not active.  Consequently, her mind never truly “improves,” which is what concerns Mr. Darcy; instead, she would be another version of “silly and ignorant.”).

Darcy’s view of female education certainly would have its opponents.  While female education was on the rise, a woman whose mind spent too much time reading books would often be described as unkempt and one who has neglected other conventional, more appropriate female pursuits, or “accomplishments.”  Nonetheless, Mr. Darcy does not heed to that stigma of well-read females.  He also does not base his assessment of a “better” woman on limited personality and appearance alone as Mrs. Bennet does (though he is attracted to Elizabeth’s eyes, so beauty is relevant but not all that there is as the narrator later identifies the “danger” of Mr. Darcy’s paying Elizabeth too much attention).

Still, if a woman with an active mind is one that the novel may prefer, then looking at Mr. Collins’ sermon and Mary’s didactic tendencies will be of some value.  In chapter 14, Mr. Collins reads three pages from Fordyce’s sermons; these sermons were religious in content and addressed topics relevant to women that included how to date, how to behave, how to become educated, and so forth.  In short, these sermons were meant to keep females in line; additionally, Collins’ strong disapproval of novels, which featured characters usually relatable to most readers, were viewed as a degradation to the mind of a woman and would presumably arouse her to excessive emotion.

While one cannot overlook the obvious double-standard in the above paragraph, conduct books, in a theoretical sense, can produce positive results, but, in reality, they do not strengthen a woman’s mind; they simply tell her what to think and how to behave.  This failure to “improve” the woman can be seen in Lydia’s amusing interruption of Collins’ reading of the Fordyce sermon.  Her outburst, on one hand, is disagreeable to Elizabeth and Jane who “bid” Lydia to “hold her tongue.” Such outburst seemingly would reinforce, in Collins’ mind, the need for female conduct books.  However, at the same time, Lydia’s lack of propriety and grace can be seen as a logical consequence of an untrained mind because “complicated rules to adjust behaviour are weak substitutes for principles.”[2]  Lydia, then, can only be but “silly” and “ignorant,” lacking the appropriate conduct and “improvement” that Fordyce prefers.

As an extreme contrast to Lydia, Mary is one whose didactic tendency presents a different look at the word “silly.”  That is, when she learns of the Lydia-Wickham debacle, she says

Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson; that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable—that one false step involves her in endless ruin—that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful—and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.

The narrator suggests that Elizabeth could only look at Lydia in “amazement,” and Mary continues to “console” herself with moral extractions from the evil before them.

A problem with Mary’s mind here is that her thoughts have been pre-determined prior to hearing the news itself about Lydia.  That is, moral extracts have obviously shaped her thinking to where she does not have a thought of her own on Lydia’s plight.  Additionally, her anti-female morality does not see the larger problem, which is Wickham’s obvious bad doings; she also has no compassion for Lydia’s well-being, which is a further indictment against Mary’s moralism.  While a person’s holding to morality is not bad, it becomes a problem when Lydia becomes an object study for the fallen woman rather than a human who needs her family’s support due to an obvious wrong committed against her.  A mind, freed from such prejudiced thinking, can only look at Mary’s assessment in “amazement” as Elizabeth does.

To conclude, Mr. Bennet’s initial assessment of Elizabeth’s “quickness” is probably preferred to the other standards of femininity in this novel.  Certainly, as we know, Elizabeth’s thoughts do create problems for herself and for others at times, but at least her misjudgement of Mr. Darcy, for instance, was prejudiced thinking that arose from her inability to judge correctly, not from being told what to think.  Minds freed from dogma and strict morality (e.g., Mary’s moral extracts and Fordyce’s sermons) will still be prone to error, for to error is to be human, but Elizabeth’s errors only make her more human, which I would think is “better” than being “silly and ignorant,” beautiful but lacking authentic grace.  Therefore, Pride and Prejudice may hold the view that a female’s independent mind is “better,” both in a moral sense (how one treats another person and how one lives one’s life) and in a marital sense (husband and wife are equal to one another in the way, for example, that Darcy and Elizabeth improve, not change or indoctrinate, the other person).  Hence, Elizabeth may be the new standard-bearer for women in the book.


[1] Throughout this essay, when I refer to specific words from Pride and Prejudice¸ I will put these words in quotation marks.

[2] From Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman



About the author

Seth Snow has a master’s degree in English Literature from The University of Akron and teaches a course called Jane Austen, where he and his students read and discuss Emma and Persuasion. He also teaches Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in British Literature and Women’s Literature, respectively.

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A Jane Austen Essay – Austen’s Intentional Deprivation of Matriarchy

Emma features prominently in this Jane Austen Essay
A Jane Austen Essay by Mark Massaro, M.A.

Through the absence, or the duplicity, of mother figures, Jane Austen presents the perceived illusion of matriarchy within the Regency culture.

During her lifetime in England, patriarchy dictated the treatment of wealth, the home, the government, and relationships, which suppressed the leadership role of females.

Emma Woodhouse quickly became the lady of the house.

While Austen’s novels deal with these issues, the absence of strong and positive maternal figures highlights the muting of that designation. Those characteristics was usually reserved for the protagonists. Supporting characters, like Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice, Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, and Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey, actively contribute to undermine the conventional role of mothers as moral and spiritual guides through ignorance, manipulation, or selfishness. Deceased characters also affect the actions of the present day, through the mystery of Mrs. Tilney’s death in Northanger Abbey, as well as the absence of Mrs. Woodhouse in Emma. Austen uses these maternal characters to highlight social prejudices that contribute to creating these tropes by using irony and humor, and how an unjust system is in place to continuously silence strength in female leadership. By depriving the protagonists of mothers, a void is left that allows an interruption from matriarchal legacy by having the female protagonists subtly challenge older men in power.

The traditional women of this era were completely reliant on their male relatives, or through their own marriage, and this dependence not only supported the patriarchal society but was created by it in the first place. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte says, “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” (61). Women’s social, economic, and financial safety was based on their relationships to men, a condition which provided and maintained the foundation for this culture and, because of this, females were cast in a subordinate role. Educations relied entirely on perfecting their social roles. Austen’s protagonists often gain insights and experience as they learn from situations outside of their prescribed schoolings, which Austen tends to reward with true love or self-awareness. The mother roles that do exist within Austen’s world seem to contribute to maintaining this patriarchy as they sometimes become obstacles for the protagonists to deal with directly.

The Jane Austen News includes a Judi Dench film-off!Lady Catherine, in Pride and Prejudice, is the extreme of maintaining the patriarchy, as well as embodying an illusion of matriarchy. While she is viewed as an antagonist, she is simply a product of her system, which could be viewed as tragic. She is first introduced as the widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, which defines her as her marriage connection. Considering Darcy, her nephew, she is under the assumption that she is “entitled to know all his dearest concerns,” while, in reality, she does not (355). Her assumption of control, or of possessing an influential role of her nephew’s personal decisions, presents this illusion of matriarchy. Lady Catherine becomes an obstacle for Elizabeth to circumvent. Elizabeth is disrupting the old or traditional social order through her and Darcy’s deviation from his intended match, and Lady Catherine becomes agitated with this expression of freedom from cultural conditioning. Elizabeth directly presents Lady Catherine’s lack of power when she states that, according to Lady Catherine, their marriage has been “declared to be impossible” yet Lady Catherine has journeyed there to ask if there is an engagement (355). Elizabeth, in a sense, effectively exposes Lady Catherine’s own perceived power through circumventing each question by answering with a new question or answering drolly. Elizabeth states, “that if he (Darcy) is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me,” and Lady Catherine “hesitated for a moment” (355). This scene effectively presents how Elizabeth has power over a matriarch due to the latter’s fabricated sense of power. The new generation is usurping the past generations necessity for tradition.

A shadow-self of Lady Catherine is Fanny Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility. Fanny’s perceived power is by proxy through the manipulation of her husband, John Dashwood. While she lacks power, she acts as a puppeteer, swaying her husband through careful wordplay and timing by manipulating the established gender roles. This reduces John, who embodies power because he is male and landowning, to a weak instrument for his wife’s selfish motivations. Fanny also contributes to maintaining the system by actively using it for her selfish ends. The article, “Women Owning Property: The Great Lady in Jane Austen,” written by Rita Dashwood, states that,

In contrast to the way Georgian genteel women have been represented by scholars of the period, the great ladies in Jane Austen are not portrayed as either creators of spaces, managers of their property, or socially conscientious members of their community. Instead, they share various negative characteristics, with most of them being described as despotic and arrogant. (107)

Again, like Lady Catherine, Fanny is a product of the society in which she was born. To make matters worse, Fanny contributes to it, solidifying the foundation of patriarchy, which is a shame because her manipulations are calculated and intelligent. This begs the question as to why social maneuvering and spousal manipulation became a trademark within Austen’s characters. Emma, in Emma, seems to have barely avoided this fate through gradual self-awareness and witnessing of relational consequences, though she never actually had any obstacle to overcome, besides herself. Men, possessing a societal freedom when in control of wealth, are also a product of their society, yet are less tragic. The circumstance of being a white male with wealth allows them to possess societal freedom and individual choice by way of a prescribed path without having to succumb to arrogance or selfish acts for survival. Darcy, Edward Ferrars, Capt. Wentworth, and Henry Tilney are examples of this concept, despite the origin of their finances being vastly different. Money becomes the determining factor, defining the foundation of relations, the authenticity of character, and choice of romantic prospects. The anxieties of acquiring a tarnished reputation or prohibited from inheritance are never a factor for these men because the society operates in their favor. These men are allowed to retain their honesty and sensibility and never succumb to desperate acts in order to survive.

The absence of a matriarchically order can showcase more than having one to deconstruct. When a maternal figure is lacking, a void becomes louder than an actual presence. Emma’s mother, though deceased, still influences events throughout the present day. Her maternal influence was her governess Miss Taylor, who, although caring, can still be considered hired help. Emma had economic and social power over her own maternal figure, which lead to Emma being ‘slightly’ spoiled and “the power of having rather too much her own way,” due to the fact that she had “been mistress of his house from a very early period” (1). Emma is thrust into a powerful role at such a young age created in her the illusion of matriarchy. This is also evident in her reliance on the class system when marriage was being considered between two parties. Emma’s relationships are based entirely on her status and not because of who she is as a person. In the beginning, Emma thwarts Mr. Martin and Harriet’s pairing because a rebellion against the patriarchal foundation was needed for it to commence. Austen complicates the established foundation by rewarding risk taking with relations. Kathleen Dougherty, the author of “Marriage and Friendship in Jane Austen: Self-knowledge, Virtue, and the “Second Self”,” claims that, “In Austen’s world, those who choose well choose for virtue and compatibility, not merely status or security. And a seeming lack of status can even be overcome if one’s character is thought to be good enough” (Dougherty 54). Through Emma’s trials, with her own self the obstacle, she creates a moral system which is removed from the patriarchic foundation. The absorption of her mother’s role within the society has evolved with Emma’s winning battle over her own conditioning. Her true character overwhelms the societal illusion.

Austen’s absent mothers subtly undermine male authority. They are not partaking in it whatsoever. The void causes a vacuum for creating unlimited potential within the heroines, something that the patriarchy would be threatened by. Despite there being a loss, it allows the opportunity for social shifting. Emma is the epitome of this. Frances L. Restuccia’ article, “A Black Morning: Kristevan Melancholia in Jane Austen’s Emma,” discusses this, as Restuccia writes, “Emma begins by offering a glimpse of the abyss–sustained throughout the novel by the accumulation of lost, dead, and dying mothers–for which it attempts to provide compensation.” Emma has social luxuries and engages with the members of her community as if they were puppets. More importantly, she influences them and this freedom and control occurs after she is the only female living in Hartfield. Her father is considered impotent by social standards, with being designated as feeble and nervous, much akin to an infant baby. His greatest actions are merely walking the grounds or entertaining guests. Emma has no paternal influence over her, allowing her to flourish as an individual with power. She has freedom because she has personal choice. Knightly reinforces Emma to conform to the Regency’s social standards with his moving into Hartfield, establishing a dominant male presence within the home.

We see Mrs Allen ‘guide’ Catherine far more in Northanger Abbey than Catherine’s mother does.

Despite the absent mother remaining present within the story, Austen also uses them as a literary technique to highlight character traits with the mystery surrounding the death of Mrs. Tilney in Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland, the youngest heroine, has several women in the position of matriarchy. Mrs. Allen is the obvious choice as she is the one to support her entrance into the social world. Mrs. Allen shares with her the societal rules, as Austen writes, “she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion. She had a most harmless delight in being fine” (10). Mrs. Allen represents this false authority and Austen categorizes her as a woman, “whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them” (10).  Mrs. Allen’s presence is presented as superficial and playful due to Austen using sarcasm her description of Catherine’s chaperone in view of society. Mrs. Allen’s greatest power is her ability to camouflage herself within her social structure, which lessens her illusion of power even more than the others. Nothing about her is special and her individuality, and power, is drowned under the weight of maintaining the patriarchal order. An impressionable girl like Catherine would gravitate toward a force that stands out of a crowd.

Learning about the death of Mrs. Tilney allows Catherine to formulate her own perspective, and version, of events that occurred before her connection with the Tilney family. Another void is opened and it allows Catherine to momentarily escape the Georgian society. Catherine delves into a fictional world where the monsters are defined by their murderous actions instead of their inability to recognize power in matriarchy. Mrs. Tilney’s absence elevates her into becoming something more than another Mrs. Allen, who is merely existing within the society. The search for answers about Mrs. Tilney’s death mirrors a yearning for a mother figure. Catherine is passionate about learning more. Austen writes, “Catherine had never heard Mrs. Tilney mentioned in the family before, and the interest excited by this tender remembrance showed itself directly in her altered countenance, and in the attentive pause with which she waited for something more” (131). Catherine is temporarily elevated away from patriarchy as well, and she becomes a heroine within a story that will lead to adventure, discovery, power, and an ability to self-govern, something that her actual society denies her. The absence of Mrs. Tinley allows this flight of fancy to occur, something that Mrs. Allen or her own mother would be unable to do. This allows Catherine to actively engage with General Tilney, circumventing safeguards like matriarchal figures.

Austen’s heroines need a minor escape from the patriarchal structure to realize the individual power that exists outside of domineering men and complacent women. In Austen’s world, the protagonists are journeying on unaccompanied explorations, creating their own sense of the world. In the article “Motherhood and Reality in Northanger Abbey,” written by Elvira Casal, the concept of embarking on solo journeys are necessary for emotional growth and connection. Casal writes:

The heroines of the novels are daughters, not mothers, and the novels focus on the stage of a woman’s life when she is least likely to feel close to her mother. Falling in love and marrying involve reaching outside a person’s original family for love, affection, and validation. Choosing a husband therefore implicitly requires the daughter’s emotional movement away from the mother. (146)

Elizabeth’s would-be husband

This scenario plays out in many instances in Austen’s texts. Mothers, or mother figures, represent traditions, usually imploring the heroines to make socially safe decisions and prevent societal risk. If this is the model that mother figures promote, then Elizabeth would have married Mr. Collins and Catherine Morland would have married John Thorpe. Safe decisions adhere to tradition, therefore losing individual choice and succumbing to patriarchy yet again. Women traditionally married to survive, promoting arrogant men, like Thorpe, or pompous men, like Collins, as suitable candidates, while forsaking good men like Mr. Martin or Capt. Wentworth due to their untraditional status.

The void of a maternal presence affects characters differently. There is a freedom with loss, as well as a grief.  Emma becomes a valued member of her town. She suppresses nothing. Catherine Morland creates her own experiences without influence from her mother or Mrs. Allen. There is no intermediary between her and courtship or adventures. The void of a mother figure results in creating unrecognized freedom from the patriarchal influence. Mothers were not present to steer their daughter’s paths along the established and conformed road. On the contrary, women a bit older than our heroines, not only exist in patriarchy, but they contribute to it with false power. Fanny Dashwood employs her husband’s gender for her personal use. Instead of challenging patriarchy, she accepts it and practices it. Lady Catherine not only accepts it but actively represents it. She operates under the pretense that she has power because of her lineage while her wishes seem to be ignored.

No matter the significance, Austen’s heroines have a loss of a powerful maternal presence in common. Some can find that the lack of a matriarch only reinforces patriarchy but there is significant evidence to suggest that power is created because of that loss. Austen subtly challenges her societal foundation by severing the link between generations, and by undercutting a powerful maternal authority, the heroines begin to rely on their own individuality for direction, sustenance, and power. They are personally prosperous, despite lacking maternal influence or societal power, and their wit and sensibility are often rewarded. As the possession of wealth being usually denied, with inheritance going to males, and women lacking supremacy of their fates, Austen’s heroines had to rely on their character for survival and guidance, and the lack of mother figures allowed for this situation to occur.


Work Cited

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition. Oxford World’s Classics. 2008. Print.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. ed. Robert P. Irvine. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002

Austen. Jane. Sense and Sensibility. Penguin Random House. 2014. Print

Casal, Elvira. “Motherhood and Reality in Northanger Abbey”. Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal. JASNA. No. 20, 1998. 146-153.

Dashwood, Rita. “Women Owning Property: The Great Lady in Jane Austen”Jane Austen and Philosophy. Edited by Mimi Marinucci. Rowland and Littlefield. 2017.

Dougherty, Kathleen. “Marriage and Friendship in Jane Austen: Self-knowledge, Virtue, and the “Second Self””Jane Austen and Philosophy.Edited by Mimi Marinucci. Rowland and Littlefield. 2017.

Restuccia, Frances L. “A Black Morning: Kristevan Melancholia in Jane Austen’s Emma.” American Imago, vol. 51, no. 4, 1994, p. 447+


About the author of this Jane Austen essay

Mark Massaro received his Master’s Degree in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on 20th Century American Literature. He is an English Instructor at two universities. When not reading or writing, he can be found in his black Chucks at a bonfire in his home state of Massachusetts, talking with friends and listening to classic rock. His creative works have been published in Literary Juice Magazine, The Pegasus Review, and The Mangrove Review. His happiness is being next to his wife, with their son in his arms, and their golden retriever curled up nearby.

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Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal – A Review

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Book Review: Should You Read Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal?…(Yes, Probably)

by Katharine Coldiron

Unmarriageable by Soniah KamalIt is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice will be rewritten, recontextualised, imitated, and adapted to the needs of the zeitgeist until the practice of reading books passes out of existence altogether. Assessing Austen adaptations is a lopsided, subjective undertaking. That is, whether Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stacks up to the original in literary quality isn’t really the point, and a book like Mr. Darcy’s Daughters likely gave one Austen fan exactly what she wanted, while dissatisfying another such that she vowed never again to read a third-party Austen sequel. Ahem.


Thus, Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal, is assessable from multiple perspectives. The book is an adaptation of P&P set in Pakistan in the present moment, and as a spin-off, it’s enormous fun. It’s also an excellent gateway book for people who’ve never read Austen and feel intimidated about trying her—even more so than Heyer—and a welcome injection of diversity into the world of Austen fandom. But it hews so closely to the source material that the result is a bit daffy, and it works so hard to be itself that Kamal’s shining wit and tenderness only sometimes bubble to the surface of her heavy intentions.

The negatives:

  • Too-close names. Jane and Lizzie Bennet are Jena and Alys Binat. Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are Mari, Qitty, and Lady. Darcy is Darsee, Bingley is Bungles, Charlotte is Sherry, Wickham is Wickaam…you get the idea. This starts to feel parodic instead of useful or delightful.


  • Too-close plot. The plot is exactlythe same as the plot of P&P, moved into the modern era and the setting of Pakistan (more on that later), like a song transposed into another key without a single note of difference in the melody. The precision of this transposition gives the book a feeling of going through the motions, rather than a joyful exploration of a plot’s twists and turns.


  • Confusion about the existence of Austen. The characters in Unmarriageableare clearly aware of P&P, because they talk about the book several times, but all the coincidences between P&Pand the characters’ actual lives—the way every character and event in P&Phas a corresponding character and event in Alys Binat’s life—is somehow never seized upon. That’s a difficult balance to strike in a book that adapts another, but acknowledging the existence of the inspiration without acknowledging similarities makes the characters seem oblivious.


And now for the positives:

  • Shifts in the characters. Kamal has remolded many of the characters in P&P usefully or interestingly. For example, Mary is a little better in this adaptation. Her religious fervor points toward Islam instead of Christianity, and Mari’s selective application of the religion’s strict (often contradictory) rules makes for a lot of humor. She’s a total pill, and it’s great. Lydia, meanwhile, is a little worse, as Lady is childish, bullying, scheming, and self-centered. Lydia Bennet is all those things, too, but Lady is a viper, not a blunderer. The best shifts are in the smallest characters: Annie dey Bagh (Anne de Bourgh) has an autoimmune disorder, actual dialogue, and a Nigerian boyfriend, while Jujeena Darsee has much more direction and voice than Georgiana. Raghav Kumar (Colonel Fitzwilliam) is gay, which of course he is, that’s been obvious for decades. The older generation, Mr. and Mrs. Binat and their siblings and friends, have richer backstories and better definition.


  • It’s a shorter book. In a mortal lifespan, this is an underrated quality in books.


  • Added scenes. Multiple scenes that exist only in letters or later conversations in P&P are laid out in full glory in Unmarriageable, which is great fun. Mr. Kaleen’s proposal to Sherry is both hilarious and moving, while Bungles’s proposal to Jena is as sweet and romantic as anyone could want.


  • The present day in Pakistan is a perfect context for the two-century-old story of P&P, and I would not have known this if Kamal hadn’t written the book. Moreover, Regency-era white Europeans’ marriage and money problems being transposed into modern Pakistan is not just a gimmick. It’s a necessary recontextualization, in a time when publishing cannot ignore the extraordinary diversity of the English-speaking (and -reading) population. Readers of color can feel more representationally present in Austen, with Kamal as an interpreter, and white readers can reexperience Austen in fascinating, unfamiliar surroundings. Everyone wins.


  • Plenty of quick minds have reworked Austen in modern idiom (Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s “Texts” from Sense and Sensibility and Emma, and Twitter’s own Drunk Austen, for instance), but this book is an entire compendium of it. From the big proposal scene:

“Will you marry me?”

Alys stared at him.

“I love you.”

This was so preposterous, Alys let out a hearty laugh.

“My admission is a joke to you?”

“Is this a prank?” Alys looked around. “Is there a hidden camera somewhere?”


  • General delight. When the book is able to get out of its own way, to stop holding itself in such a meticulous posture against Austen’s most famous work, it’s a wonderful experience. The details are the best part; Bungles’s sisters (whose names rhyme) call everyone “babes,” Kaleen is a physiatrist who is constantly mistaken for a psychiatrist, and Darsee and Alys bond over a book he recommends to her.


The book’s main asset is not its inspiration, but the mind of its author. Kamal is funny and intelligent and she gets it, the spark that brings us back to these narrow Regency problems again and again, sometimes in lieu of facing our own. Darsee’s first name in this adaptation is Valentine. Valentine! For that alone, pick up Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal and dive in. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Austenian problems are more enjoyable than the real world’s, whatever the year.


Interested in reading the book? You can find our limited signed editions of Unmarriageable here.

Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, LARB,, and many other places. She lives in California and at You can find her on twitter @ferrifrigida.


This review of Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal originally appeared on Jane to Georgette. It is reprinted here with permission.