Comparing the Views on Women’s Position in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
The research conducted in order for this essay to be written wasn’t like that which would be conducted during a science experiment or a mathematical problem solving. The research undertaken for this essay was very analytical. It delved deeply into two famous literary works of the nineteenth century. The research was mainly carried out because of the interesting difference between the two works and the extremely strong female protagonists. What the main idea of this research essay was was comparing the views on women’s positions in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. The literary works are only seventy years apart, yet society’s views changed so drastically in those seventy years that it is difficult not to be interested in studying the two works. To truly understand the views of women in these two publications, one must read the two thoroughly as well as research what kinds of events were occurring at the times of the publications. When Pride and Prejudice was published, society in the book was identical to society in real life. When A Doll’s House was published, women’s rights were beginning to become more prominent in society. Of course, even then, there were still some old fashioned minds. Torvald Helmer was the epitome of what Ibsen disapproved of. As many people analysed, Ibsen wrote this play to make the world move forward quicker. It is unknown whether or not his play actually made a huge impact; however, women’s position in society has changed drastically since. Even between the two publications, there was a dramatic change. Nora Helmer was an inconceivable character to Jane Austen. By the time Ibsen had his play performed, women were beginning to think independently and seek independence. The findings evident in this essay will not change the world or stop global warming. However, they do make a person think how differently life was lived in the nineteenth century.
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For a period in history, the only thing that seemed to plague women was the prospect of marriage. Even if a woman didn’t necessarily want to marry she would be forced into thinking of it because it was all that surrounded her. In the early 19th century, it was not hard to understand that women in society were believed to be simple creatures, who didn’t want more than a lovely home to sit in and neighbouring women to gossip with.
In 1813, Pride and Prejudice, a novel that supported all these social thoughts, was introduced to the world. This novel was written by Jane Austen and is probably one of the most famous love stories of all time simply because all women love to read about a love that survived the good and bad times. Jane Austen was a woman in the time where marriage was all one should think of as a young lady. Not seventy years later, a play was performed for the first time, titled A Doll’s House. This play was written by playwright Henrik Ibsen and illustrated strongly contrasting themes to those present in Pride and Prejudice. Whilst Pride and Prejudice centres on a woman in want of a husband, A Doll’s House focuses on the other side of marriage; the side of marriage nobody wanted revealed when it was first performed. Ibsen wrote his play at the time when women were beginning to be thought of in society as something more than just females. In his play, Ibsen created a character that began seeing past the prettiness of marriage with her husband. She began to think for herself and understand that there is more to learn about the world and one cannot know it unless one seeks it.
Two writers, less than seventy years apart, with entirely different attitudes as to how the world should be seen, in the eyes of a woman. Both existed in the same century, yet they were worlds apart when it came to society’s views on women and their position. Jane Austen believed it only natural for marriage to be on a young lady of marriageable age’s mind. Henrik Ibsen, on the other hand, thought it inappropriate to show marriage as always being a traditional destiny. Ibsen portrayed women as independent or, at the very least, seeking independence. He succeeded when attempting to portray women as more than hopeless young ladies whose life goals were to be married. Both are entirely conflicting stories; both are incredibly successful.
Two very different stories would obviously have two very different protagonists. Pride & Prejudice and A Doll’s House are no exception; the former, Elizabeth Bennet; the latter, Nora Helmer. They are vastly different but are not the only characters that are comparable in the two novels.
Elizabeth Bennet compared to Nora Helmer
Elizabeth lives with her mother who is a lady who badgered and pestered her five daughters about marriage. Elizabeth, being a woman in the times when marriage and economy was everything to a woman, has differing views to her society. Elizabeth does not believe in betrothing herself to someone she is not compatible with. Elizabeth is a unique woman. Compared to all other women in that time, she is intellectual and cares about more than money and worldly possessions. She does not want to marry a man she cannot converse with. Even though Elizabeth is a different woman who fancied more than the average woman in the early 1800s, she still wanted to marry a man she could live with. If she didn’t, she would have to be married to him for life in misery. Divorce was not ever thought of in the times of Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters. Therefore, if you were betrothed to somebody, you would be betrothed to them for the whole of eternity. It was considered completely unladylike and ungrateful, also, to leave your husband. If a woman was married to a man who was supporting her well and who was giving her all she wanted and she decided to leave him, society would look at her as an unappreciative wife who is not satisfied with anything. It was not understood in those old times that two people were not compatible. All that was thought of when marriage was brought up was if he’s a man who can support this woman with whatever happens. Consequently, Elizabeth wanted to marry but she wanted to marry someone she was compatible with, someone she could spend the rest of her life with and not regret it. Marriage is what she wanted but it wasn’t the marriage that her mother or the rest of society would ever understand.
Nora Helmer is a house-wife. She knits and shops, just as a house-wife should. She never complains that her life isn’t satisfying. However, Ibsen was clever enough to conceal her true feelings until later on in the play. As the audience analyses Nora, it is realised that her life was never pleasing; there was always something lacking in everything she ever did and never did she realise it until it was almost too late. Nora is tired of living in a home where she is treated as a doll would be treated – pampered and adored for her physicality. Eventually, she realises that living with Torvald Helmer is not the way she wants to live. There is so much to see out there in the world; so much to learn about; and here she is, living in a doll’s house, confined to a town that is not wide enough for her mind, nor exciting enough. Finally, she leaves her dismal life in the doll’s house, to live her own life, to learn things she’s never known before, to travel to places she has only ever heard of. She wanted to experience life, as she’d never seen it before and she could not do that whilst living under the same roof as Torvald Helmer.
Both these women are of great depth and intrigue. Both Elizabeth and Nora have different thoughts to those of the normal flow of their surroundings. Elizabeth didn’t want to marry for money and end with a husband who couldn’t even converse with her, unusual as it was in her time. Nora did not want to be imprisoned in a home, which offered no comfort, no excitement, no learning opportunities. Both characters are similar in the ways that they both went against the usual course of those around them. However, they are different in the things they wanted ultimately. Elizabeth wanted to marry someone compatible. Nora wanted to stay away from marriage life and learn more about the world and herself before committing to anything more. Pride and Prejudice ends with both Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Bennett celebrating their marriages to Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley. A Doll’s House, on the other hand, ends with Nora walking to the world, ready to embrace whatever the world has to offer. In less than seventy years, the stories written about women and their position changed drastically. Women were beginning to be seen as more capable and as more equal. It was also known that marriage was not all that would cross their minds. After all, it isn’t that women are desperate to get married – the society and the situation society put women in only made it seem that way and by the time Henrik Ibsen wrote his play, those types of thoughts were beginning to waver.
Torvald Helmer compared to Nils Krogstad and Dr. Rank
Torvald Helmer is a man who believes in particular positions for men and women. He doesn’t believe women should provide, as Kristina Linde is planning to do for Nils Krogstad. He is a traditional man with an outdated way of thinking living in a society, which is rapidly changing. Torvald Helmer is stuck in the times, which Austen described in her novel. He is, however, only joined by a few. In A Doll’s House there are two other male characters whose way of thinking was definitely changing with that of society. Nils Krogstad and Dr. Rank both believe in equality of men and women. Ibsen created these two characters as a way of contrasting to Torvald. Both Krogstad and Rank have different views. Krogstad completely agrees with the idea of Ms. Linde working to provide for her family. “I ran a little shop, then a small school, and anything else I could turn my hand to.” (Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Act one; page 157). Rank also would sit and have many discussions with Nora, treating her like an equal adult. Torvald never once had a serious conversation with her, which proves how little he thought of the supposed equality between them. In the beginning of the play, it seems to the audience that everybody thinks as Torvald does when Kristina states, “A wife can’t borrow without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Act 1, page 160). From this statement, it seems as though the society Nora is living in is just like the society Elizabeth Bennet was living in. Nora also states, “I was lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do…it was tremendous fun sitting there working and earning money. It was almost like being a man.” (Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Act 1, page 162). This line suggests that women were not to work as men did in that society. However, when Dr. Rank is introduced, these ideas change. When Rank enters the home intending to see Torvald, he does not go away when he hears he is busy. Rather, he sits with Nora and converses with her, like equal adults. “Bankrupt! In less than a month, perhaps, I shall lie rotting in the churchyard” (Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Act 2, page 191). Rank discusses matters of seriousness with Nora, whilst Torvald does not. It is clear that Rank has a mind that is changing with the changing society. “Helmer’s too sensitive to be able to face anything ugly – I won’t have him in my sick room” (Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Act 2, page 191). Rank explains that Torvald is very sensitive. It is understood that he does not even speak of serious things with people other than Nora. He is clearly the odd one in this novel because everybody else has the same frame of mind but he seems to be stuck in the days that were even changing in Pride and Prejudice.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy compared to Mr. Charles Bingley
Two other men that are contrasting characters are Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Mr. Charles Bingley of Pride and Prejudice. Both have distinct views on society and the ideas that society lives on. Both men are owners of a very large fortune – Mr. Darcy slightly wealthier than Mr. Bingley. The two are the best of friends; however, their characters could not be more dissimilar. At the first ball at Meryton, each of their characters is decided by the surrounding society. “Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners…he was lively and unreserved.” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 3, page 12). Mr. Bingley is liked by everyone that was acquainted with him almost instantly. It was his lively disposition. “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mein; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes of his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year.” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 3, page 12). He is looked at as handsome and even more handsome when they’ve heard of his fortune. However, their views on Mr. Darcy soon change. “(He) danced only once, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world.” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 3, page 12). The men’s differences do not only go so deep as personalities. They are also different in what they want ultimately. Of course, as was the tradition at the time, they each want to marry; however, Mr. Bingley is not so fussy with who his future bride is to be. Mr. Bingley is much quicker to label a woman as ‘accomplished’ also, which adds to the differing views of him and his friend. “It is amazing to me how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished, as they all are,” quotes Mr. Bingley (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 8, page 35). Mr. Darcy, of course, scolds him for thinking such a thing. It is clear that Mr. Darcy has a much more different idea of what an accomplished woman is. After describing an accomplished woman, Mr. Bingley listens to Mr. Darcy’s words, “All this she must possess and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading,” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 8, page 35). To the reader, it is obvious that Mr. Darcy, intentionally or not, is describing Elizabeth Bennet as accomplished. It is even more evident what the two friend’s views on women are when they choose their wives. Mr. Bingley chooses Jane for her unmistakable beauty and kind nature and nothing more. His affection for her is not based on an intelligent mind or extensive reader. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, favours Elizabeth. Although she is not as handsome as Jane, her mind is more developed. She takes pleasure in reading and having intellectual conversations. Mr. Darcy clearly wants this for a bride. By joining Mr. Darcy with Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley with Jane in matrimony in the end of the novel, it is clear what Austen wants the reader to learn: marry someone you are compatible with. Although Mr. Bingley marries Jane for her attractiveness, their marriage was compatible because each is kind natured and good spirited. The two are not intellectuals, like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. In fact, they are quite the opposite, yet their marriage still works. When comparing the two main men of this novel, it is possible to say that Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley are the male counterparts to Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, which is possibly why their marriages worked in the end.
As writers, both Austen and Ibsen had distinct purposes for writing what they did. When reading their works, it is clear to many that each wanted to encourage the public to begin to think differently to the society they lived in. Austen did agree with her society, essentially. She approved of marriage but wanted the reason for marriage to change in the mind of the public. Ibsen, however, promoted women’s independence and ensured his audience went away with new ideas about the equality between the sexes.
Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice to allow woman the understanding that marrying for money, instead of compatibility, was never the correct path to walk on. Even though both Jane and Elizabeth did marry wealthy men, they did it for love rather than the money involved. They married for the important fact that they connected with their partners on a higher level than how highly they thought of the money they possessed. In the times when Austen published this novel, the thinking of Elizabeth and Jane were never believed to be possible. Austen took this to her advantage and publicized intellectual thinking and brought thoughts of compatibility into relationships. Other than Elizabeth and Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, the characters mostly think about marrying for support and security more than anything else. Naturally, she disapproved of women marrying bad men. By creating a character like Elizabeth, the audience could understand that she most definitely found it quite inappropriate for a man and woman to marry without any love. However, Austen didn’t completely disapprove of women marrying for money. She understood that there are certain circumstances, which cannot be avoided sometimes. In her novel, she wrote about Charlotte Lucas, who was a girl uncertain of her economic future. She married Mr. Collins for his apparent wealth and the belief that she would be financially secure with him as a husband. Although she understood her uncertain economic future, Austen used this comparison to her benefit. Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ marriage became one of comfort, not one of love and affection. Austen did not forget to remind the reader that their marriage was anything but successful because Charlotte married for money. She also disapproved of marriage based solely on attraction, as was Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship. “Her father captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and liberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 3, chapter 42, page 194). Their marriage was all that Austen was against. What she disapproved of, also, was the reality that women could not inherit fortunes. For example; in the case of Mr. Bennett who had four daughters and no sons, he would have to pass his fortune on to the next male in the family, who was Mr. Collins, who hadn’t even been acquainted with the Bennet family. Austen did not understand why Mr. Bennett’s daughter couldn’t take over his fortune, when they obviously deserve it much more so than Mr. Collins. She showed her disapproval of this by using the voice of Mrs. Bennet. “I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children,” (Austen, J. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1, chapter 15, page 54). In the end, what could be said about Austen’s purpose to write such a deep and meaningful novel is that she meant great things for it. She wrote to teach women of the world that they should find their place in the world. Their minds should not constantly revolve around marriage and finding marriage. They should learn to be comfortable with their surroundings and themselves and only think of marriage when a man that is compatible with them comes along and steals their heart with what he does and says, and not with how much money he possesses.
Henrik Ibsen wrote his play in a time when women’s rights were starting to become noticed. Women’s right to independence played a magnificent role in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. That is essentially what he was building towards, right from the commencement of the play. The entire purpose for his writing of this play was to broadcast the fact that women should begin thinking for themselves. He wanted women to believe they could make it on their own; that they did not need a man to help them along the way. Henrik Ibsen wrote this play not seventy years after Jane Austen wrote her novel. Immediately as the first few pages are read, it is quite obvious that Ibsen is looking in to the future. His construction of Nora is quite fantastic. As a reader, it is interesting to note that Nora Helmer is a completely inconceivable character for Jane Austen. Never would Austen even think that a woman could leave her husband in order to learn more about herself and the world. Nora is an excellent model of what many women thought about in the late 19th century. Marriage was beginning to lose its rose-coloured magic. The stories speaking of happy marriages were slowly beginning to melt away to reveal much less pretty images. Ibsen succeeded when attempting to write these thoughts down as a play. He succeeded in the fact that when the audience watched as Nora walked to the world, a new woman, they all cheered and agreed with all her reasoning. Because Nora’s action provoked this reaction, it is apparent that his mission was fulfilled. His mission to rid the minds of all people of the inequality between men and women was accomplished. By employing the use of Kristina Linde, who worked and provided for her family for many years, Ibsen showed that it was not a bad thing. Kristina learnt more about herself and the cruel world she lived in. Evidently, it might have worn her out and tired her however, she came out of it a better, more-rounded and more experienced woman who could take on anything and not back down. Unlike Nora, who was frustrated all her life because she was missing something she desperately wanted. She moved from her father’s home, where she was treated like a doll, to her husband’s home, where she received the same treatment. She never worked a day in her life, and because of this, she never stopped dreaming of it. When she did work, behind her husband’s back (for that was the only way she could), she commented that they were the three most enjoyable weeks of her life. Ibsen used Nora’s character to show that a woman who has been treated as though she is a fragile porcelain doll for all of her existence will not ever know how to truly think for herself. He used this character to show that having everything done for you and never knowing truly what the world around you is about is something one should never hope for. Even though Ms. Linde was awfully weary, Ibsen made his audience believe that this is the life, which should be sought after.
In Pride and Prejudice, the society that Elizabeth Bennett lived in was not one which questioned a lot of things. Whatever is put in front of them, they believe it. They did not question things that seemed unusual to them. They did not question for fear their thoughts and beliefs would be confused and proved wrong. Desire for society did not exist in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, unlike in A Doll’s House. Nora wanted to learn more about the society and world she lived in. Elizabeth Bennett and the people she knew really only cared for the people they were already acquainted with. They would not go out of their way to learn more about what is happening in other parts of the world, or even the country. In A Doll’s House Ibsen made it clear that Nora wanted to see as much of the world as she possibly could. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen only wrote about marriage and the never-ending quest to find the right person to marry. Whilst Austen showed that marriage was what all women wanted ultimately, Ibsen showed that marriage life could be restricted. Ibsen also showed that traditional husbands implement several restrictions on their wives, which eventually denies the women the ability to grow, emotionally and physically. Ibsen attempted to tell the audience that if a man did everything for his wife and protected her from everything, there is no possible way she could grow into a more developed, more experienced, more agreeable person.
Two novels: different in purpose but equally great. Jane Austen lived in a different society to Henrik Ibsen. She agreed with the most part of her society, except that women shouldn’t marry for financial security – they should marry those that are like them. Her novel ended in two compatible marriages. Marriage was still the ultimate destination for women – as well as men – but it wasn’t the kind of marriage that her society looked at. Women then were expected to marry for security and a fine house. Austen wanted to change these ideas and ensure that women believed that the fortune of a man is not what should be looked at when looking for a potential husband. Ibsen did not agree with his society. In fact, he wrote his play in order to change the society he lived in. His play went against everything the society believed in. Women were not allowed to leave their husbands whenever they wanted to. That is why he wrote the play – he wanted women’s positions to change – and they did. When Nora walks to the world, she received cheers from the crowd. Independence, from then on, was desired and that’s what Ibsen wanted. Both of the novels are fantastically written and the message is printed loud and clear. As the years go on, it is evident that each of these literary works has made an enormous impact on society. Ibsen helped women’s fight for independence move more rapidly, whilst Austen made women all over the world seek a man that was like them, not just had a fortune that could buy them a home big enough for one hundred.
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