What does it mean to improve oneself in Austen’s era?
Is the question metaphorical or literal?
Men and women had varied views and conceptual/societal interpretations of self-improvement. Social classes had contrasting ideas on what improvement meant in regards to their personal situation.
Many factors contribute to what an individual or group perceives to be improvement
Current values and beliefs – contextual
Personal morals or values
Which characters embrace or disregard the idea of improving oneself?
Comparison allows the reader to reflect and contrast ways to improve ourselves are today
Higher earning jobs
In her novel, Austen teaches us the value of self-improvement through the journeys of her characters as they undergo conflict, growth and eventually maturity. This resonates with Weldon’s argument for literature, however in contrast to her demanding style, Austen invites us to parallel our lives to each stage of the characters personal development. Though Weldon believes that to understand others, one must first understand the self, Austen’s protagonist, Elizabeth is only fully aware of her true character once she recognises that her flaw is her judgment of and attitude to others. Elizabeth is introduced to the reader as having “quickness of observation”, an ability to discern sincerity, which is evidently valued by Austen who endears her to us by her favourable characterisation.
However, true to Weldon’s view of literary characters, we observe that Elizabeth is not all-knowing, but in fact has much to learn about herself and her ability to judge characters. Elizabeth’s journey to self-recognition occurs through various events, but the most notable learning curve occurs through, well, reading. While it was not quite literature, Mr Darcy’s enlightening letter challenges Elizabeth’s sense of self; she realises that she has been “blind, partial” and “prejudiced”. She has fallen prey to the flattery of Mr Wickham and the lure of resentment to soothe injured pride. Till she understood the motives and characters of others, Elizabeth realises she “never knew” herself. Austen’s purpose in “humiliating” Elizabeth is to convey to us, through her use of plot and characterisation, the dangers of pride and prejudice.
The medium for self-evaluation in Austen's world is evidently marriage, which drives the plot of the novel. Austen uses marriage as a device that tests the propriety or worth of her characters. The marriage of Mr and Mrs Bennet works as a model to which other marriages can be compared. The Bennet’s is a relationship lacking in respect and mutual admiration. It seems a result of union purely for…