Critic: Rachel M. Brownstein
Source: Women's Studies 15, nos. 1-3 (1988): 57-70.
Criticism about: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Nationality: British; English
[(essay date 1988) _In the following essay, Brownstein focuses on several of Austen's novels, including Pride and Prejudice, to support her argument that Austen uses irony to convey a "discursive authority" from which women can derive pleasure in a patriarchal society.]
It is a truth universally acknowledged, right now, that language is involved in giving and taking both power and pleasure. Whether we begin by asking if the pen is a substitute for the penis, or think about why we read stories of love and adventure, or …show more content…
The title page of Sense and Sensibility, the first novel Austen published, identified it as by "A Lady"; Pride and Prejudice is signed "By the Author of 'Sense and Sensibility,'" in other words by A Lady already published. The veiling signature insists on the dignity of femininity itself as "Currer Bell," "George Eliot," "Fanny Fern," or "Mrs. Humphry Ward" do not. It implies, as if modestly, that all ladies speak in the same voice--Austen was of course not the only one to write as one--, which with pointedly feminine obliqueness will avoid such blunt signifiers as proper names, and say precisely what one might expect it appropriately to say, and no more. "A Lady" insists like a post-modern critic on an author's gender and class, indeed identifies the writer simply as a representative, perhaps only a function, of gender and class. The word makes the titillating suggestion that sex is the subject, and also a promise that it will be avoided. (Austen obliges on both counts.) Finally, the signature indicates that the female author is an accepted kind of author, probably one who will make herself delightful and useful without going so far as to