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Moral Values in the Novels of Jane Austen

Updated on September 21, 2011

Jane Austen: An Ethical Novelist

Jane Austen is one of the most famous eighteenth century novelists. She wrote mainly six novels. Four novels out of them had been published during her life-time anonymously, while last two novels published posthumously.

It is said that Jane Austen wrote art for art's sake. it means that she wrote for mere entertainment. Her novels were based on this theme, but even then like a good literary work they have the moral characteristics. They teach their readers what to do and what not to do specially to her female readers.

This lense depicts her moral teachings.

Jane Austen is by common consent an author remarkably sure of her values. She is the novelist, whose work is considered part of

Moral values are the things held to be right or wrong, desirable or undesirable. It is a kind of intellectual or spiritual beauty that life offers to the sensitive soul alone. While morality refers to ethical issues - principles of right and wrong conduct as well as instances of real behavior- the manner in which individuals comply more or less fully with such standards. It consists of coherent, systematic and reasonable principles, rules, ideals and values, which work to form one's overall perspective. These rules or guidelines may or may not be ethical, but they are of very importance, and they often help us in our attitudes and guide us in our actions.

Some philosophers and biologists hold that morality is thin crust, hiding egoism, amorality and anti-social tendencies, while others see morality as a product of evolutionary forces and as evidence for continuity with other group- living organism. Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that morality originated from evolutionary process: an innate tendency to develop a sense of right and wrong, helps an individual to survive and reproduce in a species with complex social interactions. The Scientific view about morality, on the other hand, proposes that capacity for morality is genetically determined, but the set of moral values can be acquired through example, teaching and imprinting from parents and society. In sum, it is a collection of beliefs as to what constitutes a good life. So being moral is like any art.

The more practice and the deeper understanding we have, the better we become. Society itself is a closely knit structure in which moral values are upheld and confessed by custom, tradition and ceremony. Since throughout most of human history, religions have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal life, morality is often confused with religious precepts. In certain religious communities, the Divine is said to provide these principles through revelation, sometimes in great detail. Religious belief systems usually include the idea of divine will and divine judgement and usually correspond to a moral code of conduct, and many religions claim that religion and morality are intimately connected.

Most religions have built-in lists of do's and don'ts, a set of code by which its adherents should live. Individuals who are followers of a particular religion will generally make a show of following that religion's behavioral code.It is interesting to note that these codes may widely vary; a person whose religion provides for polygamy will experience no guilt at having more than one spouse while adherents to other religions feel they must remain monogamous. Sometimes, moral codes give way to legal codes, which couple penalties or corrective actions with particular practices. While many legal codes are merely built on a foundation of religious or cultural moral codes, oft times they are one and the same. Moral codes as such are therefore seen as coercive - part of human politics. Examples of moral codes include the Golden Rule; the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism; the ancient Egyptian code of Ma'at; the ten commandments of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the yamas and niyama of the Hindu scriptures; the ten Indian commandments; and the principle of the Dessek. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that although morality can be derived from unaided reason as it is simply the "right ordering" of man's actions, ultimately it derives from God because God created man and nature and that the ultimate sanction for immorality is the loss of a relationship with God.

Thus moral values, over the course of time are regarded as essential to the good conduct of personnel and social life. Traditionally they have been based on some divine concepts, and therefore, have been regarded as not only right but also the expression of the divine will for humanity. So long as the sacred order, the attitude that went with it, remained unquestioned, people cherished these values for their special origin- the ancestors, the Gods, the prophets. In fact throughout most of human history, religion and literature have provided both visions and regulations for an ideal life.

Literature is an expression of society, using as its medium language, represents life and depicts some aspects of social reality. It has served many functions throughout history. It is a powerful tool which can be used to instruct the society, or can be used just for the enjoyment of the writer. The main function of writing literature is to amuse and instruct. The popular genre of literature, novel, is perhaps the broadest and least confined of all literary forms. Although, like other forms of literature, the prime aim of novel is largely to entertain, but its underlying aim is to help readers to understand life. It seems as a 'vehicle' for moral philosophy. It, not only, can teach people and help to shape the society, but also can make the reader a more understanding person, more tolerant and more sympathetic towards suffering. The novelist must certainly aim at being convincing and pleasing, but ultimately and unavoidably, the object of a novel should be to instruct in morals while it amuses.

Jane Austen is by common consent an author remarkably sure of her values. She is the novelist, whose work is considered part of the western canon. Her insight into women's lives and her mastery of form and irony have made her one of the most noted and influential novelists of her era despite being only moderately successful during her lifetime. For the first time the novel at her hands acquires perfection of form and structure. She is the writer whose novels are among the acknowledged classics of English literature, studied in schools and universities throughout the world (at the least count in thirty-five languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Persian, and Bengali), with an enormous bibliography of scholarship and criticism. Yet the six novels also attract an audience quite unconcerned about Austen's critical reputation and status, who turns to the novel simply for enjoyment. This is the only instance in English literature where Samuel Johnson's image of 'the common reader' really comes alive: the idea that the ultimate test of literary greatness is not in the formal recognition of the academics but rests with 'the common- sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices,' and that this individual judgement should prevail over 'the refinements of subtlety and the dogmatism of learning.'

There is, in fact, a good deal more to Austen than appears on the surface. She feels a strong preoccupation with the people behave. She shows man's failings- he is vain, vexing, laughable, pretentious, deluded, sometimes even stupid, and also his virtues- he is intelligent, and above all, capable of love. Moreover, he is capable of learning from his mistakes. It is this concern with people, with their weaknesses and foibles, with their ability for self-criticism (or lack of it) and with the need to judge by prescribed standards of bahaviour that we call Austen's moral concern. It is an integral part of her approach to life; without it, we cannot appreciate fully the skill of her comedy, of the structure of her books, of her characterization, not the exquisiteness of her ironic vision.

Austen's repeated fable of a young woman's voyage to self-discovery on the passage through love to marriage focuses upon easily recognizable aspects of life. It is this concentration upon character and personality and upon the tensions between her heroines and their society that relates her novels more closely to the modern world than to the traditions of the eighteenth century. Moral problems worked out in her fiction; her lesson was suggested, not preached or formally inculcated, but carried straight to the soul by the simple vehicle of the story. She was distinctly a moral idealist. The moral life of her time is clear in her pages, although the history is social, not national.

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Austen's all six novels are adopted for movie. it is most appreciating not only Hollywood works on her novels but also Bollywood too. You can see these movies and enrich your knowledge about Jane Austen.

Austen

It is the twenty first century, Austen is the writer of eighteenth century. Her novels mostly revolve around the theme of love and marriage. Today, love and marriage has changed their definition a lot. So I want to know do people still enjoy Austen's novels?

Do you think that Austen's novels are still enjoyable in the 21st century, when time has changed?

See results

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    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 5 years ago

      jane austen's novels have no expiry dates. she can transport us to the 18th century while reading her novels.

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      Anushika121 5 years ago

      Informative works

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      manish02jan 5 years ago

      good one

    • Hana4 profile image

      Hana4 6 years ago

      I just love Jane Austen! Pride and Prejudice fan all the way :)

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      Anjana121 6 years ago

      I also love Jane Austen. great lense.