Social Commentary

Austen’s works reflect the era and world in which she lived. Many other 18th and 19th century female writers also offer serious, educated looks at revolutions, economics, and gender roles in their works. A focus on economics was common among Austen’s successors. Jane Hume Clapperton’s social treatise Margaret Dunmore imagines matriarchal and collective living. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton brings attention to the growing trade union movement and to working class women coping with their own poverty. Her novel Cranford explores a quasi-utopian matriarchal society. Other authors consider the complexity of religion. Stowe’s The Mayflower explores the highly religious and puritanical culture of New England, often connecting Christianity to pacifism. Krupabai Satthianadhan was a Christian Indian living under British imperialism. Her novel Kamala: A Story of Hindu Life suggests that Christianity is more socially progressive than Hinduism. Ossoli’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century similarly argues for a sort of Christian feminism, appealing to the notion that everyone serves God regardless of gender, thus patriarchy has no place in a religious country. These authors supported a certain type of religion, namely Protestant Christianity, and not all religious endeavors universally.  

Maria Edgeworth entered the male-dominated discourse about emerging theories of early childhood education in Practical Education. Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy seeks to explain topics like capitalism and the free market to the common reader, who had been excluded from these discussions. Rebecca Harding Davis’s John Andross exposes the Whiskey Ring Scandal, an early example of government corruption. Austen and the writers featured here offer some of the richest critiques of contemporary social justice and cultural issues.

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