Female “Firsts” : performing in the marriage market and on the political stage in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Hillary Clinton’s what happened
Wan Nur Riny
Date of Issue2018-07-25
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
What do American politician Hillary Clinton and English novelist Jane Austen have in common? What lessons can we learn from these female “pioneers” in their respective fields? With Clinton being the first female presidential candidate in the United States, it seems that the historically male-dominated public sphere has become more inclusive and progressive. But have things really changed? This issue involving female participation in the public sphere dates back to one of the most celebrated female novelists —Jane Austen. Interestingly, Austen’s discussion on woman’s self-presentation in the public sphere of eighteenth-century England resonates into the twenty-first century US, as the latter is the historical and cultural product of that era. I will begin by defining the term ‘public sphere’ based on Jürgen Habermas’s theory, and this study will grapple with the gendered implications of his theory by comparing and contrasting Hillary Clinton’s What Happened (2017) and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). This analysis will chart the continuing difficulties women face in presenting themselves in the public sphere: women still have to play the marriage game in order to be taken seriously. By examining the self-representation of “Hillary Clinton” in What Happened alongside Austen’s characters, we can chart the consequences of marriage laws—and women’s negotiation of them—from the eighteenth century to the contemporary period. While much progress has been made in improving women’s rights since the eighteenth century, many societies still unofficially evaluate women according to their relationships with men. Clinton has suffered because of the lingering effects of the historical curtailment of women’s political participation, financial independence, property rights, and bodily integrity. In What Happened, Clinton follows Austen in narrating the tribulations of an independent heroine grappling with a fundamentally sexist public sphere. While Clinton’s autobiography belongs to the non-fiction genre, she nevertheless uses literary conventions recognisable from Austen’s fiction. It is therefore possible to analyse the “Hillary Clinton” of What Happened as a self-constructed character in a narrative centred on an independent-minded heroine.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University