I'm presenting this afternoon at 4:30. If you happen to be in Philadelphia, stop by.
Here's the proposal for my presentation:
Beauty is a concept extensively explored during the Age of Reason. Shaftesbury, Hogarth, Burke, Reynolds, and others debated and discussed beauty throughout the century, and although their deliberations are diverse, many of their definitions are highly gendered and prescriptive of accepted social behavior. Beauty was often associated with the good, the pure, the noble, and the virtuous. Physical appearance, for women especially, became a form of competition in their rush to the marriage mart, a fact certainly explored by Austen in her novels.
But physical appearance does not only shape the relationships of unrelated women within a community, all vying for the most eligible young man. It also has a function within Austen’s families. This paper will explore the role of siblings’ physical appearance and how it shapes both the individual and intra-familial relationships. How do physical comparisons among siblings affect personality development and individual behavior? Do these identity struggles lead to growth or despair? Does appearance foster competition among siblings, or solidarity? Does the way children look affect how they are perceived or treated by their parents? By extended family? Does physical beauty or the lack thereof affect male siblings as well as female ones? If so, in what ways?
Bernard J. Paris, in his work Character and Conflict in Jane Austen’s Novels, calls Austen “a serious interpreter of life, and a creator of brilliant mimetic characterizations,” an author who struggles “to combine comic actions with realistic characterizations and serious moral concerns” (13-14). This claim is nowhere more true than in her exploration of physical appearance and its role in family dynamics.