As a woman far ahead of her time, both intellectually and socially, Jane Austen wrote novels that brought to the forefront issues of gender and class under the guise of feminine frivolity. While on the surface her novels are period romances, under the surface lie deeper issues of gender bias, social class systems and the role of economics in marriage. Students interested in Austen and her time can research -- among other topics -- women and education, marriage and money, or a comparison between modern marriages and those in 19th-century England.

19th Century Marriage

In 19th century England, marriage was often not based on romance. Most marriages were partnerships made out of economic necessity. People married partners from similar social and economic status. Marriages outside social class and economic bracket were few and caused rifts in families. Students can conduct research on the role marriage played in 19th century English society.

Economics of Marriage

Another research topic might be men of status and wealth who chose impoverished women and whether these unions were successful. Alternatively, what happened to women who chose not to marry and make a living on their own? Were professions available to them, and how successful or unsuccessful were they?

Gender Bias

Jane Austen’s books seemed to show that women in the 19th century were more interested in obtaining the right husband than in an education, and that those women who pursued education over matrimony were considered odd. Educational success was something that was important for men but deemed unnecessary for women. More research into Austen’s educational background would prove enlightening. What did her family and friends think of her novel writing? Was it embarrassing for a woman to have her own thoughts and opinions? What forms of gender bias do women still encounter today? These are excellent starting points for research topics.

Contemporary vs. Traditional Marriage

How is marriage viewed today? What do the changes in women's roles in marriage say about our society today? A student could conduct a comparative study of what women experienced in marriage in the 19th century and what they experience now.

Additional Topics

Further reading of Austen's work raises questions that garner additional research. Other possible topics include: How do Austen novels contribute to early realism and the feminist movement? What is the role of religion in Austen novels? How does Austen use satire and irony to address issues of class and other social issues? Analysis of characters in Austen's books raises additional research questions. For example, a comparison between Elizabeth Bennet and her mother pits wit and intelligence against practicality and social norms in "Pride and Prejudice." A closer look at various characters in an Austen novel might inspire other research topics.