Britishness in Jane Austen’s Landscapes: Critically Analyzing Cultural and National Identity

  Landscape description plays a vital role in the construction of identity and value of a nation or country. As one of the representative British writers of the 19th century, Jane Austen’s works include many descriptions of British rural landscapes. These landscape descriptions are of great significance to the presentation of Britishness, an important component of the British nation. This article intends to analyze the natural and cultural landscapes in Jane Austen’s works, from the perspective of country manor, national customs and national values, analyze the significant national characteristics reflected in the landscape, and explore the Britishness in Austen’s writings.
  What is Britishness? “Britishness” was first included in the dictionary in 1805, referring to “the distinctive characteristics of national life”. Although the study of Britishness is inseparable from the rise of post-colonial discourse in the 20th century, the concept of British nation-state had already been formed as early as the 18th century, so the study of Britishness is by no means limited to the 20th century. Britishness represents a rich connotation, which can be traced back to the Middle Ages, covering many aspects such as politics, economy, history, customs and culture, national living habits, national geography, national identity, values, norms of speech and behavior, etc.
  Landscape, as the product of long-term interaction between people and the environment, not only represents natural scenery, but its connotation can extend to many fields such as society, culture, and economy. In recent years, in addition to research topics such as landscape and power, political landscape, imperial discourse, and ideology, research on landscape and national identity has gradually attracted academic attention. “Representative landscapes have specific cultural connotations and are used to construct, maintain and promote the spread of myths with a unified national identity.” Landscape not only displays the “ideological value system” and “aesthetic concepts” of a certain community, but also shapes their understanding and interpretation of the world, affecting their “imagination and identity of the nation/country.”
  For Britain, landscape is of great significance to the formation of its national values. Landscapes include non-private natural landscapes such as fields, lakes, and forests, as well as human landscapes represented by human settlements such as manors and cities. These have always been an important part of Austen’s works that cannot be ignored. Austen is famous for her creative themes of marriage and love, but she describes more than just “three or four families in a country village”. “Austen’s imperial consciousness is contained in her words.” In Austen’s rural landscapes, the manor symbolizes wealth, power and class, and is the center of the characters’ lives. Its construction and layout also reveal the traditions passed down from generation to generation by the British nation. Beyond the manor, the preference for traveling in the countryside also clearly reproduces the social life habits of Austen’s era. At the same time, people’s aesthetic pursuit of landscapes and their exploration and transformation of landscapes also confirmed the similar values ​​of the middle class at that time in terms of landscape appreciation. This article intends to analyze the significant national characteristics reflected in the scenery from the perspective of country estates, national customs and national values ​​through the analysis of the natural and cultural landscapes in Austen’s works, and explore the Britishness in Austen’s writings.
  1. “Britishness” in
  the country manor As a “frequent visitor” in British novels in the 18th century, the country manor is one of the important symbols of Britishness. For British society in the 18th century, the manor was not only the daily residence of the middle class, but also a typical symbol of status and wealth, highlighting the insurmountable gap between classes. On the one hand, the manor’s diverse and complex aesthetic value provides lasting appreciation and can highlight the personality, temperament and preferences of the manor owner; on the other hand, the manor also serves as a unique national symbol, demonstrating British society’s emphasis on “harmony between man and nature”. The historical pursuit of “symbiosis” shows that economic development has not changed the British national characteristics of advocating scenery and attaching importance to aesthetics. Country manors are of great significance in constructing and displaying the national identity of British society, and are “a magic weapon for maintaining strong, stable, long-lasting orderly, conservative and introverted traditional rural values”; and the traditional Britishness of rural England based on land, class and race, It also “gradually evolved from class identity to national identity” in the changing times.
  What is an English country manor? “There are beautiful small gardens in front of each house, indicating that these are typical British-style houses – the British have been famous for their gardens since ancient times, and the wide and straight roads, neatly planted flowers and trees, and careful site selection and construction The houses and their colorful decorations reflect the British qualities of civilization, rationality, order and rules.” Austen, who came from a well-off family, lived in a typical British countryside almost all his life, and naturally there are a variety of British manor landscapes in his works. Pemberley Manor in “Pride and Prejudice” has a “large garden”, is decorated with “wide and deep beautiful woods” and “a stream that grows wider and wider”. In “Sense and Sensibility” there is a “little patch” at the door. Baden Manor, with its “green lawns” and Cleveland Manor, with its “open shrubbery and secluded forest paths”, are both examples of typical English manors, showing the heartfelt enthusiasm of the British social class for the manor in the 18th century. . In addition, the manor is not only a single main building, but its interior decoration and geographical location are indispensable and important parts of the manor’s scenery. When Elizabeth came to Pemberley Manor for the first time, she was impressed by the cleverly arranged manor landscape: Pemberley Manor, located across the river valley with a panoramic view of the mountains and rivers, also showed meticulousness and order in the interior – “Every room is tall and bright. , the furniture and furnishings are commensurate with the owner’s status.” The carefully considered site selection of the manor and the neat and decent interior decoration are all based on the British qualities of “civilization, rationality, order, and rules”.
  From the manors that can be seen everywhere in Austen’s works and the enthusiasm for manors in British society at that time, we can see the importance of manors in showing social characteristics; and every aspect inside and outside the country manor – from the site selection to the landscape, trees, and interior decoration, all tell the story The many connotations of Britishness.
  2. Tourism scenery and national customs
  Tourism scenery is an important starting point for analyzing the landscape writing in Austen’s novels and the demonstration of Britishness. Almost every one of Austen’s novels has a plot setting of outings, and the tourist scenery has therefore developed into a powerful reflection of the British national living habits. The growing prosperity of tourism and excursions not only relies on the wealth gradually accumulated by the middle class in the development of capitalist economy, but also is indispensable with the boost of literary and artistic waves such as landscape paintings. Leaving the settlement to explore other places became a social custom in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Young men and women regarded going out by carriage or hiking as an effective way to make friends, exchange ideas, enhance feelings, and even pass the time, and developed Become an important part of social life. As one of the British female writers with a relatively prosperous family background and a relatively harmonious family life, Austen traveled many times for academic, entertainment and other reasons, and experienced different scenery in the vast land of England, all of which left traces in her literary creations. .
  In Austen’s novels, there are plot arrangements in which the protagonist drives far away to explore other places. In her famous work “Pride and Prejudice”, Elizabeth and the Gardners travel together. In Chapter 19, Elizabeth is unhappy with the dull atmosphere at home: “Her trip to the Lake District was the happiest thought before her eyes.” Austen’s The travel scenery is not a fantasy in a fictional world, but is truly connected to the geographical features of England: “According to the current plan, they will only go as far north as Derbyshire, which will probably be like Matlock, Chatsworth, Scenic spots such as the Dofu Valley and the Peak Mountains also fascinate her.” Elizabeth’s trip is also the key to promoting the plot of the novel. The trip to Pemberley Manor changed her stereotype of Mr. Darcy and became a turning point for the two to resolve their misunderstandings and warm up their relationship. In the novel “Emma”, there is also a related plot where the protagonist develops thoughts about traveling through mountains and rivers through landscape paintings. Emma, ​​who had never traveled far, had no interest in driving far away from her father until Mr. Knightley described the beautiful Bucks Mountains to her and presented her with books with illustrations of his landscape paintings. The beautiful scenery of green trees and rolling mountains in the illustrations became the main motivation for Emma to leave home for the first time.

  Austen’s depiction of tourist scenery is not simply to enrich the plot, but also to record real British life, reflecting the social trend of the British in the early 19th century who had an economic foundation and aesthetic pursuits to advocate travel and return to nature. At the same time, writers’ literary records of tourist scenery also encourage readers to return to the countryside, promote the development of tourism, and accelerate the formation of national customs.
  3. Landscape and National Values
  ​​For the British, the view that landscape is just a symbol of wealth and a place for fun is too thin. To a large extent, landscape has entered the British national spirit and integrated into the construction of social values. Whether it is aesthetic value or life preferences, landscape identity plays an important role.
  (1) Landscape Aesthetics and Aesthetic Pursuit
  The British love of landscape does not stop at superficial and individualized appreciation. It has gradually developed into a critical aesthetics and entered schools, occupying an irreplaceable position in civic education. Not only are relevant geography and cartography courses included in the syllabus, but artistic hobbies such as painting have also become “compulsory courses” for young ladies at home. Being fond of and able to appreciate scenery has become an exclusive characteristic of British citizens. With the improvement of people’s appreciation of landscape, landscape painting has risen accordingly. In addition, “the Picturesque” (the Picturesque) has gradually entered the field of literary criticism with the popularization of landscape appreciation, and has become an important entry point for studying the works of British writers represented by Austen.
  Although the British hold a high praise attitude towards the national landscape and use it to demonstrate their national pride, they still maintain critical thinking and have different judgments on natural and cultural landscapes. In Chapter 18 of Sense and Sensibility, Edward, who was visiting Barton for the first time, had a heated argument with Elinor and Marianne about the scenery. Although they all expressed their appreciation for the scenery around Barton, the three discussed deeply their own views on the appreciation of the scenery. Among them, Eleanor believed that most people “actually don’t have much feeling for natural beauty, and the words of praise are exaggerated and arty”. At the same time, he criticized Edward’s behavior of “in order to avoid pretense, but ended up falling into another kind of artificiality.” Marianne agreed with Elinor’s point of view, and also condemned the clichés of traditional perspectives and paid more attention to personal perception: “Appreciating beauty has become a vulgar word. Someone first defines beauty, and then everyone else pretends to I still search for beautiful words to describe the feeling, in order to pretend to be elegant.”
  The British people in the landscape are not blind and empty. They actively reflect on the arrangement and combination of elements that constitute the landscape, and actively participate in the critical creation of landscape paintings, theaters, and literary works. This not only sets off a wave of landscape aesthetics within society, but also forms a unique British style. The value position of understanding the scenery, feeling the scenery and criticizing the scenery.
  (2) Exploration and Transformation of Landscape
  With the victory of Britain in the four Anglo-French wars, Britain gradually established its position in the world. In the 19th century, although Britain’s overseas undertakings declined somewhat, imperial consciousness was still an important component of the national consciousness of British society at that time. Austen witnessed the emergence of the British Empire, and the imperial identity of the British nation also entered Austen’s works. The spirit of overseas development and exploration admired by the empire also entered daily life, and entered the transformation and exploration of the landscape.
  After entering a landscape, examining the entire landscape and making radical modifications is one of the “traditions” engraved in the bones of the British. The mainstream middle class usually does not “use” landscapes as they come, but rather changes the way they are presented according to their own requirements. In “Mansfield Park”, when Mrs. Norris and Mr. Rushworth talked about the renovation of the Sotherton compound, she said that she was born with a love of renovation, and as long as she had a piece of land, she would keep planting and improving it. When Mr. Rushworth evaluated the landscape furnishings around the Sotherton compound, he also considered it from the perspective of whether it was suitable for renovation: “Built in the lowest part of the manor…that is not conducive to renovation. But the trees are lush and green. , and there is a creek…that can be used a lot.”
  Also not to be overlooked is the adventurous spirit displayed by landscape entrants and transformers. When the Crawford brothers and sisters visited and traveled with Fanny, Edmund and others, the desire and curiosity they displayed for the wilderness coincided with the pioneering spirit admired by the British Empire. “The young man suddenly found a door leading to the yard. Outside the door was an inviting step, which led directly to the lawn and shrubbery… Everyone could no longer hold back, and swarmed around as if they were rushing towards fresh air and freedom. He ran out the door.” Facing a new land that they have never set foot on, young people did not show any timidity. Instead, they were attracted by the world outside their doors. Their desire to explore and the spirit of adventure pushed them towards the outside world.
  Facing the manor and other landscapes, the characters in the book show an innate sense of transformation and exploration, which is inseparably linked to the British national identity in Austen’s era. This kind of exploration and transformation is the quality of Britishness in the imperial context. presentation.
  4. Conclusion
  Austen’s landscape writing has multiple attributes, among which Britishness has been less explored in past research, but this does not mean that it does not have research significance. On the contrary, establishing the connection between landscape writing and Britishness not only provides a new perspective for the literary study of Austen’s novels, but also elevates the connection between man and nature from a purely scientific proposition to the perspective of human society, politics and culture. It is not difficult to see from a closer look at Austen’s novels that the landscape has integrated into the daily life of the British in various and complex identities; it is a reference to history, and the landscape is a cultural symbol that carries the smoke and clouds of Britain’s past. Landscape writing contains not only the British manorial characteristics, aesthetic pursuits, rural dreams and spirit of exploration, but also England’s continuous tradition and the powerful force of identity building.

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