The young women in Jane Austen’s novels don’t have jobs. They have some home duties – sewing, visiting the poor – but they don’t exert their considerable intelligence and character in earning their livings.
When films and the television do Jane Austen adaptations they have to give the young women some occupation as acting business, thus we see them picking flowers, playing the harp or possibly drying their hair by candlelight. But those poor girls really do need to get out of the house and work so that they aren’t dependent on their parents and don’t have to wait around until some suitable young man makes them an offer of marriage. Here is my list of possible careers for them:-
Catherine Morland is the least intelligent of Jane Austen’s heroines so is probably not up to passing exams to become a vet, although she loves animals. Also, she is hopeless at practical tasks, her mother says. But she is sporty, enjoys the outdoors, played baseball as a child, and is kind to her younger brothers and sisters. She really should be training to be a PE teacher.
Her friend, Isabella Thorpe, is very pretty, affected and never happy unless receiving male attention. She is also on the make. She calls herself an actress but is in fact serving drinks at an upmarket club.
Elinor Tilney is clever, kind and bookish. She should be doing post-graduate studies in history and will stay in academia, where she will be deservedly popular with her students.
Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet is of course the most attractive young woman in English fiction – witty, intelligent and outspoken. She can play and sing, though not brilliantly ("more pleasing than capital"), that is, she can project her personality in performance. She can be lead singer of a rock band and will give great chat between the songs and wow them at interviews.
Of her four sisters, there is Jane Bennet who believes the best of everybody so she can be a much put upon social worker, who is careful not to be "judgemental"; Mary Bennet, who mistakes jargon for knowledge can teach Cultural Studies somewhere; while the noisy and flirtatious Lydia Bennet is a pole dancer in a club; and the insipid Kitty Bennet, always following her sister, runs the club’s cloakroom.
Elizabeth’s great friend, Charlotte Lucas, needs a job more than any of the Austen young women as she sees no other option in her future except to marry an embarrassing fool. She, shrewd, tactful and realistic often to the point of cynicism, would make an excellent lawyer and would eventually be made partner in her firm.
There is Caroline Bingley. Like many Jane Austen villainesses she is snobbish, scheming and insincere. We shall give her a job in public relations. She spends every evening networking.
Pride and Prejudice swarms with young ladies. Georgiana Darcy is still at school but will become a classical musician, probably burying her shy self in a symphony orchestra. Anne de Burgh is sickly and neurotic so will no doubt spend her youth suffering eating disorders and being kept under the care of psychiatrists. And there is Maria Lucas - she is empty-headed and excitable. Being a television presenter should suit her.
Sense and Sensibility
The chief young women in this novel are Elinor Dashwood the "sense" and Marianne Dashwood the "sensibility" of the title. Elinor is one of the observing heroines with a clear head, strong feelings and a slight touch of the headmistress. She should be doing socially useful research eg in pharmaceuticals. It is a wonder to see her dealing with awkward colleagues and allocating her department's meagre funds.
Marianne Dashwood is gifted and intense. I see her as a singer and multi-instrumentalist in a folktronica band, the sort that does protest songs and puts on gigs for Amnesty International. She has a doomed affair with the wild guitarist Willoughby, the band splits but after recovering from her suicide attempt she eventually settles with the producer Brandon, who manages her respected solo career.
Lucy Steele is another designing villainess, and as such goes into PR but she is cleverer and works harder than Caroline Bingley and has gone far. She started from the bottom in a PR company and as she is astute at company politics, has managed to oust her original mentor and take over the whole business, which has gone from strength to strength and is now spin doctoring for some prestigious clients. She also has put the n into networking - to the nth degree.
She employs her crude and stupid sister Anne as her cleaner. In Lucy's smart flat Anne is forbidden to answer the phone in case she blurts out indiscretions and is the terror of every tradesman around. Plumbers, electricians, washing machine repairmen - they all dread the close personal interest she takes in them trying to carry out their tasks.
Fanny Price, shy and timid, is the least attractive of Jane Austen’s heroines. She would never be happy in work that requires dealing much with the public. But she loves books and reading and is very well organised. We’ll make her a librarian in a specialist horticultural library, attached to Kew Gardens, where she has become irreplaceable, though her superiors bully her and to her unkinder colleagues she is known as Don't Sit Her Next To Me At Any Price, because she is something of a deadweight at social events. Her practical, more confident sister Susan runs a medium sized business.
Mary Crawford, Fanny's love rival, is lively, quick-witted and a little corrupt. She can be a fesity journalist for a glossy magazine, turning out gossipy paragraphs as a show-business insider. She occasionally writes columns in a flippantly dismissive tone about subjects outside of her range of actual information. Is working on a chick-lit novel.
The Bertram sisters both got good degrees and went to work in the City. Maria is a Funds Manager who earns huge bonuses and Julia, who is less greedy and less ambitious, is a financial adviser.
Emma Woodhouse is, par excellence, the young Austen woman with far too much time and energy on her hands, which she uses to interfere with and manipulate other people. She makes huge mistakes but she bounces back. Her confidence and resilience make her an ideal politician, her bossy compassion makes her a natural for New Labour; and since she has looks and charm as well, she will probably end up being Prime Minister. She can however risk the world for a witticism and her clever tongue may get her into trouble when she goes out to meet the people.
Her friend is the simple and sweet-natured Harriet Smith. It seems a shame to make Harriet work in an office. After leaving her care home she can be picking strawberries for that enterprising farmer, Robert Martin, they get together and then she becomes popular with the customers of their soft-fruit stall at the farmers’ market. As long as one of the other Martins is there to count the change, she should do very well. Though she will write strawbery's and raspbery's on the Produce for Sale blackboard.
The brass-necked Augusta Elton, nee Hawkins, is a meddler with a habit of patronage. She should be Team Leader of some bogus outreach project, full of the latest buzz words and caring theories, much hated by the deprived and even more by her colleagues, to whom she boasts of her newly fitted kitchen, designer garden and so on. We can hope that some mishandled junkie will stab her.
The quiet, serious Jane Fairfax again has a talent for music and great powers of application. This suggests to me a mathematical mind. I would make her a code breaker except that she is uneasy at having to keep secrets. So she can be a dependable software designer, or, given her elegance, a website designer.
Anne Elliott is the most lovable of the heroines in her patience and heart-break. She is an observer of other people’s troubles and is very sympathetic. As she is good with children she can be a paediatrician. No-one so capable as Anne! they say at the hospital. And no-one so approachable - and how she is approached by everyone, from anxious National Health Service managers to exploited ancillary nurses.
Her older sister Elizabeth is brainless and has a great sense of her own entitlement. She is just about unemployable. She gets some kind of decorative job through her father’s connections – secretary in an art gallery perhaps – and nobody dares fire her.
Her younger sister Mary is married with a couple of children but will no doubt get a part-time job. I’ll have her doing something in a local tourist office and she will be constantly calling in sick.
The Musgrove girls are Louisa, whose high spirits before her accident would make her a nice nurse, one you would be grateful to have chatting at your hospital bed about last night’s hen party, though her habits of stubbornness would make her insist on you using a bedpan even if you didn't want one; and the passive Henrietta, who can be an administrator in corporate anywhere.
There are a couple of young widows in Persuasion. Penelope Clay is plausible and insinuating, and obviously should be in sales. She would not be the aggressive kind of sales consultant but the one who slyly shifts five gallons of rejuvenating cream a week at a beauty counter.
Mrs Smith is crippled with an unspecified illness. She is a woman of charitable instincts and a positive outlook so she can work as a lobbyist for her disease, heading the group called SPA, Sickness not Particularly Ascertained