Example Comparative Essay
Read through the following example comparative essay and annotate as a marker would. Consider what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what mark out of 20 you would be inclined to give the essay.
Consider style aspects such as:
- How well have they followed the guide structure?
- How often do they quote per paragraph?
- How good is the formal language do they use to communicate?
- How detailed is their knowledge of the contextual values?
- Are their argument and ideas easy to understand – if so how have they achieved this?
- Do they vary sentence lengths and try to make the essay interesting to read?
- Have they made any glaring mistakes? If so, what are they?
Intertextual Connections: Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice
How does a comparative study of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice bring to the fore ideas and values relevant to the lives of women in society?
The ideas and values relevant to the lives of women in society have become more complex over time, as evident through the numerous values and ideas that are still prominent within contemporary society, from the 18th century. The 1980s epistolary novel Letters to Alice by Fay Weldon and Jane Austen’s 1790s novel Pride and Prejudice bring to the fore these ideas and values in contrasting contexts, through the exploration of attitudes of women and society had towards advice, education and relationships. Austen’s context highly valued the social conduct of women, but Weldon’s contemporary context reflects a relaxed attitude to social conduct. The importance of education and familial relationships has remained, but has changed in how they are perceived by society, thus affecting the lives of women. Thus, the comparative study of these texts allows the reader to gain deeper insight into how the issues affecting the lives of women have altered or been sustained throughout time.
The values of receiving and giving advice between women permeate Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice, highlighting this value as relevant to women’s lives as time progresses, because it allows them to have a secure future. The formal epistolary structure of Letters to Alice provides a means of presenting advice that’s uncommon within contemporary society, and establishes Aunt Fay as representative of her 1980s context. The mentoring relationship between Alice and Fay is founded through giving advice within letters: “what others say are your faults… may it be carried to the extremes, you strengths, virtues”. Weldon’s juxtaposition of Fay’s advice against criticism of Alice enforces the importance of sharing advice between women as writers in the twentieth century, as she believes it is difficult to obtain meaningful advice and criticism in the 21st century. This can also be viewed as the flow of advice moving down the familial social structure based on age, revealing that advice is only allowed to be given by older women – meaning that there is a kind of traditionalist matriarchal structure still present within female communities. Sharing advice between women is also prevalent within Pride and Prejudice, highlighting this as a continuous value relevant to women’s lives. Letters provide symbolism of the close relationships between characters, as it was more confidential than public speech and not always subject to strict social conduct. The importance of sharing advice between women is seen through this medium of correspondence, and also reflects advice passing down the familial social structure. Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth’s close relationship gives evidence to this facet of women’s lives in Austen’s early Victorian context. “Lizzy, this must go no farther than yourself, or Jane at most”. Mrs. Gardiner’s instructive tone, acting in her nieces best interests, emphasizes the close nature of their relationship – an exception to social norms, as in Austen’s context, relationships were largely created for the ulterior motive of financial security. Thus the value of sharing advice is seen to be relevant to women’s lives, past and present, in the study of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice.
The role/importance of education for women in society recurs throughout Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice, although different reasons exist why this significant value is relevant to women’s lives. Austen’s attention to the level of education was driven by the notion of marriage. In her patriarchal English context, it is stressed that a woman “must possess” an “improvement of her mind by extensive reading”. Darcy’s dialogue reiterates the need for education to increase the likelihood of a marriage proposal. Frequent public and private speech concerning this issue demonstrates to contemporary readers that the only way a woman could financially secure her future was through marriage: “reasons for marrying…one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother’s decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to”. Thus, Pride and Prejudice highlights education as an integral part of women’s lives in the 18th century. Letters to Alice concurs “being elegantly and well developed” and a study of “the classics” dominated women’s lives in Austen’s tine, due to marriage prospects. However, Weldon contrasts this with the contemporary understanding of education for women. It is valued because it “enlightens”, and “you are changed yet unchanged!” The oxymoron embodies the shift and alteration of attitudes in society, resulting in a greater appreciation of the value of education for women. The extended metaphor of the “City of Invention… is all, really, education is about” furthers Aunt Fay’s argument of the significance education holds for women today because it can help break out of traditional roles and discover their potential, in contrast to Fay’s sister, who is portrayed in a negative light. Therefore, the changing nature of the importance of education in Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice is relevant to the lives of women in society.
The value of familial relationships with and between women dominates Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice. Familial relationships are tested in times of conflict, as seen in Aunt Fay and Enid’s relationship in Letters to Alice: “it is time we patched up this quarrel…we may even be reunited”. Weldon’s use of didacticism is evident of the imperative value of familial relationships in her context where family is significant in shaping an individual, regardless of conflict. This value is further seen in Fay and Alice’s relationship: “trying to help her… see my letters as seed flung upon ground in need of literary fertilizer”. Weldon’s metaphor demonstrates the contemporary perspective of familial relationships, revealing them as relevant to the lives of women, which is influenced by the positive family values instilled by literature in her context. Familial relationships are seen to be less concerned with marriage and financial status, thus reflecting Weldon’s context, where the independence of women is highly valued. The attitudes towards familial relationships have altered significantly, when looking back at Pride and Prejudice. Characters seek to distance themselves from taboo issues, particularly concerning women, which is evident in Lydia’s elopement. Her scandal deeply affects the family’s relationships and risks their social standing, which in turn jeopardizes the marriage prospects of her sisters. Mr. Collins is representative of the general attitudes towards familial relationships in times of conflict “the death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison…leave her”. We are shown through juxtaposition, the strict social conduct towards familial relationships in Austen’s context, thus highlighting relationships as being based on one’s public actions. Therefore, it can be seen that familial attitudes and relationships have undergone great change over time for women.
Social conduct and etiquette for women dominate Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice. The importance of these values for women in Austen’s context is difficult to understand from a contemporary perspective – it was a dominating part of society, even at the expense of individual emotions: “politeness, warred, as always, with desperation”. Weldon’s awareness deepens the intensity behind dialogue within Pride and Prejudice, knowing the possible hidden tension resulting from the strict social etiquette expected of women. Weldon juxtaposes this to the attitudes to women’s social conduct of the 20th century “it is better to be sexually experienced than innocent”, where sex is a commodity, not virginity. The brief listing contrasts the change in social expectations of women, revealing them to have shifted to the other direction over time. While in Pride and Prejudice, formal introductions are required: “it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you don’t”, emphasizing the women’s need to follow social conduct and men. Thus it is evident that although social etiquette for women is still valued, it has become a different focus.
Although I was aware of the general context of Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice, the comparative study of the texts has shown me the change and lasting issues relevant to women’s lives in society- education, advice, relationships and social conduct. The comparative study of the texts together has significant synergistic value, allowing the reader to make informed judgments about the ideas and values pervading the lives of women in both contexts. These connections bring to life the values which have shaped women in literature, and influenced generations over time.