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Emma's Trial and Error and the Characteristics of the Victorian Era

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Though the protagonist, Emma, had distake towards marriage for herself, she attempted matching characters together to find out through jealousy that she was in love. Throughout the novel Emma attempts to match many couples. Mr. Weston and the governess but Miss Churchill came from a wealthy and tight knit family whereas Mr. Weston did not. Harriet and Mr. Elton failed because Harriet’s parents were unknown and Mr. Elton was infatuated with Emma. Emma did not want Harriet to marry Mr. Martin because she thinks Harriet is socially above him however, Harriet accepts his second proposal and they’re the first to get married. Emma had no idea that Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill were engaged, Mr. Knightely was the first to have suspicion. When Harriet exclaimed to Emma that she had feelings for Mr. Knightley, it made Emma realize that she’s loved him ever since she was a child. After Emma reluctantly made everyone assume she would never marry, she ends up marrying Mr. Knightley.

Austen’s life in England as a novelist during the Victorian period; marriage, financial stability, social status, change and courtship helped create the theme of Emma, marriage and matchmaking. Jane Austen was an English Novelist from England. She and her eight siblings, her being one of the two girls, were parented by George and Cassandra Austen. Austen had a very tight knit and caring family, “Her family’s support led not only to her education, but her success as a writer” (‘Austen, Jane.’ 2009). The family grew up in an environment that emphasizes learning and creative thinking. Her father, George, had a library where she and her siblings would read his books and perform plays and charades. In Emma, Jane used charades in a way on enjoyment, “They owed to him their two or three politest puzzles; and the joy and exultation with which at last he recalled, and rather sentimentally recited, that well-known charade — My first doth affliction denote, Which my second is destin’d to feel, And my whole is the best antidote That addiction to soften and heal — made her quite sorry to acknowledge that they had transcribed it some pages ago already” (Austen 59). Throughout her childhood, Jane got close to her father, George, and her sister, Cassandra. She and Cassandra went to a boarding school to better their education but their time fell short by getting Typhus. Jane started writing novels as a young girl in her notebooks. Jane spent most of her childhood keeping the house in order, practicing piano, attending church, sewing, drawing and socializing.

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While growing up in revolutions, Austen didn’t put much of the world into her work. Jane Austen had a unique way of writing. She didn’t put much of the real world that was surrounding her into her novel. During the time period where Austen grew up, “Austen was born just one year before the beginning of the American Revolution, an event of momentous importance in British and world history. She was a teenager when the French Revolution began, and must certainly have followed the anti-aristocratic actions of the French revolutionaries with interest and concern” (‘Austen, Jane.’ 2009).

Emma believes that men are superior to women. In the eighteenth century, a woman’s role in society was completely dependent upon a man for financial support. The complete opposite of how Jane wrote Emma. According to a biography of Jane Austen, “Austen fell in love with Tom Lefroy, a neighbor’s nephew, when she was twenty-one years old. However, the romance was not to be — his family did not like the match, and he was sent away from the neighborhood” (‘Austen, Jane.’ 2009). Jane brought her one-night love story into her novel. No matter how much you love a person, the marriage will not succeed when the couple isn’t equal financially and socially. In the eighteen hundreds when Emma was written, marriage was key. A man would ask a woman to marry them. “‘Oh, to be sure,’ cried Emma, ‘it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her’” (Austen 50). Women were supposed to be ready for marriage whenever asked. Most women would accept because of their social status. “Upper-class women in England were entirely legally dependent on their male relatives for financial support, and they were expected to marry well and be dutiful wives and mothers” (‘Austen, Jane.’ 2009). Growing up in a wealthy family, you’re expected to marry wealthy. Although having one situation in the book where Jane Fairfax and Frank Chuchill were together. “Her heroines tend to overcome almost insurmountable obstacles in their determination to marry for love instead of money or social status, though the material pleasures of a comfortable living are never ignored” (‘Austen, Jane.’ 2009). They kept their engagement a secret because his aunt, who was wealthy, would disapprove. They had to wait to get married until she passed on.

One of the major characteristics of the Victorian era is change. Change is something that happens throughout the novel and throughout Jane’s life. According to The Literature Network’s article on the Victorian era, “If there is one transcending aspect to Victorian England life and society, that aspect is change – or, more accurately, upheaval” (“Victorian Literature.”). When Jane was young, her father passed on. She had to learn to live without one of her best friends. In the book, “Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection” (Emma 1). Emma didn’t seem to remember having her mother around but she did have the governess. Once her governess [Miss Taylor] got married and turned into Mrs. Weston, she had to learn to adapt to the new change.

Another characteristic is courtship. Courtship is a point of time in a person’s relationship where they want to move forward, for example, marriage. Courtship should be simple and come naturally. In the novel, courtship never flows naturally. “The first error, and the worst, lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious — a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more” (Emma 111). Emma tries to force relationships together, which unintentionally tears them apart. Relationships are supposed to come naturally, that’s why Emma feels guilty and ashamed for forcing two together. According to Deanna Kreisel who wrote a criticism article on Jane Austen’s marriage plots, “The binding of this energy takes place through acts of repetition, return, and delay: for example, cases of mistaken identity or misunderstandings that are repeated before they can be cleared up — or even misguided attempts at matchmaking that must fail miserably before the proper marriages can come to pass” (Kreisel 2007). Finding the right person to marry takes time. A marriage shouldn’t be forced upon you by a woman who doesn’t believe in marriage for herself.

Industrialization is another key component, another aspect of change to the Victorian era. In the eighteenth century, there were growing railroads and waterways. In the novel, “I have no doubt of it’s being our carriage with Miss Bates and Jane. Our coachman and horses are extremely expeditious! I believe we drive faster than anybody. What a pleasure it is to send one’s carriage for a friend” (Austen 254). In Hartfield, where the novel takes place, they aren’t up to date with the society. They live in a tight knit town where everybody knows everyone’s business. Mr. Elton, who was from the city, came to Hartfield. He knows the difference between the city and the suburbs. He brings industrialization into the novel.

Emma had many trial and errors with matchmaking. Some were made for eachother and some not. Growing up in a society where social status and financial stability was a deal breaker for a marriage, Jane Austen included much of that into her novel. The theme of Emma is no matter how long Emma told herself she would never get married, there was a change of heart where she realized she was in love and got married when she said she never would. This action applies to every human being. Don’t say you’re not going to do something because you honestly never know what life will throw at you.


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