Emma is firmly rooted in Augustan notions of social hierarchy, but whether Jane Austen supports this view in society of how people should marry and behave, is debatable. I believe she does not believe people’s position in society is so important, and Emma is a novel written, to argue against this quintessentially English behaviour among the upper classes.
The novel can be seen as a social spoof of this section of society, where many are just unconfident of their own social position, due to “new money” becoming so frowned upon in the 19th Century.The position of women in society was largely dictated by strict codes of explanation. They were constrained by societies expectation to make a match, which would ensure their respectability and financial comfort. Marriage was as much a business as a matter of the heart. Even though, throughout the novel, it is emphasised that women should marry for this, I believe Austen does not agree.
Previously Austen has shunned the idea of a loveless marriage by writing to her niece saying: “anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Many people at this time would have disagreed immensely with her view that love is so important. I feel, that Emma emphasises Austen’s belief throughout. It is, fundamentally, a love story, with everyone ending up married to the one they truly love. Some feminist critics have argued that this is just Jane Austen living in a fairytale world, where each girl gets to marry her prince, and believe in reality this does not happen.
In such a society people could have not married whom the specifically wanted.Jane Fairfax is typical of the breed of young women who are brought up to be skilled in he pursuits of a gentlewoman, but without the means to make her a marriageable proposition for a man of fortune. She too, in the end, gets what she wants and marries above herself to a man she loves.
However, Austen charts, throughout the novel, Harriet search for the right man with the correct social standing for her to marry, but in the end, the reader comes to realise there is no point in her trying to marry above her. Mr knightly goes as far as to say his “only scruple in advertising the match was on his account, as being beneath [Mr Martins] deserts. Although men were permitted to make matches with women without financial and society security if they were pretty and accomplished, Mr Knightly, again is the voice of the time, presenting most people views of these matches: “men of family would not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of such obscurity.
..” Jane Austen uses Emma’s refusal to acknowledge societies codes of expectation to voice her own belief that societies rule do not always need to apply. Jane Fairfax’s marriage to Mr Churchill is against he perfect example of this.Continually, Emma is used by Austen to show her opinion on situations.
When Emma makes a quip to Miss Bates about the extent of her pattering, Mr Knightly, who takes her aside, quickly knocks her back. He corrects her behaviour and speaks warmly to her about the heartlessness of her comment. Emma may try to blame Jane’s “reserve” for their lack of friendship, but once Mr Knightly corrects her, she quickly realises she has done an unpardonable wrong by insulting Miss Bates. This seems to clearly be Austen commenting on how the upper classes, of this time, treat the lower and middle classes. Again, she goes against the social convictions of the time, and thinks that even the upper classes should treat the lower classes with dignity and politeness-not just say what they want, because they are richer.
Austen does however, comment on her dim view of those who completely ignore there social status, in the form of Mrs Elton who “brought no name, no blood, no alliance” yet still believed herself to be better than Emma because she is married. Austen shows in Emma a strong woman who does not depend on a man or need a match to succeed in life. Hereditary wealth was perceived as infinitely superior to recently earned “new money” which was all Mrs Elton had. I believe it is Austen showing a typical view of new money of the time, not absolutely her own view of new money.I do not believe the Jane Austen support the social convictions of the time and would go as far as to say Emma is a novel dedicated to show how she believes marriage should be. This romantic novel portrays how Austen believes love will somehow conquer all, even in a culture where the matches made should be to do with your social standing.
Austen continually defies typical codes of conduct of the time.