The Importance Of Love And Marriage To Female Characters In Emma By Jane Austen

Jane Austen uses the novel Emma, to show how a rising social status for a character diminishes the importance of social stability that marriage brings to female characters.

The importance of love and marriage varies with each female character in Emma depending on their social class and status in society. This variation can mainly be split into three categories: a woman of a lower social class marrying a male from a higher social class, people of similar social classes marrying each other, and women of higher social class marrying men of lower social class.

Even though most marriages occur between partners who love each other, there are still some marriages that occur solely for personal gains. Thankfully, most marriages in Emma happen between two people who love each other and genuinely wants to be together. In these cases, marriage is then aligned with the idea of love. However, even when people marry for love, they may also benefit from their partners’ wealth and social class. It can thus be seen that these benefits that marriage brings to each of the female characters vary depending on the situation.

Firstly, I will be focusing on the importance of marriage to women of lower social class.

Looking at the marriage of Jane Fairfax, we can see how she was lucky to be “saved” by marriage while being able to be with someone that she loved. Seeing how Jane Fairfax was an orphan, she was required to find a job as a governess or get married for her survival. Even smart, she is an unprovided woman with no prospects in life beyond earning her living as governess at Mrs Smallridge’s and passing her hardened holidays with Miss Bates.” Jane’s fate in life was to be a governess, a fact that many are well aware of. Thankfully, it was later announced that she was to marry Frank Churchill, who was obviously of a higher status then she is. After their engagement was announced, people immediately discerned that she was to have a stable life and would not have any financial worries anymore. This can be seen by how even Emma knew that “Miss Fairfax, it was reasonable to suppose, would soon cease to belong to Highbury. They would be married, and settled either at or near Enscombe”. Jane’s marriage to Frank therefore not only held the benefit of being with her loved one but also having an improved life. The contrast between Jane's situation before and after the engagement was announced clearly showed the importance of marriage to her life.

Another example would also be the marriage of Ms Taylor and Mr Weston. Even as the governess of the Woodhouse family, it is still vital for Miss Taylor to marry someone who can contribute to her financial stability. Upon her marriage to Mr Weston, she was able to move out of the house and stay with Mr Weston. This allowed her to have a great deal of free time, together with a higher social status.

Something that both these marriages have in common is that the partners of the females are of higher classes than them. Female characters of lower class may marry out of love but at the same time this marriage to someone of a higher social class also benefits them financially and socially. Marriage provides them with the rare opportunity and capability to move up the social ladder of Highbury. Therefore, marriage can be seen as important to the women of a lower socioeconomic status.

Secondly, I will be addressing the fact that marriages are not as significant for the middle class women compared to those in the lower class.

An example of a middle class woman and her marriage is the marriage between Ms Hawkins and Mr Elton. As people of the higher levels of middle class but not quite considered as upper class yet, they can both be seen to be making use of their marriage to boost their social status. Seeing how they already have the means to live comfortably without this marriage, marriage to them is then seen as something that gives them the ability to move up the social hierarchy that is visibly present in their society. To Miss Hawkins, her marriage was more like a business transaction where both parties can benefit from one another. In this case, this benefit comes in the form of social status. Even though social status is seemingly important, the importance of Miss Hawkin’s marriage is well below that of either Jane Fairfax or Miss Taylor.

Therefore, it can be seen that marriage is not as important to female characters of middle class. Even though they can benefit from marriage, they currently already have the means to make a living or is able to live comfortably without getting married.

Lastly, I will be analysing the importance of marriage and love to female characters of a higher social status.

As a woman of high social status, Emma Woodhouse can be seen as an exception to various social conventions. Not only is her take on marriage different but she is also marrying purely out of love. Emma sees marriage as a way to get what she has no need of, “Fortune I do no want; employment I do no want; consequences I do not want. I believe few married women are half a much Mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield…”. Undoubtedly, she is able to live her life as well without being married to Mr Knightley. Marriage is not as important to Emma seeing how it will not impact her life greatly in terms of an improved social class. From this marriage, she would get more out of love and Mr Knightley’s companionship as compared to social class or status.

Another example is Miss Churchill. She marries Mr Weston out of love, is willing to give up her assets and inheritance to be with him. From what little that we know of her, it is clear that the purpose of her marriage was to be with the man she loved. It can also be seen that she did not gain anything financially from the marriage but instead has even lost. Her marriage was not out of necessity, but out of love and her wants.

Women of higher class already have everything that they need but chose to marry out of love. Marriage is for them to be happier and their lives more beautiful. The only thing that these women, Emma Woodhouse and Miss Churchill, from the upper class had gained from their marriages was love. This is in comparison to how women from a lower class like Jane Fairfax and Miss Taylor had added gains from their respective marriages. From these examples, we can clearly see how a womфn of upper class does not gain as much from marriage as women of lower class would gain.

In conclusion, I feel that the numerous marriages in Emma show the varying importance of love and marriage to women of different class in the novel. Where the importance decreases as the women's socioeconomic status rises. 

09 March 2021
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