The Importance of Love and Marriage to Female Characters in Emma

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Jane Austen uses the novel Emma, to show how a rising social status diminishes the importance of social stability that marriage brings to female characters. The importance of love and marriage varies with the female characters in Emma depending on their social class and status in society. But it can mainly be split into these 3 categories, a woman of a lower social class marrying a male from a higher social class, people of around the same social class marrying each other, and women of higher social class marrying men of lower social class.

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Undoubtedly, love may not end up in marriage, while marriages may not be due to love. Thankfully, most marriages in Emma happens between two people who love each other and want to be together. In these cases, marriage is then lined with the idea of love. Even as people are getting married out of love, they may also benefit from their partners’ wealth and social class. These benefits that marriage brings to each of the female characters varies with their social status and class.

Firstly, I will be focusing on the importance of marriage to women of lower social class. Using the example of 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 those of 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 understood that she was to have a stable life and not have any financial worries anymore. Jane’s marriage to Frank therefore not only held the benefit of being with someone whom she loved 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, a higher social status and organising balls.

Something that both these marriages have in common is that the bride marries a groom that is from a higher class than she is. I have come to the conclusion of how 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 ability to move up the rigid 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 middle class women in the book. The benefits that marriage brings to them are not as significant and therefore marriage is not seen as that important to them in comparison with those in the lower class.

As an example of a middle class woman and her marriage, we see Ms Hawkins getting married to Mr Elton. As people of the higher levels of middle class but not quite considered as upper class yet, they can be seen to both be using their marriage to boost each other’s social status, something that they feel is important but will not greatly affect one’s life. 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. Emma Woodhouse, the main character of the book, as can be seen by the name of the book, exhibits the confidence and presumption usually reserved for Austen’s male characters’ , her inexperience causes her to make the business of marriage too lightly. 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 want.

From this, we can see that the importance of marriage to women of a lower class in comparison to a woman of a higher class. Women of higher class already have everything that they need but still chose to marry out of love. Marriage is for them to be happier and their lives more beautiful.Their union is all the more appealing because, unlike some of the marriages that were necessitated by economic demands, Emma’s fate was not inevitable.

In conclusion, I feel that the numerous marriages in Emma shows 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. 

07 April 2022

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