\"Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony\"
(Jane Austen, letter of March 13, 1816)
In Jane Austen's time there was no way for a young woman to be independent. Professions, the universities, politics, etc. were not open to women. Few occupations were available, such as being a governess. But they were not highly respected, and did not generally pay well or have very good working conditions. Therefore women could not get money except by marrying for it or inheriting it. Only a rather small number of women were what could be called professionals, who though their own efforts earned an income sufficient to make themselves independent, or had a recognised career .
Unmarried women also had to live with their families, or with family-approved protectors . Only in the relatively uncommon case of an orphan heiress who has already inherited, can a young never-married female set herself up as the head of a household and even here she must hire a respectable older lady to be a so called companion.
Therefore, a woman who did not marry could generally only look forward to living with her relatives as a dependant, which was the only way of ever getting out from under the parental roof, unless her family could not support her. A woman with no relations or employer was in danger of slipping off the scale of gentility altogether.
There are also reasons why marriage was not a state to be entered into lightly. Because of the English divorce law during the pre-1857 marriage was almost always for life. The only grounds for divorce was the sexual infidelity of the wife. A husband who wished to divorce his wife for this reason had to get the permission of Parliament to sue for divorce. The divorce trial was between the husband and the wife\'s alleged lover.
There was also the possibility of legal separations on grounds of cruelty, but the husband generally had absolute custody rights over any children, and could prevent the wife from seeing them.
2.1 Money and Marriage
Women were willing to marry because marriage was the only allowed route to financial security, or to escape an uncongenial family situation. Any property that a woman possessed before her marriage automatically becomes her husband\'s, unless it is settled on her.
In the context of marriage, a settlement is a legal document that usually ensures that some or all of the property that the wife brings to the marriage ultimately belongs to her, and will revert to her or her children, otherwise it would basically belong entirely to her husband. And a settlement can also specify a guaranteed minimum that the children of the marriage are to inherit.
2.4 Entail and Inheritance
An entail was a legal device used to prevent a landed property from being broken up, and/or from descending in a female line. This is a logical extension of the then-prevalent practice of leaving the bulk of one\'s wealth to one\'s eldest son or heir.
3. Jane Austen: Biography
3.1 Her childhood and early creative work
Jane Austen was born December 16th, 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire, England. She was the seventh child out of eight of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Her brothers were named James (1765-1819) , Frank (1774-1865) and Charles (1779-1852),her sister, Cassandra Elizabeth (1773-1845). Especially Frank and Charles, by becoming Admirals in the British navy, influenced Jane\'s novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion .
In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading. This was Jane Austen\'s only education outside her family.
Jane Austen wrote her Juvenilia from 1787 to 1793.They include many humorous parodies of the literature of the day and are collected in three manuscript volumes. They were originally written for the amusement of her family, and most of the pieces are dedicated to one or another of her relatives or family friends.
Earlier versions of the novels Sense and Sensibility/ Elinor and Marianne, Pride and Prejudice/ First Impressions and Northanger Abbey/ Susan were all begun and worked on from 1795 to 1799
3.2 Early adulthood at Steventon and Bath
In late 1800 her father suddenly decided to retire to Bath, and the family moved there the next year.
In 1803 Jane Austen actually sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher, the publisher chose not to publish it. It was probably toward the end of the Bath years that Jane Austen began The Watsons, but this novel was abandoned in fragmentary form.
In January 1805 her father died. So they were largely dependent on support from the Austen brothers.
3.3 Maturity in Southampton and Chawton
In 1808 Jane moved with her mother and sister from Bath to Southampton.
In 1809 they moved to Chawton, where her brother Edward provided a small house on one of his estates. This was in Hampshire.
She resumed her literary activities soon after returning into Hampshire, and revised Sense and Sensibility which was accepted in late 1810 or early 1811 by a publisher, for publication at her own risk. It appeared in October 1811.
Encouraged by this success, Jane Austen turned to revising Pride and Prejudice. She sold it in November 1812, and was published in late January 1813. She had already started work on Mansfield Park by 1812, and worked on it during 1813.
In May 1814, appeared, Mansfield Park and was sold out in six months. During that time she had already started work on Emma, which appeared in December 1815 Emma, dedicated to the Prince Regent.
She had started on Persuasion in August 1815, and finished it in August 1816, although becoming increasingly unwell.
In early 1817 she started work on another novel, Sanditon, but had to give it up in March. On May 24 she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on Friday, July 18th 1817, aged 41. Her cause of death was inexplicable, but it seems likely that it was Addison\'s disease. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24th 1817.
The novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were readied for the press by Henry Austen, and published posthumously at the end of 1817 in a combined edition of four volumes. ,
4. Analysis of characters
4.1 Miss Bates
Hetty Bates is the daughter of Mrs Bates, with whom she lives since being a spinster. Her sister Jane Bates died, as well as her husband Lieutenant Fairfax, but they bequeath a daughter, Jane Fairfax.
"Miss Bates is a character of great importance to Jane Austen's purpose in Emma. She is a great talker upon little matters, and (.) her talk reveals (.) matters basic to the plot" . Unknowingly she discovers the affection that Frank Churchill shows towards Jane Fairfax (cf. Chapter 38: Lines 326-340 of 397).
Miss Bates amusing monologues serve to enliven a picture of Highburys inhabitants. Her manner of speech, long sentences which are seldom finished, are filled with information of whose significance she is unconscious or only partly aware, characterise her in the tranquil, lovely way she is.
In Chapter 10 Emma tells Harriet in a dialogue her attitude towards spinsterhood and especially her attitude towards Miss Bates current situation:
\"But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!\" \"That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly--so satisfied-- so smiling--so prosing--so undistinguishing and unfastidious-- and so apt to tell every thing relative to everybody about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.\" \"But still, you will be an old maid! and that\'s so dreadful!\" \"Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal and cross. This does not apply, however, to Miss Bates; she is only too good natured and too silly to suit me; but, in general, she is very much to the taste of everybody, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not contracted her mind: I really believe, if she had only a shilling in the world, she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it; and nobody is afraid of her: that is a great charm.\"
With this paragraph said by Emma she "exaggerates and distorts the picture of the poor spinster". It is remarkable how the social arrogance is represented in Emma´s speech, but she reflects the general opinion of the time.
"The character of Miss Bates (.) is thus made to contribute to the discipline of Emma and the curing of her social arrogance" , by example as she notices how offending she acted towards Miss Bates at the Boxhill party.
Many passages in Emma make evident that the author had to deal with the special problems of an intelligent woman living in society which had no value for her intelligence nor could offer her a respectable alternative to marriage , since there are similarities that can be found in the status of Miss Bates and Jane Austen.
4.2 Mrs Elton
As the "charming Augusta Hawkins" with the "(.) possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands (.)" , Mrs Elton is introduced into the play. During the first meeting between her and Emma, her real character is revealed.
Emma says that "(.) the quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her one importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar, that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr Elton no good.
The ease of manners of Mrs Elton represents the lack of tradition of the so called new rich, "commercial class from the town, and is intended to contrast with the traditional good taste of the rural, provincial order, betrayed by the worldly vicar. " She believes herself equal to Emma, dares to discover that "Knightley", as she calls him, is a gentleman, that Mrs Weston as former governess has good manners, and to describe her husband as "caro sposo".
The undertone of coquettishness in Mrs Elton´s conversation gives the clue to her character. She is a woman, who wants to dominate every situation in which she enters. It can be her marriage or the Highbury society .
"But although Emma despises her, Mrs Elton is a vulgar caricature of Emma herself and (the reader) recognises her (Emma´s) own faults, carried to an extreme point, in Mrs Elton´s personality." As Emma does with Harriet Smith, Mrs Elton chooses to patronise Jane Fairfax.
Jane Austen's ironic presentation of Mrs Elton as "a champion of defenceless feminine virtue and worth renders such championship suspect, comic in itself, and irrelevant to the real needs of the helpless. (.).Neither Jane Fairfax nor Harriet Smith derive much real assistance from their eager patrons(.)."
As described in the passage "Marriage and the Alternatives" Augusta Hawkins has been the victim of a phenomena that can be described as "fortune hunters"; men who marry a woman only for the sake of the woman\'s fortune, because if not settled on her, any property that a woman possessed before her marriage legally becomes her husband\'s. That can be one possible explanation, why Mr Elton married so shortly after being rejected by Emma Woodhouse.
4.3 Emma Woodhouse
Page 1 is already significant for the characterisation of Emma. Her appearance and the problems she will have in the term of one year in Highbury can be read as following: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little to well of herself."
Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest in her family. She has been the mistress of the house since the age of twelve and having the problem always being more intelligent then her older sister. The only one who could have helped her died long time ago; the role of her mother took the governess Miss Taylor, who could more maintain the role as friend less the authoritarian mother, so she was free to do almost whatever she wished to do.
The problems began with her governess's marriage to Mr Weston. It left her intellectually solitary, her days devoted to the care of her father and unenlivened by congenial associates of her one age. "Emma's boredom is relieved by a new and temporarily absorbing interest when she meets Harriet Smith, a pretty young woman of unknown parentage, who has been brought up at Mrs Goddard's school in Highbury. Emma decides to patronise and improve Harriet." The interest in the helpless, illegitimate girl are shown to be prompted by a desire to rule and dominate, which is merely one aspect of Emma's adolescent instability and uncertainty.
Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates niece, would seem to be the natural friend for Emma, but instead she cultivates the more flattering company of Harriet Smith. Jane Fairfax symbolises everything she,(Emma), should have achieved during her education; that is why Emma feels inferior towards Jane.
"Mrs Weston says about Emma that she will never lead anybody really wrong; she will make no lasting blunders; where Emma errs once, she's right a hundred times. Mr. Knightley agrees with that when he says that whenever her vain spirit leads her wrong, he is sure the other one will tell her right."
But her spirit is not strong enough. Emma's romantic engineering pushes poor Harriet from one disaster into the next.
Emma has an acute sense of the divisions of social rank in the country. Her anxiety to detach Harriet from the 'yeomanry', and to introduce her into 'good society' betrays a rigidity of outlook and a self - created sense of superiority totally out of touch with the reality of Highbury life.
The patronage does Harriet no good. Instead of marrying the farmer Robert Martin, her heart is broken by discovering that the match Emma wanted between her and Mr Elton will never happen, as he confesses his affection towards Emma and after being rejected marries Augusta Hawkins.
Emma cannot recognise the impertinence and immorality of what she is doing. The intricacies of this plot are tightened further, when Harriet confides shyly to Emma, that she has fallen in love with Mr Knightley.
"Mr Knightley is the only one who challenges Emma's apparent perfection. The superior insight is juxtaposed with her delusion, and (.) she understands the immaturity of her tendencies."
"In the cause of a year (.), Emma Woodhouse, who had hitherto pondered exclusively on the factors that divide each social rank from those immediately above and below it, comes to feel at last the sense of community, that unites them all, and to appreciate her own responsibility to help maintaining its vigorous life."
5. Does Emma Woodhouse embody the typical 19th century woman in England?
This question cannot be answered with a clear no. Actually the typical woman is embodied by Emma's sister Isabella: "(.); poor Isabella, passing her life with those she doted on, full of their merits, blind to their faults, and always innocently busy, might have been the model of right feminine happiness.
As explained in 'Marriage and the Alternatives', right feminine happiness would be to achieve the state of matrimony. Living in a secured home, married with children should be the goal for every woman who wanted to maintain her status in the 'genteel' class. An unmarried woman after a certain age, and even worse, an unmarried woman without money, like Miss Bates, would be unacceptable to society. It would not matter if the marriage was made out of love; it mattered if the marriage was not an imprudent one .
Emma has modern thoughts on the topic of marriage.
In conclusion one can say, that the only reason for her to marry would be to fall in love with someone superior to everybody she has met before. She does not share the usual inducements of women to marry and can live well without it, since being a single woman of good fortune.
But at the end of the novel it is the love to Mr Knightley which changes her situation; which makes her realise her mistakes and let everything come to a happy end. Does Jane Austen want to tell us that the state of marriage makes us rational?
Definitely not. Even if almost every character of importance (Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax; Harriet Smith and Robert Martin; Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley) marry at the end of the play, Jane Austen, who had to live her entire life under the prejudice about spinsters, would be the last person to write her novels with that intention. She simple shows the personal changes which we are confronted with during lifetime.
Emma is definitely not a role model for women in the 19th century. Instead we can take Emma as an example for the modern woman
Faultless in spite of her faults she is not a heroine whom only her creator will like much.