Murray State University

Poster Title

To Remain a Spinster Was a Luxury the Poor Could Not Afford: Marriage in Jane Austen's Emma

Presenter Information

Alexa Adams, Murray State University

Institution

Murray State University

Abstract

Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of Jane Austen’s Emma, flaunts the fact that she does not want or need to get married. She does this until the point she realizes the extent of Mr. Knightley’s affection toward her. She has the option to stay single because, with the exception of Mr. Knightley, any man in Highbury that she might marry would result in a drop in both her wealth and social status. However, Austen’s secondary heroines, Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith, do not have the option of refusing proposals. They have status, but no money. Their options are to marry well, or to hope for a decent job, such as a governess or companion. All three women marry or are set to be married by the end of the novel. Emma has married the one man who improves her wealth, and both Jane and Harriet have married above their class and secured their futures through the unions to Frank Churchill and Robert Martin, respectively. In this essay, I explore the different reasons and motivations that the women in Jane Austen’s novels faced when it came to marriage, and why they settled on the aberrant choices that they did. I will discuss why Emma chose to marry Knightley and the influence that this had on Jane and Harriet.

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To Remain a Spinster Was a Luxury the Poor Could Not Afford: Marriage in Jane Austen's Emma

Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of Jane Austen’s Emma, flaunts the fact that she does not want or need to get married. She does this until the point she realizes the extent of Mr. Knightley’s affection toward her. She has the option to stay single because, with the exception of Mr. Knightley, any man in Highbury that she might marry would result in a drop in both her wealth and social status. However, Austen’s secondary heroines, Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith, do not have the option of refusing proposals. They have status, but no money. Their options are to marry well, or to hope for a decent job, such as a governess or companion. All three women marry or are set to be married by the end of the novel. Emma has married the one man who improves her wealth, and both Jane and Harriet have married above their class and secured their futures through the unions to Frank Churchill and Robert Martin, respectively. In this essay, I explore the different reasons and motivations that the women in Jane Austen’s novels faced when it came to marriage, and why they settled on the aberrant choices that they did. I will discuss why Emma chose to marry Knightley and the influence that this had on Jane and Harriet.