There is a strong sense of class consciousness in "Emma". What is Emma's attitude towards social position? How do the Martins and the Cole's reflect changes in the class structure of 19th century England?

Authors Avatar

There is a strong sense of class consciousness in “Emma”. What is Emma’s attitude towards social position?  How do the Martins and the Cole’s reflect changes in the class structure of 19th century England? How willing is Emma to accept these changes? Compare and contrast Emma and Mr Knightley’s attitudes towards Robert Martin.

               “Emma” was written at the beginning of the Nineteenth century when dramatic change was going on in social structures. Up until then society was governed by a rigid class system and mixing of classes was very rare, however the ‘middle class’, the land owners and work-force owners were beginning to carve their own place in society. Increases in international trading and the start of the Industrial Revolution were key factors in the rise of the ‘middle class’. Emma as the daughter of a substantial landowner and at the top of society resists these changes with immense social snobbery although she is aware the change is imminent.

               “Emma conceives of her society in terms of rigid inequalities; Miss Woodhouse cannot visit Mrs Martin, the Coles will not presume to invite the Weston’s, Mr. Elton may not aspire to the heiress of Hartfield” writes Helen Dry, “Syntax and the Point of View in Jane Austen’s Emma”, (1977), 87-99. Emma clings to ancient established ideas of social hierarchy: but only when it suits her. She ignores Harriet’s illegitimacy purely for her own fancy and sees no problem in a match between Harriet and Mr. Elton, or Harriet and Frank Churchill; however the idea of an unequal match between Harriet and Mr. Knightley shocks her, “Such an elevation on her side, such a debasement on his!”  She is also feels extremely insulted when Mr. Elton proposes to her:

Join now!

Should suppose himself her equal in connection or in mind! Look down upon her friend, so well understanding the gradations of rank below him, and be blind to what rose above, as to fancy himself shewing  no presumption in addressing her!-it was most provoking.


               Emma objects highly to Mrs Elton, partly due to her self-inflated ideas of social status: “She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of two daughters of a Bristol merchant”, “The idea of being indebted ...

This is a preview of the whole essay