Hey guys. I’d like to briefly discuss how I think the female characters of Emma, particularly the relationship between Jane Fairfax and Emma Woodhouse, symbolically represent the societal inequalities of women in British society during this time.
In British society during the late 19th century, women (for the most part) obviously didn’t have the same rights, privileges, status and money as their male counterparts did. Consequently they usually had to rely on their own families or husbands (if they married) for financial backing, and ultimately, a future. As a result, their options were nonetheless limited.
Emma Woodhouse, on the one hand, is unique in that she possesses the looks, brains, status, and money; because of her wealth, she has what most women around her don’t: financial independence. Jane Fairfax, on the other hand, possesses these same personal traits too, except wealth. Because of this, as well as the consequently limited options women had with regard to work at the time, she is seemingly incapable of supporting herself independently. In order to ensure a future for herself, she must marry—or become a governess, a common occupation for women during this time.
As another example, Harriet Smith is similarly faced with equally limited options—she must either work at Mrs. Goddard’s school or get married. Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston get married at the beginning of the novel, but only because Miss Taylor worked as Emma’s governess initially. Because of the relationship between Emma’s wealth, her ability to act independently—also having the choice of whether or not to marry—and the lack of wealth and consequential reliance the other women in the novel had on marrying (or working), Jane Austen, I believe, uses this to represent the societal inequalities women faced in British society during this time.
Interestingly, Jane had come from a financially well-off family; because she published anonymously and could not claim her novels publicly, she had to rely off of her family. Like Emma Woodhouse, she also did not get married. Do you think Emma Woodhouse is Austen’s portrayal of herself in some way?