Societal Affects of Love Emma, by Jane Austen, is a classic comedy that took place in the nineteenth-century near London, England. Emma tells the tale of a heroine attempting to be the matchmaker for everyone, and ultimately herself. Emma Woodhouse, the main character, loses her dear friend and governess, Miss Taylor, to Miss Taylor’s marriage, in which she becomes Mrs. Weston. Emma, in search of another cherished companion, comes across Harriet Smith. Although Harriet comes from a lower class in society, Emma admires her beauty and takes it upon herself to improve Harriet in order to make her acceptable to the upper class.
For instance, Mr. Martin, a local farmer, seems to have fallen in love with Harriet, yet Emma suggests that she reject him because she believes Harriet has the potential to get a man who is high in society. Harriet complies, and Emma goes on to recommend Mr. Elton, a preacher, whom she believes is a perfect match for Harriet.
Though, later on Emma realizes Mr. Elton has in fact fallen in love with her, rather than Harriet, making her question her matchmaking skills. After a period of absence from matchmaking, Mrs.
Weston’s stepson, Frank Churchill, visits town and Emma falls for him. Harriet approaches Emma with the declaration that she has fallen in love with another man, however Emma insists that Harriet keep the name to herself due to Emma’s fear of ruining a potential companionship because of her lack of skill of matchmaking. Emma fears that Harriet is in love with Frank, so she revokes her personal feelings for him in order to further Harriet’s chances at obtaining a man of higher class.
However, Emma discovers that Frank is already engaged to Jane Fairfax and discloses this information to Harriet. When Harriet is informed of this, she seems disinterested, showing she was in fact not in love with Frank, but rather fallen for Mr. Knightly. Once this information is disclosed, Emma then realizes she is in love with Mr. Knightley as well and he carries the same feelings for her. As one reads the story, it is easily concluded that social ranking is the apparent source of the decisions being made.
Waldron says: Everybody except Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill is caught up in a complex web of social assumptions… which creates a hilarious mix of misunderstanding and blunder, so that nobody is seeing exactly what is there, or hearing exactly what is being said. (141) Throughout the story, one can notice that social status and class affect not only the love of the characters, but also, to a sense, determine their lives. Being considered high in society, Emma Woodhouse prefers to only be associated with those of the upper class.
This explains her desire to change Harriet as soon as she meets her because she notices the potential Harriet possesses even though she is of the lower class. The narrator tells us: Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour boarder… She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired.
She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness; and, before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance. (22) Emma associated with the lower class but made sure that everyone knew there was a difference between her and them. She did not want to ruin her reputation by being seen with people beneath her. Miss Emma Woodhouse likes the feeling of helping people who are lower than her; therefore, that is the only time she mixes with the lower class.
After Emma’s time spent with Harriet, Emma thinks she has raised Harriet in society. When Mr. Robert Martin, a farmer, falls in love with Harriet, he proposes. Emma does not like this and is a very manipulative girl. Eugene Goodheart states, “Emma is willful, manipulative, an arranger or rather a misarranger of other people’s lives” (589). Emma, being the manipulative girl she is, doesn’t directly tell Harriet to reject his proposal but hints that she doesn’t need to accept him because she could do a lot better. Emma didn’t even really know Mr. Martin.
All she knew was that he was a farmer and farmers were considered the low class, so she just let her beliefs about class ranking steer her opinion to decline Mr. Martin. Miss Woodhouse then shares with Harriet that if she had accepted his proposal then they could no longer be friends because she would be down lower on the social class ranking. Emma says: Perfectly, perfectly right, my dearest Harriet; you are doing just what you ought. While you were at all in suspense, I kept my feelings to myself, but now that you are so completely decided, I have no hesitation in approving. Dear Harriet, I give yself joy of this. It would have grieved me to lose your acquaintance, which must have been the consequence of your marrying Mr. Martin. (52-53) After declining Mr. Martin’s proposal, Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley get into an argument because Mr. Knightley sees that Harriet is actually lower in class than Mr. Martin, while Emma disagrees. Mr. Knightley states, “Nonsense!… Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin! Madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken” (60). Emma thinks that since she is a friend of Harriet, she cannot possibly be that low in class because Emma doesn’t associate with the lower class.
When Harriet has to return a visit from Mr. Martin’s sister, Elizabeth, Emma tells her to make it brief because she cannot stoop down to their level in class. This act offends the Martins because Harriet had stayed with them for a couple of months and they think the least she can do is stay and chat. I agree with Julia Brown in that, “Her greatest sin in the novel is cutting off Harriet’s warm attachment to the Martins; as Lionel Trilling has said, she is a reactionary, out to stop social mobility” (Brown).
Emma thinks that if you are high in society then you need to associate with the higher classmen and if you are lower, only associate with lower classmen. Another instance in which class ranking dominates is when Emma wants Harriet to marry Mr. Elton. She thinks he is in love with her because of all the little gestures she notices. Brown writes, “As always in Jane Austen, the smallest detail of behavior can justify the most definitive judgment” (Brown). For example, Emma is painting a portrait of Harriet and Mr. Elton watches her the whole time and offers to go get it framed in London when she is done. Goodheart thinks:
Emma ignores both the temperamental disaffinity and the social distance between them—and more grievously she misunderstands the desires of Mr. Elton. He is a vicar from a good family with social ambitions; Harriet… wholly in thrall to Emma’s matchmaking machinations. (589-590) Mr. Elton doesn’t want to marry Harriet because she is low in society and he doesn’t want to degrade himself by marrying her. Mr. Elton explains to Emma: Miss Smith! I never thought of Miss Smith in the whole course of my existence; never paid her any attentions, but as your friend; never cared whether she were dead or alive, but as your friend.
If she has fancied otherwise, her own wishes have misled her, and I am very sorry, extremely sorry… Oh, Miss Woodhouse, who can think of Miss Smith when Miss Woodhouse is near?… I have only thought of you… Everything that I have said or done, for many weeks past, has been with the sole view of marking my adoration of yourself. (132) When Emma finds out that Mr. Elton loves her and not Harriet, she believes that Mr. Elton only loves her because he feels that she can help raise him in society: “She [Emma] thought nothing of his attachment, and was insulted by his hopes.
He wanted to marry well and, having the arrogance to raise his eyes to her, pretended to be in love; but she was perfectly easy as to his not suffering any disappointment that need be cared for” (136). When Emma realizes this, she is disturbed. She does not notice this, but she is doing the exact same thing. Her class ranking status always leads her into her decision or behaviors. Later, Emma retrieves information that Mr. Elton had married a woman that did increase his society ranking. He married Miss Augusta Hawkins.
She is considered a social climber; someone who has money and wealth, but not really what it takes to be considered high in society. She thinks money alone makes you higher ranked, which aggravates Emma. We also see later on in the book how Emma thinks of The Coles as social climbers too. They have recently become wealthier and are trying to act like they are high-class people just because they have more money. Emma doesn’t like this at all. To Emma, everyone ends up sad, frustrated, and lonely when they try to excel their social class ranking.
Later on in Emma, after Miss Woodhouse gives up on trying to find the perfect match for Harriet, she finds out that Harriet is now interested in Mr. Knightley: “I never should have presumed to think of it at first, but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine—and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does choose me, it will not be anything so very wonderful” (413). After learning of this she realizes that she [Emma] is in love with Mr. Knightley. She thinks Harriet is a good friend, but she doesn’t think she deserves Mr.
Knightley. Emma states, “Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith! Such an elevation on her side! Such a debasement on his! ” (415). Emma regrets teaching Harriet that a match with someone in a higher class is acceptable. Soon, she reveals her love for Mr. Knightley and he does the same for her: If I [Mr. Knightley] loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am… I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it… God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me.
Yes, you see, you understand my feelings—and will return them if you can. (432) While debating on how to tell Harriet, Mr. Knightley shares the news that Mr. Martin proposed to Harriet again and this time, she accepted. Emma is happy with their engagement: “I am perfectly satisfied and most sincerely wish them happy” (477). She realizes they are in the same class and meant for each other: “In the end, Emma finds through her love of Mr. Knightley that much of her snobbery is false and superficial. We see the layers of it peeling off, especially when she learns that Harriet is—after all—engaged to Robert Martin. ” (Brooke 182).
She finally saw how ridiculous she was being when trying to match-make Harriet with someone of the higher class: “She was wise enough, finally, to see the errors of her ways, and to reform. No longer will she consider the villagers as puppets for her amusement. ” (Magill Book Reviews). Harriet then realizes how absurd it was to reject Mr. Martin the first time when she had no good reason to reject his proposal of marriage. Emma and Harriet attach their selves to men in their own class ranks and both end up happily ever after. In conclusion, social status was very important in the nineteenth century. Austen’s novel, Emma proves this theory.
Brown states, “In its unlikely and changing combinations, the catalogue gives an impression of social irrationality, overworked variety, and exhaustive socialization. Yet no other novel has more the opposite effect: of rich, unbroken continuity… ” (Brown). The story also shows the worry produced in the superior classes by increasing class mobility in England. Class mobility is possible but only if one has a natural decency. Eugene Goodheart states, “The novel concludes in the spirit of comedy with the promise of ‘perfect happiness’, The community at the end is ideally organized or reorganized in a way that makes for happiness.
It is a morally as well as a socially hierarchical world…” (595). In the end, everyone is happy when they marry people in their same class. Miss Taylor marries Mr. Weston; Harriet marries Mr. Martin; Emma marries Mr. Knightley; Jane marries Frank Churchill; and Mr. Elton marries Miss Hawkins. Works Cited Austen, Jane. Emma. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1816. Print. Brooke, Christopher. “CRITICAL READINGS: Rank and Status. ” Critical Insights: Jane Austen (2010): 179-200. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 7 Nov. 2010. Brown, Julia Prewitt, and Harold Bloom. “Civilization and the Contentment of “Emma.. Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: Emma (1987): 45-66. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 7 Nov. 2010. “Emma. ” Magill Book Reviews (1995): Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 7 Nov. 2010. Goodheart, Eugene. “Emma: Jane Austen’s Errant Heroine. ” 589-604. University of the South, 2008. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web. 5 Nov. 2010. Waldron, Mary. “Men of sense and silly wives: the confusions of Mr. Knightley. ” Studies in the Novel. (Vol. 28). .2 (Summer 1996): p141. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Mississippi University for Women. 7 Nov. 2010 <http://go. galegroup. com/ps/start. do? p=LitRC&u=mag_u_muw>.