Marriage and Social Class in the Victorian Era as Reflected in Jane Austen’s Emma (part 1)


Jane Austen’s Emma tells a story about a young woman named Emma Woodhouse who has interest in matchmaking people. Her nanny, Miss Taylor, who gets married with Mr. Weston is the result of Emma’s matchmaking. Emma does not have interest to get married at the beginning but at the end of the story, she finally drops her heart to Mr. Knightley. In dominant, themes depicted in Emma are marriage and social class. These points will be discussed in here.

Jane Austen is well-known with her marriage stories. All of her novels use woman character as the main of the story or even the “star” of it. Alike her other works, Austen also puts marriage as the main theme in Emma story. Emma does some matchmaking actions in the story. In the beginning of the story, the marriage of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston becomes the trending topic between Emma and her father. She thinks that their marriage is because of her effort in courtship and matchmaking them. Due to this success, according to her, that leads to match other people which none of them work.

The first one is the matchmaking between Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. She believes that Mr. Elton has a crush on Harriet that is why she tries to make a relationship between them. But, the disaster comes out when Mr. Elton proposes her instead. Mr. Elton says that he never has such feeling toward Harriet. This first disaster does not kill the matchmaking plan of Emma. She tries to match Harriet with Frank Churchill but Harriet herself pays her attention on Mr. Knightley. In the end of the story, Harriet gets married with Robert Martin, the one who Emma convinces Harriet to reject his proposal.

There is a part in the story that Emma thinks Frank Churchill has a crush on her but then it is revealed that Frank Churchill in fact has been engaged to Jane Fairfax. Looking at several failures she has experienced from the previous matchmaking and also the wrong perception about her feeling, she promises not to mind people’s affairs any longer. In the end of the story, Emma gets married with Mr. Knightley.


Emma story was set approximately in 1814 to 1815 or in the 18th century. It means that this story was written using the Victorian era background as the parameter. Since the main theme of this story is marriage, then the parameter of marriage used in it is in the Victorian era. According to Jen Ziegenfuss, the marriage in the Victorian era was as not romanticized as those in stories. According to Ziegenfuss’ citation, here are some rules that have to be obeyed by those who are about to get married, especially women, which are:

  1. It was illegal to marry someone’s deceased wife’s sister. S/he could marry first cousins, but attitudes changed towards the end of the 19th century and this became frowned upon.
  2. Victorians were encouraged to marry within the same class.
  3. A woman entering into the institute of marriage had to be equipped with a dowry. The husband-to-be had to prove that he could support his new bride in the lifestyle she was accustomed to.
  4. An unmarried woman could inherit money and property after she reached the age of 21, but once married, all control would revert to her husband.
  5. Women married because they had a lack of options. They were not formerly educated, and were only instructed in domestic duties. They needed someone to support them, and were encouraged to marry and have children.

From the rules above, the one that should be highlighted based on Emma story is the second point, which is marrying the same class. In modern era, marriage is considered as something important for many people but if they flash back to the Victorian era, the importance of its significance was different. If people nowadays get married to whoever they love without seeing the social background− perhaps there are some cases who still see the social background but most of them truly based on love− the Victorian women tended to marry men who have the same class or higher or better ones.

In Emma story, all of the women and men characters there get married with the same class, from Miss Taylor with Mr. Weston to Frank Churchill with Jane Fairfax to Emma Woodhouse with Mr. Knightley and to even Harriet Smith with Robert Martin. Although Harriet does not marry with the one whose social class is better, but she gets married with the one whose social class is the same as her.

Zidnie Ilma

Taken from various references


One thought on “Marriage and Social Class in the Victorian Era as Reflected in Jane Austen’s Emma (part 1)

  1. bagus-bagus, aku kira nggak ada yg baca buku beginian anak2 sekarang.. udah baca yg lain belom zid? lebih bagus yg ceritanya Elizabeth [aka yg pride and prejudice] kalo nggak sense and sensibility gak sih? lebih mirip sama masa kekinian banget. haha

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