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The relatively elastic nature of class interplay that we see in Pride and Prejudice is less marked in Emma, but reappears as an important theme in Austen’s last novel, Persuasion. In all of these novels social position is based on rank in society, but it also is based on wealth, and there can be considerable movement up and down these two intersecting scales. The first pages of the novel set up this pattern, with the comings and goings of Miss Taylor, Mr. Weston, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Elton.
KeywordsSocial Position Social Rank Bates Woman Social Scale Modern Reader
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- 1.Jane Austen, Emma, ed. Stephen Parrish (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 3. Quotations will be cited by page number only when the page number itself is different from the number cited for the preceding quotation. All page references are to this edition.Google Scholar
- 3.Critical discussions of Jane Austen’s novels often talk about her as a conservative writer whose novels are based on a conservative literary tradition or as a revolutionary writer whose “feminism” shapes her books; as my study has shown, however, Austen’s canon grows from a much more organic reflection of the upper-class assumptions and concerns that defined her times. Recently (roughly the mid-1980s to late-1990s) a generation of critics presented us with a feminist Austen who, sadly, was deficient in that she did not know how to end her own novels—all those happy marriages at the end of her books! Contemporary criticism has repositioned Austen in her own times, but the emphasis often still is on the literary milieu that shaped her writing. Thus the conservative Austen is shaped not by events but by literature; it is Burke and Adam Smith to whom we need look for help in contextualizing Austen. Peter Knox-Shaw in Jane Austen and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) presents this view, most explicitly in his chapter on Emma.CrossRefGoogle Scholar