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Themes

Owning a home (or better yet, an estate) isn’t just about having a place to sleep at night. Owning land separates the gentlemen (or upper classes) from common folk (or the lower classes). Austen explores the fortunes of the landed families and the misfortunes of those without a home. Some of the latter have to marry for money or become governesses in order to make a living. Marriage in this novel becomes as much about land and money as love. Maybe that’s cynical, but, well, Austen’s a bit of a cynic. In its best moments, however, the home can be a place of refuge – and even a happy, relaxing place for family to gather.

Questions About Home

  1. How does Mr. Knightley’s decision to move in with the Woodhouses affect his social standing? Is Emma really concerned about preserving Donwell Abbey for her nephew? If not, why does she use this as an excuse?
  2. Is Hartfield (and not Highbury) the center of the novel?
  3. We never see Frank Churchill’s home. How does this shape the ways that we understand his character? How is this different than, say, our understanding of Mr. Knightley?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Domestic life becomes the unrecognized focal point of Emma: marriage is just another way to start up new forms of home life.

Mr. Knightley’s decision to move to Hartfield inaugurates a new era in relationships, allowing marriage to become a form of stasis, not change.

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