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Themes

As one of the characters says early on, marriage is an agent of change. For women in Austen’s time, marriage was one of the only ways of changing your lifestyle. It’s no wonder that so much of the novel is devoted to imagining (and re-imagining) different potential matches. Marriage here isn’t just about love, however. Questions of love are complicated by money, family, land and social status, all of which come into play whenever Emma attempts to arrange marriages – including her own. Austen emphasizes the social aspects of marriage in order to expose the economic and class dynamics of romantic love.

Questions About Marriage

  1. By Highbury standards, what is a good marriage? Do any examples of good marriages exist in this novel?
  2. Why does Emma think that Robert Martin is such a horrible candidate for a husband? Is this a realistic assessment?
  3. Why does the novel start with Mr. and Mrs. Weston already married? How might it change our view of Mrs. Weston if she were Miss Taylor at the beginning?
  4. Although Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage is, obviously, the central romance of the novel, there are many, many other matches. How are these other matches narrated, and how does that narration differ? Think, for example, of Frank’s engagement to Jane. We learn about this in a letter – how does that affect the way we understand their romance? How does this relate to the other letters in their storyline? Does it matter that the letter is passed from Mrs. Weston to Emma before we see it?

Chew on This

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

The convoluted way in which Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage is arranged indicates that they may not be the best partners for each other.

Uneven marriages abound in Emma – one character is always more rounded (and more respectable) than the other.

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