How did Jane Austen portray marriage in Emma? Provide some examples.

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Austen portrays marriage as patriarchal in Emma , but also as an important way for women to achieve social and economic status and security. The novel opens with Mr. Woodhouse grieving the marriage of Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, which audiences at the time would have understood as a comic response....

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Austen portrays marriage as patriarchal in Emma, but also as an important way for women to achieve social and economic status and security. The novel opens with Mr. Woodhouse grieving the marriage of Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, which audiences at the time would have understood as a comic response. For a governess to marry was considered a stroke of good fortune, similar to winning the lottery, not a situation to mourn. As Mr. Knightley says, Miss Taylor has gone from having two people to please as governess (Mr. Woodhouse and Emma) to only one, her new husband--and she becomes the mistress of her own home, a great improvement over being a servant (however high ranking) in another person's.

Marriage likewise is a preferable alternative to governessing for Jane Fairfax, who likens becoming a governess, her fate as a poor but well-educated woman, to slavery. We see how important it is to Jane's status and security that Frank Churchill marry her. Austen, however, leaves us wondering how that marriage will work out, since self-centered Frank seems to regard Jane as a possession, a beautiful neck on which he can hang the family jewels.

Marriage to Mr. Martin is seen as a better state for Harriet Smith than remaining a parlor boarder at Mrs. Goddard's. Likewise, we have every reason to believe that the paternal Mr. Knightley will reign in Emma once they are married. They are likely to have a marriage of mutual esteem, which to Austen is the best basis for a successful partnership through life. Women who marry men of character, such as Mr. Knightley or Mr. Martin are likely to fare better than those who end up with a Frank Churchill.

Austen clearly understands that marriage is more or less than only viable alternative for women in her society. 

 

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