Jane Austen’s Emma: Context

Written by Austen (1775-1817). Published in 1816.

REGENCY AGE (1812-1830)

  1. Austen’s time was filled with socio-political changes, such as the Industrial Revolution and American Revolution. However, Austen chose to set Emma in a very static, parochial village. Why do you think she chose this setting and to explore internal, domestic issues, rather than external, political ones?
  2. What are some examples in Emma of the formal social etiquette and behaviour, which would have governed this time?


In Emma, the rigid social class structure which is stratified by wealth and social breeding.

  1. In Highbury, the characters are personifications of their particular social class and values. Where does each character fall within the social hierarchy?
  2. “Breeding” distinguished between families who derived their wealth from owning land and inheritance, and families who derived their wealth from work. How were each regarded in society and how is this seen in Emma?
  3. Which professions were socially acceptable in this period? How is this reflected in the way certain characters are regarded?
  4. How does the social hierarchy influence the interactions and relationships within Emma?
  5. What is Austen’s view of this social hierarchy? Does she criticise it? Reaffirm it? Mock it? Consider the ending of the novel and which characters are ultimately brought together romantically.


Emma is set in a strictly patriarchal society, where the female identity and status is determined by their father or husband.

  1. Despite Emma’s high social status, she is dependent upon paternalistic figures such as Mr Woodhouse and Mr Knightley. Describe Emma’s relationships with these figures and how they reflect the patriarchy dominant in Austen’s time.
  2. What is the significance of marriage in this era?
  3. How does the character of Miss Bates demonstrate the consequences for unmarried women?
  4. Marriage is still to provide happiness and resolution to the novel. What does this suggest about Austen’s view on marriage?

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