Emma - Jane Austen

Historical context Emma was written in a time of economic upheaval, political unrest (Europe and Britain caught in the Napoleonic wars) and great cultural industry and change. The social milieu of Austen’s Regency England was particularly stratified, and class divisions were rooted in family connections and wealth. While social advancement for young men lay in the military, church, or law, the chief method of self-improvement for women was the acquisition of wealth. Though young women of Austen’s day had more freedom to choose their husbands than in the early eighteenth century, practical considerations continued to limit their options. Critics have had a difficult time placing Austen’s novels within literary history. Austen’s detailed examination of the rules of decorum that govern social relationships, and her insistence that reason and moderation are necessary checks on feeling, make her seem out of step with the literary times. One way to understand Austen’s place in literary history is to think of her as part of the earlier eighteenth century, the Age of Reason, when literature was associated with wit, poise, and propriety. Point of view The novel is narrated in the third person by a narrator who tells us what individual characters think and feel, and who also provides insight and commentary. For the most part, the narrator relates events from Emma’s perspective, but at times she enters into the thoughts of other characters. Chapter 41, for example, is narrated from Mr. Knightley’s perspective. The narrator is anonymous and narrates some time after the events of the novel take place. The novel is narrated using free indirect discourse, which means that the narrator steps into and out of Emma’s thoughts, sometimes using language we would imagine Emma to use without placing it in quotation marks. The tone is ironic, satirical and sympathetic. Austen invites the reader to follow events from Emma's viewpoint. From a literary and cultural point of view, Jane Austen clearly stands between the Age of Enlightment and Romanticism.

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