Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Wendy Moffat




In this paper, I will draw conclusions about Austen's politics concerning female power and agency in marriage through an analysis of the three main marriages in Emma. These marriages-between Emma and Mr. Knightley, Harriet Smith and Mr. Martin, and Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill-are representative of all of the marriage types in Austen, thereby making Emma the site of a unique narratological interaction between all of Austen's marriage plots. While Emma's marriage is unique in Austen because she-as a wealthy member of the landed gentry-marries her social and economic equal, both Harriet's and Jane's marriages embody a typical Austenian marriage trope. Harriet Smith represents minor characters (such as Mrs. Norris from Mansfield Park) who believe that their hopes for an economically and socially beneficial marriage are realistic, yet end up marrying within their own social class. Jane Fairfax's marriage, on the other hand, parallels the marriages characteristic of Austen's heroines (excluding Emma): in spite of immensely difficult odds, they all marry their social and economic superiors.5 By using the dynamics between the marriages in Emma to bring Austen's novels in conversation with each other, I will be able to combine the truths inherent in each of these marriage types and-through a narratological analysis of their interactions-I will conclude that Austen condemns the marriage practices of her time while simultaneously recognizing their dominance and inescapability.