On several occasions, the class discussed how Mr. Knightley represents independence from society. This is most evident when he talks to and associates with classes lower than him and more significantly, undermines his role as a man by agreeing to live with Emma for Mr. Woodhouse’s sake. In this regard, he acts as Jane Austen’s voice, a woman who defied social realms by not only choosing to write for money, but chose her career over a family. In fact, according to many, (and something I happen to agree with) she could be considered an “early feminist of a sort.”
Let us take a few steps back, shall we? Until now, looking at Emma and its time of publication in historical context never occurred to me. I came across a post on a highly acclaimed, “Janeite” WordPress blog which points out that Emma was published in December of 1815, merely sixteen years after the French Revolution ended. Yet the women of that revolution began a campaign for their suffrage and education.
How might this relate to Emma, you ask? According to some men, the only reason to educate women at that time was for the sake of enlightening the sons of future generations. Yet Jane Austen was highly educated, being surrounded by her father’s library and her knowledgeable brothers, which leads to the assumption that she was engaged in cultural understanding – topics with regards to philosophy or science perhaps. The peculiarity of that situation then shines through a character which, I belittled up until now.
Jane Fairfax is described to be “highly educated.” Her background and tone allude to the idea that she too gained extensive knowledge for a woman. Could it be that Ms. Austen inserted her defiance of society in someone other than Mr. Knightley? Could Ms. Fairfax truly add yet another dimension to the satire prevalent in the author’s work?
The post in the link below is absolutely worth reading. It really got me thinking.