Yes, this is another Austen-related post, but I'm annoyed, so bear with me. It's also extraordinarily long, so unless you're as nuts about Jane as I am, you'll probably be lost pretty quickly.
I'm taking a class this semester focusing on 19th century British novels. Naturally, the first thing we read was a Jane Austen novel. Emma was what the professor picked as the most appropriate to our overall discussions, so for the last 3 weeks we've been working our way through the book. Wednesday brought us to the end of the book, Jane married Frank, Harriet married her farmer, Emma married Mr. Knightley, and there was much rejoicing.....
....or not. This is where my annoyance comes in. My professor (who admits to being a Marxist critic) finds the end of Emma, "depressing" and "creepy." He feels that, in marrying, Emma completely loses her identity and is "subsumed" by Mr. Knightley. She no longer has the ability to function on her own, her wonderful feminist autonomy is lost, and she becomes, "the good little wife." ('Cuz, you know being a good wife is such a horrifying fate.) On top of this, as he stated, this was a loveless marriage and contracted for purely economic reasons. Mr. Knightley marries Emma to enlarge his estates, and Emma marries Mr. Knightley to secure her place as the queen of the neighborhood.
Now, this morning as I was brooding on the disagreeable sensation of Marxist criticism being perpetrated on Jane Austen, another "proof" against this particular theory came to me. It's actually part of the text that the prof used to prove his own point, but I think it makes much more sense in terms of the way Jane Austen actually seems to have thought and wrote.
The Prof pointed out a line in which Hartfield (Emma's home) is described as, "inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged." The prof took this as meaning that, in allying himself with the Woodhouse family, Mr. Knightley (the wicked wealthy white male....slightly paraphrased for the sake of aliteration....) is completing his "takeover" and enriching himself, while simultaneously overcoming the only person who ever argued with him-- Emma.
So, I'm a silly, slightly flightly, romantic chick, but I take this passage to mean something completely different. Emma, like Hartfield, is independent and not in a bad position. She is happy as a single girl and, believes that her situation, "cannot really change for the better." However, she is also deeply flawed and she has a penchant for messing things up. She needs Knightley's judgment and advice to keep her in check. Like Hartfield, she is not meant to exist on her own.
Donwell, on the other hand, is a great estate, encompassing the entirety of the neighborhood, excepting only Hartfield- the missing "notch." Likewise, Mr. Knightley seems to be doing just fine on his own. He has many friend, business to keep him occupied, and more money than ANYONE could know what to do with. Despite loving his home, however, he is constantly to be found at Hartfield visiting Mr. Woodhouse and Emma. Like Donwell, Mr. Knightley is incomplete. He is also not meant to be alone.
It is only with their marriage that Emma and Mr. Knightley are made whole, no longer missing any pieces or attempting to stand on their own. At the same time, the Hartfield and Donwell properties are rejoined, completing the property. There are so many directions in which this idea could be taken.... Personally, I think all of those potential directions make far more sense than the anachronistic Marxist reading we were given in class.
It should not come as a surprise that we disagree on this. Everytime I speak in this particular class, the professor disagrees with me. NOTHING I say seems to make any sense to him. I get the feeling that I've already exposed myself as a sexist, bourgeois, conservative, pro-marriage type. (Ooops, I think I said in class that being married was preferable to working as a governess. Bad, bad emancipated female.)