The novels Pride and Prejudice and Emma, both by Jane Austen, could not be more different in their story: one deals with the trials and tribulations of finding a husband, while the other tells the story of a rich, young woman and her dealings with society. While very different in their basic plot, both novels are shaped by
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Yet, despite their difference in plot, both books have something in common: The role of society is displayed in the opening sentence of each novel.
According to Barbara Seeber Pride and Prejudice “[o]f all the novels, […] comes closest to reconciling the individual with society […]” and agreeing with Johnson, whom she quotes, she continues: “and ...view middle of the document...
In Emma, on the other hand, society has vastly different expectations. Johnathan Grossman writes that “[…]in Highbury the traditional patriarchal method of controlling the reproduction of society through arranging marriages is replaced with good manners” (152) and the “[…]individuals work to embody and reproduce good manners” (157). What he means is, that in Emma good manners are much more important than the “traditional patriarchal” obligation of marriage. This is quite the opposite of what Seeber says about society in Pride and Prejudice.
Just like with Pride and Prejudice, the first sentence of Emma too reveals what society expects of its members:
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. (Emma, 1)
At the first glance, the sentence serves as a simple introduction of the novel’s heroine. By describing Emma’s status in society – her being rich and leading a comfortable life– it is evident that the narrative will center on her and her adventures. However, when contrasted with Grossman, the expectations of society, or rather the lack thereof, become visible. At twenty-one years and considering her status Emma should be at the very least engaged, if not married. ...