Emma Topic Tracking: Class
Class 1: The Woodhouses are the first family in Highbury, the highest in class, and there is no young woman in town who can equal Emma Woodhouse. Left without a counterpart, Emma has no one to replace her friend Miss Taylor. Because of her status, Emma's intimate acquaintances are restricted--she does not like to associate much with people who are of a lower class. This shrinks her circle of intimates to her family and Mr. Knightley.
Class 2: Emma tried to keep her father busy and often invited friends to Hartfield. Though she would invite people who were of a lower class to the house, she made a distinction between them and their more respectable friends. This "second set" included Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies whom Mr. Woodhouse loved to have visit. Mr. Woodhouse was not as class-conscious as his daughter, and he enjoyed their company as fully as if they were aristocrats.
Class 3: Emma assumes that because Mr. Martin is a farmer, he is illiterate. He is not, and his reading choices seem superior to Harriet's. Emma freely admits that she would never have noticed a man like Mr. Martin. He is not low class enough for her to help, but low class enough not to associate with. This sentiment reveals a snobbish nature, even dictating who deserves her aid. Miss Woodhouse likes the feeling charity gives her, and that is the only way she can tolerate any contact with the lower classes--as a patron.
Class 4: Emma assumes that because Mr. Martin is a farmer, he cannot write a decent letter. The letter had no grammatical errors, and was a nice composition. Emma still cannot imagine that the farmer wrote it, and she suggests that he got one of his sisters to write it. But it is not in a woman's style, and Emma bends herself into a knot trying to explain away his good letter. So afraid is she that her friend will marry Mr. Martin, that she ridiculously concludes that though Mr. Martin may write well, that is surely his only gift. Though only having met once, and briefly, Emma lets her ideas about class guide her opinion of Mr. Martin.
After Harriet decides (with much of Emma's urging) to decline Mr. Martin, Emma expresses her relief. She tells Harriet that if she married Mr. Martin, they could no longer be friends. Miss Woodhouse could not associate with her if she was Mrs. Martin. This sentiment is not only manipulative, but it shows more of a concern with appearances than true friendship and loyalty.
Class 5: Emma and Mr. Knightley are quarreling about Harriet's decision to refuse Mr. Martin. Mr. Knightley tries to get Emma to see how she has raised Harriet without proof, and without her friend's interests at heart. Emma is convinced that Harriet is superior to Mr. Martin, but Mr. Knightley thinks just the opposite. He is a rational man, and feels that Mr. Martin is the real catch, and could likely do better than Harriet. She has no fortune, and that alone discourages marriage. But Emma cannot see things this way--it is so important to her that Harriet be of the higher classes, that she has blinded herself to the truth.
Mr. Knightley has another criticism for Emma. In making Harriet think herself high class, she has made her friend out of place in her own class. Emma has raised her just enough to make her unhappy where she was before, unable to belong. But the upper class is no place for her either. Happiness and acceptance of your social standing is very important, and when that acceptance is disturbed, so is one's life and happiness.
Class 6: Emma is shocked to hear Mr. Elton profess his love to her. All along she was planning a match between him and Harriet, but Mr. Elton is offended at the suggestion. He only liked Harriet because she was Miss Woodhouse's friend. He never thought of Harriet, who he views as his inferior. He knows he could do better, and he has fallen for the great Miss Woodhouse. Emma is perhaps more offended at this lower class connection than Mr. Elton was at the suggestion of Harriet; and everyone ends up sad and frustrated when they try to exceed their social standing.
Class 7: Emma, having refused and hurt Mr. Elton, consoles herself with the idea that he probably does not love her. She expects that he saw a chance to increase his social standing, and tried to grab it. She was still smarting from the suggestion that she could love such a man, a mere preacher. Emma gains more consolation from the idea that Harriet does not have one of those superior natures that feel deeply, both pain and love. She expects her friend will recover soon, because her feelings are not as delicate.
Class 8: Mrs. and Miss Bates are low on the social ladder. They do not have much money, and depend greatly on the kindness of their neighbors. Emma has not been a very attentive friend, and Mr. Knightley often reminds her of this. Emma fears that associating with these women might bring down her social standing, and she lets her class concerns override her normally charitable nature.
Class 9: Mr. Elton makes a match that does increase his social standing. Mrs. Elton has a nice fortune, but has no strong class connections. Her father is a merchant, and her one pride is her sister's marriage to a very wealthy man. Mrs. Elton is a social climber, thinking that money alone equals class. Her high opinion of herself annoys Emma, the real lady. She can see through Mrs. Elton's charade, and cannot stand her.
Class 10: Harriet has to return a visit Elizabeth Martin paid her. She lets Emma convince her to make it brief, and the visit ends up being so brief that the Martins are offended. Harriet spent several months with the family, who were very kind to her; such a snub was very unfair. Harriet felt awful, but Miss Woodhouse had convinced her that the Martins were too low class to associate with. Emma knows the Martins are good, caring people; but because of their social status alone they cannot be friends.
Class 11: The Crown Inn had stood empty because of the lack of "proper" families available to dance there. Frank Churchill does not have such class issues, and he sees nothing wrong with inviting questionable families to the dance. Emma sees this as a flaw in the young man, but she excuses it as a product of his eagerness.
Class 12: Emma does not like social climbers. The Coles are a Highbury family whose wealth has recently increased. They started living more grandly, and wanted friends to match. They are having a party, and Emma is looking forward to getting her invitation so she can reject it. She wants to teach them a lesson, that one cannot overstep their class without consequences.
Class 13: Mrs. Elton chatters on about Mr. Suckling, her brother-in-law, and all his great possessions. She has convinced herself that she is high class, and she behaves as such. Thinking Miss Woodhouse her equal, she offers her an introduction should she ever go to Bath. Emma is offended, as she would never want to associate with any friend of Mrs. Elton. Most likely Mrs. Elton was just trying to be nice, but Emma sees only an affront to her social standing.
Class 14: Emma strongly disapproves of Mrs. Elton's behavior, and is skeptical of her desires to help Jane Fairfax find a governess position.
"'I have no faith in Mrs. Elton's acknowledging herself the inferior in thought, word, or deed; or in her being under any restraint beyond her own scanty rule of good breeding. I cannot imagine that she will not be continually insulting her visitor with praise, encouragement, and offers of service; that she will not be continually detailing her magnificent intentions from the procuring her a permanent situation to the including her in those delightful exploring parties which are to take place in the barouche-landau.'" Chapter 33, pg. 264
Emma does not realize that many, especially the Bates, could accuse her of similar behavior. She does not always give with feeling, or act with her heart; her class concerns often guide her behavior.
Class 15: When Mr. Weston describes Mrs. Churchill as an upstart, Mrs. Elton perks up. Though she is one herself, she does not realize it, and chooses instead to criticize a family she knew in Maple Grove. The family has money but no connections, and they act as though they are members of the aristocracy. There are clues that Mr. Suckling is not so long established himself, but Mrs. Elton does not linger on these points. She seems terribly eager to criticize behavior, which she engages in herself.
Class 16: Social customs can sometimes overrule class. Though Mrs. Elton is not as respectable as Miss Woodhouse, she is allowed to begin the dance. Brides get such honors, and Emma has to nurse her wounded pride. Mrs. Elton is ecstatic to receive the honor, even though the Westons and Emma know how ridiculous it is for Miss Woodhouse to be second to Mr. Elton.
Class 17: Miss Woodhouse and the Eltons had been planning a trip to Box Hill. It will be a small, simple party, without the display of one of Mrs. Elton's parties. But Mr. Weston invites Mrs. Elton, much to Emma's dismay. She dislikes Mrs. Elton, and more than that she fears being called a member of Mrs. Elton's party. Such a social blunder would be very embarrassing.
Class 18: The idea of a match between Harriet and Mr. Knightley is shocking to Emma. Even though Harriet is her good friend, she is not respectable enough for Mr. Knightley. Emma thinks of the shame and embarrassment for Mr. Knightley, and wishes she had never made Harriet believe such a match was possible.
Class 19: Mr. Knightley has news for Emma--Harriet has agreed to marry Mr. Martin. Emma, at first shocked, soon finds relief in the match. Mr. Knightley reminds her that the class difference between the couple is slight, and that both have good characters. Harriet realized how ridiculous it was to aspire to Mr. Elton, and when Mr. Martin asked her, she had no good reason to refuse. She attached herself to the correct person, from a class standpoint, and so did Emma, and both end up happy. Only Jane Fairfax surpasses her class and still has a happy ending. Perhaps because her manner is so elegant and genteel, her weak origins can be forgiven.