Emma Topic Tracking: Marriage
Marriage 1: Marriage is never a completely happy event. Someone is often left behind. In the case of Miss Taylor's marriage, it is the Woodhouses. Mr. Woodhouse, who hated change, felt this most of all. His daughter had married years ago, and he still did not approve of the idea. With his own wife long dead, Mr. Woodhouse sees marriage only as something that takes the people he loves away from him.
Marriage 2: Mr. Weston's first marriage, to Miss Churchill, also involved a change that was hard to live with. The Churchill's did not approve of the match, and cut ties with their daughter. Miss Churchill was used to a life of luxury, and as Mrs. Weston she expected the same treatment. She was happy with her husband but not her fortune, and she missed her family home. Poor Mr. Weston lived beyond his means to please his wife, and the marriage lost him much money.
Marriage 3: Mr. Knightley suggests that Miss Taylor leaned how to be a good wife from Emma. Her strong will, like a husband's, demanded obedience. When Miss Taylor and Emma became friends, Emma won the authority in the house, and became the dominant figure. She could listen to Miss Taylor's advice, but she did not have to take it.
Marriage 4: Mrs. Weston, who is considering a match between Emma and Frank Churchill, still does not think Emma is ready for marriage. Emma has never traveled far from Hartfield, and like her father she is not accustomed to change. To take her away from her father and Hartfield, which marriage would certainly do, she does not think is a good idea at present.
Marriage 5: Emma is a romantic, and she does not think Harriet should accept Mr. Martin's proposal if she has the slightest doubt. Of course Emma has other reasons for criticizing the match, as she hopes to keep Harriet free of such a low connection. But Emma thinks carefully about her own heart at least, and when she is the subject, men undergo much scrutiny.
Marriage 6: Emma has not even met Frank Churchill, but already she imagines that he would be a perfect candidate for her husband. Certainly Emma has been influenced by the townspeople's constant praise of him; but it is the family connection that attracts her. To marry Frank Churchill would create an alliance with the Westons, bringing Emma into closer contact with her beloved former governess. Marriage was often a calculated move, meant to help one gain wealth or social standing. Emma is allowing herself to be guided not by her heart, but by practicality.
Marriage 7: Emma is shocked to hear that Mr. Elton is going to get married. Her father, always suspicious of matrimony, objects that the preacher is too young. Mr. Woodhouse saw a young man who lived well and was free to visit as he pleased; marriage, in his mind, will change all that. Mr. Woodhouse believes that everyone who marries is one more person who will slowly disappear from his life; in reality they will still be present, but in a different role. A change of any kind is enough to distress Mr. Woodhouse, and marriage causes most of the changes in Highbury.
Marriage 8: Emma is shocked to hear Mrs. Weston's suggestion of a match between Jane Fairfax and Mr. George Knightley. Emma's real objection lies in her affection for the man, but she is not aware of it yet. Instead she uses the excuse that Mr. Knightley cannot marry, because if he does little Henry Knightley, the son of Isabella and John Knightley, will not inherit Donwell. The family home would pass to Henry if his uncle did not marry or have any children of his own, and Emma tells Mrs. Weston that it would be tragic if that were to occur.
Marriage 9: Mrs. Elton loves to talk about Maple Grove, the elegant home of her sister and brother-in-law. After the marriage Mrs. Elton (then Miss Hawkins) spent several months there, and it became like her home. She tells Emma that one of the "evils of matrimony" is the obligation for the wife to leave her family home and move to a new one, even a new county as Mrs. Elton has done. Therefore the new bride is always looking for things that remind her of home. Emma does not pay much attention to her, despite how much these comments apply to her. A reluctance to leave Hartfield, her family home, is one of the main reasons why Emma has not married, nor is even hoping to soon or ever.
Marriage 10: There are many perks to being a new bride, such as extra attention or preferences. Usually the most respectable woman, of the highest class, is given the distinction of beginning a dance. In Highbury this would always be Miss Woodhouse, and she is accustomed to the honor. But at this dance the new Mrs. Elton is present, and as a new bride she expects to be given the honor of starting the dance. Emma is annoyed, and suggests that such preferential treatment almost made her want to get married herself. Status is very important to Emma, and she does not like to be upstaged, especially by someone inferior. It is not surprising that Emma would find an elevation in position a good reason for marrying.
Marriage 11: When discussing his party, Mr. Knightley suggests that the only woman he would ever allow to invite or arrange plans with him would be Mrs. Knightley. As he does not yet have a wife, he prefers to make all the arrangements himself. Mrs. Elton tries to take over the preparations, insisting that only a married woman can be trusted with such details. Mr. Knightley seems to agree with this distinction, but insists that only his own wife would be given such responsibilities. Mrs. Elton seems to think that marriage is a transformative event, making the woman more responsible and capable.
Marriage 12: Frank Churchill's criticism of the Eltons' quick courtship was meant to hurt Jane, but it also has a seed of truth. Marriage is a big commitment, especially in this era when the person you married significantly affected your social standing. To make a quick decision could be disastrous for yourself and your family. Miss Churchill, Frank's mother, was disinherited when she chose to marry the less well-to-do Mr. Weston, and Frank followed in his mother's footsteps with a secret engagement to a young woman his aunt never would have approved of. With so much at stake, a long and public courtship seems most sensible.
Marriage 13: Emma shows herself to be very similar to her father when she thinks of the possibility of Mr. Knightley marrying. Like Mr. Woodhouse, Emma also does not like change. She is accustomed to Mr. Knightley's daily visits, in which she is the object of his attention. They are friendly and familiar, characteristics that must certainly change after his marriage to Harriet Smith, or any other woman. The importance and isolation of the family unit meant that any friend who got married would become less available, and Emma cannot stand this idea.
Marriage 14: More than romance, marriage is meant to give security. Mr. Knightley describes one of the grounds for a good marriage:
"'A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt of her regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.'" Chapter 49, pg. 393
Mr. Knightley does not think Frank Churchill is deserving in character of Jane Fairfax. Yet the marriage is acceptable, because he will be able to raise her station, and her good influence will hopefully elevate and improve his character. The man supplies the economic center of the marriage, the woman the moral.
Marriage 15: Mrs. Elton playfully scolds her husband for leaving her so long at the Bates'. He was attending to work, and she waited with her friends until he showed up. She uses words like "lord" and "master" to refer to her husband, and suggests obedience as an essential quality in a wife.
Marriage 16: Mr. Woodhouse is depressed about the impending marriage of his daughter and Mr. Knightley. To lose Emma is a change he could not suffer. Even Mr. Knightley's offer to come and live at Hartfield with them is not enough, because it would still alter Mr. Woodhouse's small universe. But Mr. Knightley becomes an asset to Mr. Woodhouse when a poultry thief attacks Highbury. For this added measure of security, Mr. Woodhouse will agree to the change and approve the marriage day.
When Emma and Mr. Knightley finally marry, they do not have a grand ceremony. More concerned with having their friends there, only Mrs. Elton, the queen of pomp, finds any fault with the ceremony.