Character Commodification as a Response to Class Destabilization in Emma

Jane Austen's classic is not merely a story of Emma Woodhouse's journey of self discovery, nor is it just a tale of country romance, but rather, Emma chronicles the anxiety of its time: the destabilization of the classes. As the Industrial Revolution allowed for the democratization of money, more and more individuals were able to climb the social ladder in England as never before. With the formation of the ìnew middle classî came the blurring of class distinction and the impetus for the bourgeois identity crisis. With so many people gaining access to such signs of affluence as clothing, furnishings, and the means to move farther away from the city, the ability to distinguish the new middle class from the gentry was becoming difficult. From the characterization of the Eltons, Coles, Martins, and Sucklings, to the geography of the setting, Emma reveals bourgeois society's fear of infiltration.

Perhaps Austen's best characterization of the nouveau riche comes in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Cole. A ìvery good sort of people...of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel,î the Coles have managed to improve their means quite considerably in a short amount of time to become, ìin fortune and style of living, second...

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