Progressing Towards Partial Happiness: Treatments of Class and Class-Privilege in Emma and Villette College

The preoccupation with the structure of class and class-relations in Austen’s Emma and Brontë’s Villette arises from the particularities of their historical context. Caught in the liminal moment between two social and political paradigms, modern ideas regarding the flexibility of social structures had yet to fully shed the stubborn vestiges of the old order in the nineteenth century. Thus, both sentiments of uneasiness and anticipation pervade each novel, resulting in a sense of acute awareness in their presentations of class relations. Austen’s trepidation towards the mutability of defined social boundaries manifests as a paradoxical treatment of class and class-privilege in Emma – it is progressive in its examination of the injustices that such a system engenders and reactionary in its acceptance of the need for such a structure. Brontë, however, depicts a protagonist (Lucy) that cannot be fully realised within a repressive class structure, even if her existence within its confines has defined aspects of her character.

Although Austen conveys the injustices inherent in a system of rigid social ordering, such a structure itself remains intact and ultimately legitimated in Emma. This is illustrated by the scene at Box Hill...

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