College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in English (MA)


Emily Heady

Primary Subject Area

Literature, English; Literature, General; Women's Studies; History, European


Emma, Jane Austen, Marginalization, Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Social Conventions


English Language and Literature | History of Gender | Literature in English, British Isles | Women's History | Women's Studies


A major part of Jane Austen's novels consists of a critique of the societal conventions that were prevalent in Regency England. Through a study of Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, it can be seen that Austen marginalizes those characters who chose conformity to social conventions. Contrariwise, the characters who exhibit a greater degree of autonomy within their patriarchal culture become the focus of the narrative. In looking at societal conventions concerning money, gender roles, and class status in conjunction with Austen's portrayal of various characters in the three novels, Austen's own views about conformity to societal conventions are revealed. Like the three female character who emerge as heroines of the novels--Catherine Morland, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma--Austen navigated through societal conventions of her time with self-awareness and a sense of humor. Thus, although not overtly subversive, Austen's novels contain undertones of Feminist sympathies. Through the often seemingly trivial behaviors of her characters in the class-conscious, gender-defined society of Regency England, Austen draws a subtle line of distinction between those who exhibit social conformity and those who rise above society's mandates and expectations.