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Context and background:


Regency England  1815  Her novels written between 1797 – 1817, with Emma one of the last.  Her novels depict the commonplace, the mundane detailed and ordinary lives of a narrow band of genteel classes; privileged but not too extravagantly rich and powerful.  They knew their place and accepted it with dignity and grace. 

Perhaps most intriguing is that, though her novels are set in the turbulent times of the Napoleonic wars and a period of great social unrest in rural England, her characters appear entirely concerned only with their parochial affairs and to be totally oblivious of anything happening in the national or international fields.  Her critics decry this narrowness and insularity while her fans celebrate the niche portraits she draws.


Life is slow paced, genial, relaxed with no major pressures, despite the Napoleonic threats, dislocation caused by the Industrial Revolution and peasant discontent surrounding them.  Their major obsession is who is going to marry whom. 


Life is essentially mono-cultured with a dominant exclusive value system. The only non-conformists we hear about are the disparaged gypsies.


Life is governed by an assumed and tacitly accepted code of behaviour;


·        Note Miss Bates is considered worthy of sympathy. “enjoying an uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married”.

·        Family alliances and consolidation of property is a major consideration. 

·        Courtship full of conventions .


“What makes Austen great is her awareness of the minefield that is ordinary life. At any point the Austen heroine can be brought low. Even as we applaud the achievement of the sexual relationship at the end of any Austen novel, we should be aware not only that the heroine has had a tough time but that she could be facing an even tougher one. If to be a spinster in Austen’s world is to be exploited by one’s family whenever the need arises and otherwise completely overlooked and ignored, the role of wife-and-mother is so difficult that most of Austen’s wives-and- mothers are hopeless at it. The best mothers are the dead ones, like Emma’s mother or Anne Elliot’s mother.”  Germaine Greer

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