Correlation Between The Work Of Jane Austen And Modern-day Historical Romance Novels

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There is a direct correlation between the work of Jane Austen and modern-day historical romance novels. “200 years after it was first published, John Mullan argues that it belongs alongside the works of Flaubert, Joyce and Woolf as one of the great experimental novels” (Mullan). In 1996, Douglas McGrath produced Emma shadowing the famous novel written by Jane Austen in 1815. This film starring Gwyneth Paltrow was broadcasted on November 24, 1996 acquiring over 12 million viewers (Brownstein 17). Emma played a self-deluded, spoiled girl who the historic audience would find comedic. Austen did not expect readers to like the protagonist of Emma. Austen famously said about her, “I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” (“My Fanny”). Although she misplaces her confidence in matchmaking, Emma shows an interest in love which is a rising idea to the people of this era. “The regency period was governed by strict rules and structure, heavily within relationships” (Maria 2). Towards the end of this era, however a movement of romanticism began. This heightened the interest in the expression of emotions and feelings. Throughout the novel, slight comments and actions emphasize their curiosity for this new concept. Emma, by Jane Austen, reveals the rise of romance in the regency era with her motive to matchmake, the uprising wants for love in marriage, and the importance of ballroom dances.

Motive for Matchmaking

Know-it-all Emma believed she had a gift for pairing two love birds. “Matchmaking in the early nineteenth century was the arranged initiation of romantic relationships between others” (“Courtship and Marriage”). “Many times, matchmaking was a pastime for women who were already married, and often their sole occupation” (Maurer). When Miss Taylor, Emma’s former governess, marries the widowed Mr. Weston, Emma takes significant pride in her role as matchmaker. Boasting to Mr. Knightley, “I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for anything” (Austen 7). Matchmaking as shown in Emma illustrates that romance was alive and well in the regency era. Although her efforts were unappreciated by Mr. Knightley and her father, her desire to be Cupid of Highbury remained. Her previous successful match convinces her to continue matchmaking among her friends. She next matches Miss Harriet Smith a parlor boarder at the local school and Mr. Elton the local vicar. Emma mentions that Harriet deserves well educated, well-bred men with air and gentility, not a common “completely gross, vulgar farmer—totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but profit and loss” (Austen). Emma is advising that a match must be considered more than a business arrangement to succeed. Other than the desire for financial safety and similarity of social class, the unwritten rules of relationships were slowly disappearing. With the whimsical and sometime disastrous results of matchmaking, Emma finally leads to mature realization of what truly constitutes marriage, love and companionship. With Emma’s new understanding of romance through matchmaking, the story ends with Emma and Mr. Knightley’s marriage that confirms true love needs no match.

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Marriages for More Than Money

Although parents desired their child to marry the “perfect match,” many times they were not strictly arranged. During the regency era, there was a rising ideology of romantic marriages. “The Age of Enlightenment (18th century) brought a radical shift in attitudes toward marriage” (Maurer). “By the time the Prince Regent rose to power, the notion of marrying for love had already started gaining ground in people’s minds as opposed to previous years when marriages were almost exclusively political” (Maurer 2). Ideas of human equality and freedom meant that marriage should be a matter of individual choice, not parental command. However, those who made socially problematic choices may face stiff opposition from their parents. “They must both be careful to not look too high above their station, finding happiness within the confines of their rank. Thus, what Harriet and Martin achieved in the end— “Harriet had always liked Robert Martin…his continuing to love her had been irresistible,” and notwithstanding the meddling of a certain gentlewoman they are at last engaged” (Austen 394). Most women are inclined to romance. “This tendency is not confined to the young or to the beautiful; to the intellectual, or to the refined — Every woman capable of strong feeling is susceptible of romance… and requires only a stimulus for its development” (Eggleston 34). Jane Austen wrote, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection; and if his deficiencies of manner, etc., strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once” (Brownstein 4). Jane Austen revealed her strong views on love that showed in her literary work. Once Emma stops dreaming about the marriages of others and reads into her own heart, she confesses that “her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection” (Maria). In the midst of all these changes, society at large recognized that marriages based on compatibility, affection, and even love, were more likely to stand the test of time than marriages arranged purely for material gain.

Parties for Pleasure

Dancing was the most popular way to meet young eligible partners in the Regency era. Jane Austen’s scenes of dance are at the narrative heart of each of her novels. The village of Highbury was quite small and offered limited possibility for constant companionship and shared activity. In a society that provided such little for women to do, relationships were everything, and ballroom dances were crucial. “It is a place where heroine and hero meet to flirt according to rigid prescriptions for chaste courtship” (“Courtship and Marriage). Dances were elaborate and involved intricate steps, so it was essential that young people be taught to dance at an advanced level. “One’s skill at executing the dances was very important, since it would be on display for the entire evening, and even for those who did not dance, their appearance was of great import in signaling their perceptions of themselves and their standing in the community” (Eggleston 6). Their skill determined if they were to make a good ‘match’. In Jane Austen’s fiction, as in many novels of the 19th century, a ball is the ultimate occasion for a thrilling kind of courtship – a trying out of partners that is exciting, flirtatious and downright erotic. As shown in Figure 1, couples perform together, feeling each other’s physical proximity. Emma Woodhouse first alerts us to the sexual chemistry between herself and Mr. Knightley when she dances with him at the ball at the Crown. ‘We are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper,’ she observes (Austen). Ballroom dances in this era started the spark of many romances between the guests. Jane Austen called it “the felicities of rapid motion” (Jennings). Something romantic occurs when you dance in concert with other people, and to many of these women it was the one moment they could embrace that feeling. Emma after the dance says, “Never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s” (Austen 75). This is when she fully admits to the importance of love in a relationship which highlights the change of romance in this era.


Although the idea of marrying for love was introduced in the late eighteen hundred, it was still commonly overruled or vetoed by parents. The priority of marriage was for financial support and security, and if lucky, love was to follow. Despite this interference, the points I’ve brought up clearly show how romance was on the rise. “Since divorce was virtually unavailable, marrying the wrong person could lead to a life of misery for both partners. Advice for choosing well abounded” (“Courtship and Marriage”). In the midst of these changes, society at large recognized that marriages based on affection, compatibility, and even love, were more likely to stand the test of time than marriages arranged purely for material gain. “Marriage enlarges the scene of our happiness and miseries. A marriage of love is pleasant; a marriage of interest easy; and a marriage where both meet, happy. A happy marriage has in it all the pleasures of friendship, all the enjoyments of sense and reason; and, indeed, all the sweets of life’ (The Young Husband’s Book). In conclusion, Emma, by Jane Austen, reveals increasing romance in the late eighteen hundred, with her strong passion for matchmaking, the idea of marrying for love, and their intentions at ballroom dances. After conducting this research, I am interested to look more into the aftermath of marriages and how the idea of marrying for love impacted the rate of separation and their quality of happiness together.  


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