Was Austen a snob?

picture of Jane Austen

a typical Jane Austen image, painted by her sister Cassandra, not very flattering!

Jane Austen has at times been accused of snobbery as she makes her clearly imperfect characters say snobby things. Emma is perhaps our best example. Egotistical-Emma likes the position she commands in society and she likes to be in control. When she finds out that her new best friend Harriet has begun a love affair with a local farmer, she is none too happy. She had a more advantageous match in mind for her friend. She says about unsophisticated and unfashionable farmer, Robert Martin,

a young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do”.

This is not Jane Austen, this is Egotistical-Emma. Jane Austen allows Harriet and Robert Martin to find happiness together in the end and Mr Knightly, Straight-Talking-Mr Knightly, who respects all people no matter what their social station or position, remains Mr Martin’s friend. Jane Austen is satirising the snobs in every society, blinded by prejudices.  Fortunately Emma comes to a better understanding, embarks of a journey of self-growth, fueled by the help of Mr Knightly. And Robert Martin, previously seen to be too inconsequential for Egotistical-Emma, is now introduced at Hartfield.

Straight-Talking-Mr Knightly is no snob. He sees that Harriet has been snubbed by the pretentious Aspirational Eltons. He immediately acts. Similarly when Emma laughs at Poor-but-Popular-Miss Bates, she meets the disgust of Mr Knightly who treats everyone, no matter their status with respect. She realises her error and learns from it.  Such small actions do not change the world, but they change an individual’s experience of it. They are not greatly admired but they are truly good.

3 Comments

Filed under Living the Simple Life

3 responses to “Was Austen a snob?

  1. I agree with you, that what Jane is highlighting throughout all of her novels, is that snobbery is not good manners. It is a person’s integrity and honesty, with themselves and others, that are far more important qualities than the person’s ancestry or cut of their cravat!

  2. Marg

    Assertiveness is often confused for snobbery.

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