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Suzanna Geiser

Gypsies, Farmers, Governesses, and Orphans: Class Status in Emma

Teaching Notes


"Gypsies, Farmers, Governesses, and Orphans: Class Status in Emma" was first presented at the Jane Austen Summer Program of 2015, entitled "Emma at 200." Suzanna Geiser provides historical context to the characters' keen interest in social status. 

Discussion Questions 

  1. Jane Fairfax, Emma, and Harriet Smith can be read to represent each of the three orphan definitions: Jane, the orphan with no living parents; Emma, the orphan with one living parent (importantly, her father); and Harriet, the illegitimate child in the custody of a third party. How does each character’s unique orphan position impact her development in the novel? How are their interactions with each other and with other characters influenced by their different orphan positions?

  2. How do we read Robert Martin in relation to the eighteenth-century debate over the basis of individual worth and contemporary concerns about social mobility?

  3. What does Austen’s treatment of the orphan, governess, farmer, and gypsy suggest about her social politics?

"Class Status in Emma" handout 
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"Class Status in Emma" discussion questions
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