Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Patricia Matthew

Committee Member

James Nash

Committee Member

Monika Elbert


The six completed novels of Jane Austen all fall into the category of courtship novels, which focus on the heroines’ experiences as she meets, becomes acquainted with, and eventually marries the “right” man. Yet in Austen’s three later novels, Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Persuasion (1818), the three heroines engage in more than a quest for the most suitable husband. In each of these novels, the female characters appear to be employed in a search for a suitable family, which can only be obtained through marriage.

The quest for family that manifests itself in these novels is closely related to issues of female power and autonomy. Each of the heroines attempts to secure her position in a family that will allow her optimum opportunity to exercise personal power and influence through the one important choice that was more and more commonly afforded to women of the early nineteenth century, that of the acceptance or rejection of a proposed partner in marriage. In interrogating this issue, Austen’s novels can be seen to draw on three intersecting ideological trends concerning marriage among the author’s contemporaries: the increasing popularity of an ideal of companionate marriage; Edmund Burke’s philosophy regarding gender roles and the influence of the domestic sphere on national interests; and Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas regarding the rights and education of women. Viewed in the light of these interrelated conceptual perspectives, Austen’s three later novels reveal imagined ways in which the philosophies of Burke and Wollstonecraft apply to the everyday lives of middle-class men and women in Austen’s contemporary England, and examine opportunities for women to exercise personal autonomy within the confines of traditional patriarchal systems of family and gender roles.

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