The work of manners as a defining element of class in Austen, distinct from money and status, is the subject of this essay. Jane Austen's Emma (1816) is read through a functional and motive sense of class that is found in class labels such as "useful" or "idle," which were emerging in Austen's time. Critics have traditionally considered class in Austen primarily through variations on positional class terms, such as "middle-class aristocracy." But doing so effaces the way in which Austen depicts her characters reproducing themselves as polite ladies and gentlemen through their work at etiquette. As the work of Norbert Elias, Thorstein Veblen, and Pierre Bourdieu helps to make clear, the production of etiquette is a primary and defining function of the historical class that Austen depicts. Thus, beginning with an investigation of how Emma-who does not know that Frank Churchill is engaged to Jane Fairfax-arrives at her decision not to marry Frank, we see how Emma is enmeshed in her leisure class's everyday work of maintaining proper etiquette. As becomes clear, although her father's fastidious concerns about etiquette and the body seem peripheral to the novel's main action, Mr. Woodhouse not only strangely presides over how Emma chooses her husband but also, more surprisingly, reveals how Highbury's leisure class works, in both senses of the word.
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