Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA) in English: Literature
The ideal woman of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the "Angel in the House"-a woman who was sweet, shy, and modest. She lived to please the men in her life. She was also the child-woman who was sheltered from the knowledge of the world because it would be too painful and heavy for her fragile shoulders to endure. Edith Wharton, in The Age of Innocence, and Jane Austen, in Emma challenge this ideal picture by creating their respective heroines, May and Emma, to be the exact opposite of it. Though May constantly acts like the ideal woman mentioned earlier, she is actually a very shrewd, intuitive, and perceptive woman. She understands the role she is supposed to play so she dons the mask of the Victorian ideal woman and hides her true personality in order to write and innocently manipulate Newland Archer's every move without him ever knowing. Although Wharton's May successfully controls the entire novel, Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse does not try to hide her knowledge and relies more on her imagination than reality, so when she attempts to manipulate and write other peoples' stories, she fails miserably. However, in the end, Emma experiences the kind of genuine relationship with Mr. Knightley that May's mask never allows May to have with Newland--Document.
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Vetter, Melinda R., "Reality and imagination: the authorial decisions of May Welland Archer and Emma Woodhouse" (2013). EWU Masters Thesis Collection. 245.