Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Easterlin, Nancy

Second Advisor

Fitzpatrick, Barbara

Third Advisor

Marti, Kevin


Many critics have examined the shifting nature of female friendship in Jane Austen’s Emma from cultural and historical angles. However, a comprehensive scientific analysis of female-female alliance and competition in the novel remains incomplete. The Literary Darwinist approach considers the motivations of fictional characters from an evolutionary perspective, focusing primarily on human cognition and behaviors linked to reproductive success, social control, and survival. While overt physical displays of male competition are conspicuous in the actions of the human species and those of their closest primate relatives, female aggression is often brandished psychologically and indirectly, which makes for a much more precarious study. In this paper, cultural criticism and evolutionary psychology work together to unravel the most complicated and arcane layers of intrasexual competition between women in Emma. Ultimately, this dual interpretation of the novel steers readers towards a deeper understanding of Emma Woodhouse’s imperiled friendships, and by extension, their own.


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