Some modern readers who love Jane Austen are eager to find ways to acquit her of being a woman of the long 18th century. Clutching My Pearls is my ongoing blog series about my take on Jane Austen’s beliefs and ideas, as based on her novels. Click here for the first in the series.
This is the only time the word “enclosed” appears in Emma, in reference to a letter from Frank Churchill. The word “enclosure” and its alternate spelling “inclosure” do not appear at all.
The enclosure movement was a part of Great Britain's agricultural revolution. Throughout the 18th century and into the 19th, village land which had been held "in common" and which the villagers used for farming, grazing their livestock or foraging for nuts and berries, began to be fenced off by the local gentry. The enclosed fields yielded more crops per acre, as we will see, but it did make life more difficult for the villagers. They could no longer keep a cow for milk for their children, for example, because they had no grazing land. Enclosure was a driving force behind the great migration to the cities at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Dr. Helena Kelly gives an interesting and informative explanation of land enclosure and agriculture in rural 18th century Britain in Jane Austen: the Secret Radical. But is she correct that Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel, is a condemnation of land enclosure?
Short answer: I don't think so.
Long answer: I don't think so, but first, we'll have a digression about gypsies...