In a recent general education literature course focusing on the novels of Jane Austen, I included a new project to help students practice looking for textual evidence to support a character analysis. The project also prepared students for a discussion on how the characters in an Austen novel look for and evaluate a potential mate compared to dating practices in the US today. The resulting student projects were excellent and more creative than I ever imagined.
Emma: Online Dating Profile Assignment
Emma enjoys matchmaking and believes she is particularly gifted at bringing couples together. The difficulty of finding a suitable spouse is a central concern in all of Austen’s fiction. This concern is still with us today, but we have online dating services instead of Emma to help us find a match.
For this project, you will select an unmarried character in Emma and create an online dating profile for him/her. In making your profile, be sure to include details that are supported by the text. For example, don’t claim that the character loves to garden if there is no evidence in the text that this is true.
To prepare for this project, I suggest that you pick a character early on and keep a running list of the character’s likes and dislikes and personality traits—be sure to note the passages and page numbers. Next, you will have to prepare a list of questions (from 6–8) that you think will help reveal the important traits of your chosen character. Finally, prepare your profile, including information on what passages in the text support your answers. Be sure to include a photo.
Example of a well-supported profile answer for Mr. Knightley:
Wealthy, caring man seeking open-natured woman
Do you prefer indoor activities or the great outdoors? I much prefer to be outside. I am very prone to long walks and rides on horseback. If I were to choose a method of transportation, traveling on foot or by horseback is much preferred to taking a carriage ride. I feel it is a waste to use a carriage and horses when the weather accommodates something of a little more exercise and independence. However, once I have a family, I would, of course, employ the carriage for their comfort. (See Volume 2, Chapter 8—Mr. Knightley uses his carriage for the party, which is noted to be uncommon for him. Emma wishes Mr. Knightley would use the carriage more often to assert his superior social position “as became the owner of Donwell Abbey” and a “gentleman.” Mr. Knightley scoffs at this snobbery. He also frequently travels between his house and Emma’s on horseback or on foot.)
Paula J. Reiter, Mount Mary University