Jane Austen indicates her concern for women of her time, especially single women, in her novel Emma through the circumstances and situations in which she places her female characters. The two factors that governed women's lives and their destiny, in Austen's class-structured society were social position and personal fortune.
Emma Woodhouse, the heroine of Emma, has both social position and personal fortune. Emma's father comes from a good, well-respected family; he owns a private estates Hartfield. He has enough money so that he has never needed an occupation to earn money. Emma inherited her father's position as well as a personal fortune of thirty thousand pounds. Since Emma's older sister is married, Emma's duty in life is to look after her father. This duty causes problems when late in the book Emma and Mr. Knightly plan to marry. If Emma had remained single, her life would not have changed much from the lifestyle described in the book. She would have lived at home and taken care of her father. Her social life would have consisted of visits to the Bates or Westons and going to occasional tea or dinner parties. As a single woman she would not have been able to travel, (a married woman could travel with her husband). When her father died Emma would have no useful duty to perform for society. She would remain independent with her fortune but her social sphere would remain the same and her social position would change slightly as she grew older, being an old maid does not improve social standing while marriage usually improved a woman's position since women usually married above themselves on the social ladder.
Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates are good examples of single women, with good social position but practically no fortune. Miss Bates, as a vicar's daughter, would be a respectable woman, but she had the misfortune of not getting married; she had relatively little intelligence and a poor education.