The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

What does Jane Austen mean when she writes "which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments". I get the general meaning, but I would like to know the exact meaning of "alloy", is it a noun or verb? How does it function in the sentence?

  • 4
    'alloy' is like an adulteration; she has some good traits, but these bad traits dilute or reduce them. The syntax is weird but, hey, she can write how she likes. 'to threaten alloy' must have been a thing 200 years ago.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 17:20
  • 1
    I think it has to be a noun. If it were a verb, you would need a "to" before it. "This threatens destruction of our plans" versus "this threatens to destroy our plans". As for the meaning, it's presumably a figurative use of a definition similar to "the degree of mixture with base metals" (definition from Merriam-Webster). Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 17:22
  • 3
    I think this sort of use survives primarily in the adjective unalloyed (meaning "unmixed, unsullied, pure"), as in "The look of unalloyed joy on her face was worth the months of sweat."
    – Hellion
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 22:31
  • I assumed that "alloy to" was a transposition - as there was another typo which has since been corrected. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 14:33

4 Answers 4


It seems odd, doesn't it? But really, it's a very similar meaning to alloy in the context of a mixture of metals.

The missing piece is that alloy was often used metaphorically in a negative sense to mean that something pure was mixed with something base, a little like we might say "muddy". So to alloy is to stain or to taint.

Her disposition tended to threaten to taint her enjoyments.

  • thank you. The syntax of the sentence also doesn't make sense. can you expalin it as well?
    – user76770
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 17:29
  • 3
    As I read it, it's being used as a noun as you might use "shame", "infamy", "misfortune".
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 17:36

Weaken, soften, or make less valuable. Alloy (v.) is usually used to refer to the process of combining two metals so that the resulting alloy (n.) is in some way intermediate in characteristics between the two (although sometimes the alloy has characteristics that neither metal has, as is true with bronze being stronger than copper or tin). As for the metaphor: if you imagine that her "many enjoyments" are gold, and the power of having too much her own way were silver, the resulting alloy, electrum, would be slightly less valuable than gold.


In my opinion , ‘threatened alloy’ means apprehending to cause impurity, ‘threatened alloy to her many enjoyments’ might mean her very disposition is likely to be a threat to her having the pure enjoyment, which otherwise she could have

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 1:53
  • I'm afraid this adds nothing to the top-voted answer.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 8:05

This is certainly an odd usage of the word alloy in a sentence. To alloy a metal is to mix it together with another as the other answers have stated. Another interperetation of this passage is to think Emma has become "alloyed" with these enjoyments and thus making them almost inseperable.

  • Please provide references to support your answer. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 3:52
  • @RupertMorrish Why is it necessary that I use references? This is my interperetation of the word thus there would be nothing to reference. Furthermore, what differentiates my response from the others such that I would reqire references whereas they'd not? Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 4:19
  • @TommyWoldt a request for a reference can mean that a user disagrees with something about your answer as compared to the lack of such an element in another answer. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:46
  • At any rate, I don't know what you mean by saying that "alloy was placed in an odd place". Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:46

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