By: Jane Austen
First Published: 1816
Emma took place in small town called Highbury in 18th century England. During the time period set in the novel, there was a definite social rank, or hierarchy. Almost all of the scenes in the book take place in or around the estates of the characters. Their property mostly determined their social status. This setting has significance to the storyline, because of the social rank. Emma, who is constantly trying to play matchmaker, tries to convince her friend Harriet to marry someone of a higher class than her current love, a farmer. The characters are very aware of their status, and can be discriminating towards people of a lower class, such as the farmer. The book was most likely set in this place and time in order to include the conflicts of a hierarchal society.
Emma Woodhouse: Emma is the main character of the novel. She is a beautiful, smart, and wealthy 21-year-old woman. Because of her admired qualities, Emma is a little conceited. She is the daughter of Henry Woodhouse. Since her mother has died, Emma has taken the role of taking care of her father, who is old and often sick. Because she feels she is obligated to stay by his side, Emma decides not to marry. Emma believes that she is a good matchmaker, and tries to put together several couples throughout the novel. Emma believes that social classes are very important and refuses to see anyone cross over to marry someone lesser than themselves In chapter 8-page 52, Emma is talking about Harriet’s situation with the farmer with Mr. Knightley. She says, “Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet’s equal. As the novel progresses, Emma becomes more mature, and realizes how silly she had been in the past. In the end, she finally stops matchmaking others and marries Mr. Knightley, who was perfect for her all along.
Mr. Knightley: Mr. Knightley is another main character of the novel. He is quite a bit older than Emma, at 38. He is also Emma’s brother in law. He often visits the Hartfield estate to play cards. He is a little protective of Emma, and often gives her advice to change her prying ways. Mr. Knightley, although high in status, does not fully believe in the hierarchal customs of Highbury. He thinks that people’s actions and feelings are better judges of themselves than their title or property. For example, in the same conversation in chapter 8, Mr. Knightley defends his opinions by saying, “No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situationWhat are Harriet Smith’s claims, either of birth, nature, or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin?” Knightley is a very nice gentleman, and when he marries Emma in the end, he agrees to live at Hartfield so Emma can take care of her father.
Themes and Conflicts
In Emma, one of the major themes is self-deception. Throughout the novel, Emma is arrogant, and thinks that she is better than everyone else because of her beauty, charm, intelligence, and wealth. She also believes that she can control other people’s lives. For example, beginning in chapter 3, Emma takes a new woman to Highbury, Harriet Smith, under her wing. She treats her very well, but is trying to turn her into a different person. As the story goes on, Emma unsuccessfully matches her with Mr. Elton, who has no interest in Harriet. In fact, he has great affection towards Emma, but she is so set in her ways of pairing him with Harriet, that she doesn’t even notice that he is interested in her. This is another example of her self-delusion. Mr. Knightly is a key character in this theme, because he is the one who brings Emma to the realization of her foolishness and self-deception. The novel also touches on marriage as a minor theme. It shows that the characters have very different views on marriage. Emma sees it as a fairytale and tries to match couples as a hobby. Harriet has a lot of money in her name, yet chooses to marry someone below her in the social rank, a farmer. Jane, on the other hand, has very little money to offer a husband, and chooses to marry Frank, who is arrogant, yet very wealthy. Emma had the most suitable marriage as far as class standing, to Mr. Knightley. It seems to be the only marriage in the novel that was based around love and respect.
All of the conflicts in the story revolve around Emma. She tries to put couples together, but fails almost every time. First, she tried to get Harriet and Mr. Elton together. Instead of falling in love with Harriet, like he was supposed to, Mr. Elton fell in love with Emma. This crushed Harriet, who was very flattered by the misinterpreted attention. The next mistake Emma made was believing that Frank Churchill was in love with her. In reality, he was only using her to hide his marriage to Jane from the town. Emma also lost the friendships of others by acting so superior. The Elton’s didn’t enjoy her company because she was always the center of attention and looking for the praise of others. Ms. Bates was hurt by Emma’s insulting comments at the Box Hill picnic. In trying to make herself look better, Emma consistently made herself look terrible to others.
A major event in the novel was the picnic at Box Hill. This was a turning point for Emma’s character. At the picnic, Emma was in the company of Mr. Knightley, Ms. Bates, Frank Churchill, and the Eltons, among others. The conversation was not very lively, and in trying to start communication, Frank began playing little games. The games were only making people annoyed and upset with the Frank and Emma. The two were being silly and thoughtless. Then, they suggested that everyone say one clever thing, two somewhat interesting things, or three very dull things to keep conversation flowing. Ms. Bates, who was known for making random ramblings, said in good humor that she could easily say three dull things. To this, Emma replied by saying “you will be limited as to number- only three at once.” Ms. Bates didn’t catch on at first, but when she realized what Emma had meant, she blushed with hurt. When they were all leaving the picnic, Emma found Mr. Knightley by her carriage. He told her that she was wrong for making that comment to Ms. Bates, who is a respectable woman. Emma tried to laugh off his criticism of her actions, but was actually feeling sorry. Mr. Knightley wanted to make sure that she understood what she had done, so he continued to condemn her. After their conversation, Emma felt terrible. She cried at the fact that she had been so rude and cruel to someone who was a friend. For days, Emma was depressed, not only because she realized her own flaws, but also because she was looked down upon by Mr. Knightley who she longed to earn the respect of. This was the turning point for Emma as she became determined to be a better person.
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.”- Mr. Knightley, Chapter 49 page 379
“Oh! Miss Woodhouse! Who can think of Miss Smith, when Miss Woodhouse is near.” Mr. Elton, Chapter 15, page 115
“Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them….” Chapter 1, page 8
She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious. But it should be so no more. In the warmth of true contrition she would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse.” Chapter 44, page 346
“It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” Chapter 47, page 375
In the novel, Austen uses connections from the story to real life. She shows the different social classes, and in her tone, it seems like she is looking down on the high-class society. She also shows a positive view of women, because all of the women in the novel serve a purpose and are contributions to society. Austen also touches on the views of marriage during this time period. Jane, who was an orphan with little money, married a wealthy man. Mr. Elton married a woman who seemed to be only convenient. The only successful marriage that followed both the rules of class and love was that of Emma and Mr. Knightley. All of this reflected thoughts of the 18th century. Her writing style was very easy to understand, and she didn’t use too many confusing tricks.
I personally enjoyed this novel. The storylines were amusing because Emma was a kind of character you envy and are annoyed by at the same time. She has everything a girl wants like beauty, charm, intelligence, and wealthbut she is irritating because knows she is all of those things, and is conceited. The novel is easy to read, and was especially easy to follow because I have seen the movie version as well as Clueless. It was really lighthearted and funny. I had already known what was going to happen, but it was still fun to read along and watch as Emma made her mistakes and finally ended up with Mr. Knightley.
Summary of two Critical Reviews
Emma: by Arnold Kettle
Arnold Kettle focuses on the topic of marriage in the novel. He says that it begins with marriage and ends with marriage. Kettle believes that the novel can give the reader a new view on marriage because of the way it is dealt with in the story. When someone reads the novel, they experience what is going on as if it were something happening to a friend, which the reader will always remember. The book is so well written that the reader can actually feel and see what is going on in the town. Kettle says, “When Emma is rude to Miss Bates on Box hill, we feel the flush rise to Miss Bates’s cheek”. In the review, Kettle claims that Austen succeeded in combining intensity with precision, emotional involvement, and objective judgment. He also believes that Emma is not a period piece. It appeals to everyone, at any time. Kettle also touches on morals and standards in the novel, such as the social ranking and aristocratic society that is portrayed. He thinks that when someone is finished with the novel, they will look back and see more than the inadequacies of Hartfield, but of how the men and women matured to work out their problems maturely.
Reginald Farrer: On Emma
Reginald Farrer talks about the way Emma matures throughout the novel. He states that there is only one scene in the story that does not include Emma, personally, and even that one discusses her. This proves that the novel is focused directly on her life and the ways in which it affects others. Farrer discusses how the reader is first introduced to Emma, a conceited 21 year old who can never be taken seriously throughout her humiliating blunders. Only readers who do not take her lightly do not like her character. She is “a figure of fun”. Although Emma continues to make silly mistakes, the reader is constantly made sympathetic because of Austen’s use of charm. Farrer says that a reader is weighing between “alternate rage and delight at Emma”. In the end, Emma recognizes her faults and changes her behavior. This review is more based on the readers view of Emma than Jane Austen’s techniques.