Frontispiece of first volume
Author(s) Jane Austen Country United Kingdom Language English Genre(s) Novel Publisher John Murray Publication date December 1815;
title page says 1816
Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian-Regency England; she also creates a lively 'comedy of manners' among her characters.
Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma, however, is also rather spoiled; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; and she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives and is often mistaken about the meanings of others' actions.
Although convinced that she herself will never marry anyone, Emma Woodhouse, a precocious almost twenty-one-year-old resident of the village of Highbury, imagines herself to be naturally gifted in conjuring love matches. After self-declared success at matchmaking between her governess and Mr. Weston, a village widower, Emma takes it upon herself to find an eligible match for her new friend, Harriet Smith. Though Harriet’s parentage is unknown, Emma is convinced that Harriet deserves to be a gentleman’s wife and sets her friend’s sights on Mr. Elton, the village vicar. Meanwhile, Emma persuades Harriet to reject the proposal of Robert Martin, a well-to-do farmer for whom Harriet clearly has feelings.
Harriet becomes infatuated with Mr. Elton under Emma’s encouragement, but Emma’s plans go awry when Elton makes it clear that his affection is for Emma, not Harriet. Emma realizes that her obsession with making a match for Harriet has blinded her to the true nature of the situation. Mr. Knightley, the brother of Emma’s brother-in-law and her treasured friend, watches Emma’s matchmaking efforts with a critical eye. He believes that Mr. Martin is a worthy young man whom Harriet would be lucky to marry. He and Emma quarrel over Emma’s meddling, and, as usual, Mr. Knightley proves to be the wiser of the pair. Elton, spurned by Emma and offended by her insinuation that Harriet is his equal, leaves for the town of Bath and marries a young woman there almost immediately.
Emma is left to comfort Harriet and to wonder about the character of a new visitor expected in Highbury—Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill. Frank is set to visit his father in Highbury after having been raised by his aunt and uncle in London, who have also adopted him as their heir. Emma knows nothing about Frank, who has long been deterred from visiting his father by his aunt’s illnesses and complaints. Mr. Knightley is immediately suspicious of the young man, especially after Frank rushes back to London merely to have his hair cut. Emma, however, finds Frank delightful and notices that his charms are directed mainly toward her. Though she plans to discourage these charms, she finds herself flattered and engages in a flirtation with the young man. Emma greets Jane Fairfax, another addition to the Highbury set, with less enthusiasm. Jane is beautiful and accomplished, but Emma dislikes her because of her reserve and, the narrator insinuates, because she is jealous of Jane.
Suspicion, intrigue, and misunderstandings ensue. Mr. Knightley defends Jane, saying that she deserves compassion because, unlike Emma, she has no independent fortune and must soon leave home to work as a governess. Mrs. Weston suspects that the warmth of Mr. Knightley’s defense comes from romantic feelings, an implication Emma resists. Everyone assumes that Frank and Emma are forming an attachment, though Emma soon dismisses Frank as a potential suitor and imagines him as a match for Harriet. At a village ball, Knightley earns Emma’s approval by offering to dance with Harriet, who has just been humiliated by Mr. Elton and his new wife. The next day, Frank saves Harriet from Gypsy beggars. When Harriet tells Emma that she has fallen in love with a man above her social station, Emma believes that she means Frank. Knightley begins to suspect that Frank and Jane have a secret understanding, and he attempts to warn Emma. Emma laughs at Knightley’s suggestion and loses Knightley’s approval when she flirts with Frank and insults Miss Bates, a kindhearted spinster and Jane’s aunt, at a picnic. When Knightley reprimands Emma, she weeps.
News comes that Frank’s aunt has died, and this event paves the way for an unexpected revelation that slowly solves the mysteries. Frank and Jane have been secretly engaged; his attentions to Emma have been a screen to hide his true preference. With his aunt’s death and his uncle’s approval, Frank can now marry Jane, the woman he loves. Emma worries that Harriet will be crushed, but she soon discovers that it is Knightley, not Frank, who is the object of Harriet’s affection. Harriet believes that Knightley shares her feelings. Emma finds herself upset by Harriet’s revelation, and her distress forces her to realize that she is in love with Knightley. Emma expects Knightley to tell her he loves Harriet, but, to her delight, Knightley declares his love for Emma. Harriet is soon comforted by a second proposal from Robert Martin, which she accepts. The novel ends with the marriage of Harriet and Mr. Martin and that of Emma and Mr. Knightley, resolving the question of who loves whom after all.
Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of the story, is a beautiful, high-spirited, intelligent, and 'slightly' spoiled young woman of the age of twenty. Her mother died when she was very young, and she has been mistress of the house ever since, certainly since her older sister got married. Although intelligent, she lacks the necessary discipline to practice or study anything in depth. She is portrayed as very compassionate to the poor, but at the same time has a strong sense of class. Her affection for and patience towards her hypochondriac father are also noteworthy. While she is in many ways mature for her age, Emma makes some serious mistakes, mainly due to her conviction that she is always right and her lack of real world experience. Although she has vowed she will never ever marry, she delights in making matches for others. She seems unable to fall in love, until jealousy makes her realize that she has loved Mr. Knightley all along.
George Knightley, about thirty-seven years old, is a close friend of Emma, and her only critic, although he cares deeply for her. Mr. Knightley is the owner of the estate of Donwell Abbey, which includes extensive grounds and a farm. He is the elder brother of Mr. John Knightley, the husband of Emma's elder sister Isabella. Mr Knightley is very annoyed with Emma for persuading Harriet to turn down Mr Martin, thinking that the advantage is all on Harriet's side; he also warns Emma against matchmaking Harriet with Mr. Elton, correctly guessing that Mr. Elton has a much higher opinion of himself. He is suspicious of Frank Churchill and his motives; although his suspicion turns out to be based mainly on jealousy of the younger man, his instincts are proven correct by the revelation that Frank Churchill is not all that he seems.
Mr. Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston's son by his previous marriage, is an amiable young man, who manages to be liked by everyone except Mr. Knightley, who considers him quite immature, although this partially results from his jealously of Frank's supposed 'pursuit' of Emma. After his mother's death, he was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, whose last name he took. Frank enjoys dancing and music and living life to the fullest. Frank may be viewed as a careless but less villainous version of characters from other Austen novels, such as Mr. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice or Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility.
Jane Fairfax, an orphan whose only family consists of an aunt, Miss Bates, and a grandmother, Mrs. Bates, is regarded as a very beautiful, clever, and elegant woman, with the best of manners, and is also very well-educated and exceptionally talented at singing and playing the piano; in fact, she is the sole person whom Emma envies. She has little fortune, however, and seems destined to become a governess – a prospect she dislikes.
Harriet Smith, a young friend of Emma's, is a very pretty but unsophisticated girl who is too easily led by others, especially Emma; she has been educated at a nearby school. The illegitimate daughter of initially unknown parents, she is revealed in the last chapter to be the daughter of a fairly rich and decent tradesman, although not a "gentleman". Emma takes Harriet under her wing early in the novel, and she becomes the subject of some of Emma's misguided matchmaking attempts. Harriet initially rebuffs a marriage proposal from farmer Robert Martin because of Emma's belief that he is beneath her, despite Harriet's own doubtful origins. She then develops a passion for Mr. Knightley, which is the catalyst for Emma realising her own feelings. Ultimately, Harriet and Mr. Martin are wed, despite Emma's initial meddling. The now wiser Emma approves of the match.
Philip Elton is a good-looking, well mannered, and ambitious young vicar. Emma wants him to marry Harriet; he wants to marry Emma. Mr. Elton displays his mercenary nature by quickly marrying another woman of means after Emma's rejection.
Augusta Elton, formerly Miss Hawkins, is Mr. Elton's wife. She is moneyed but lacks breeding and possesses moderately good manners, at best. She is a boasting, domineering, pretentious woman who likes to be the centre of attention and is generally disliked by Emma and her circle. She patronizes Jane, which earns Jane the sympathy of others.
Mrs. Anne Weston, formerly Miss Taylor, was Emma's governess for sixteen years and remains her closest friend and confidante after she marries Mr. Weston in the opening chapter. She is a sensible woman who adores and idolizes Emma. Mrs. Weston acts as a surrogate mother to her former charge and, occasionally, as a voice of moderation and reason, although she is the one to yield in arguments more often than not.
Mr. Weston, a recently wealthy man living in the vicinity of Hartfield, marries Emma's former governess, Miss Taylor, and by his first marriage is father to Frank Churchill, who was adopted and raised by his late wife's brother and sister-in-law. Mr. Weston is a sanguine, optimistic man, who enjoys socializing.
Miss Bates is a friendly, garrulous spinster whose mother, Mrs. Bates, is a friend of Mr. Woodhouse. Her accomplished niece, Jane Fairfax, is the light of her life. One day, Emma humiliates her on a day out in the country, when she pointedly alludes to her tiresome prolixity. Afterward, Mr. Knightley sternly rebukes Emma. Shamed, Emma tries to make amends.
Mr. Henry Woodhouse, Emma's father, is always concerned for his own health and comfort, and to the extent that it does not interfere with his own, the health and comfort of his friends. He is a valetudinarian (i.e., similar to a hypochondriac but more likely to be genuinely ill). He assumes a great many things are hazardous to one's health, and is generally a difficult person to handle because he is always fussing about the trifling things which bother him and which he assumes must bother everyone else just the same, to the point of trying to convince his visitors to deny foods he considers too rich. He laments that "poor Isabella" and especially "poor Miss Taylor" have married and been taken away from him, because since he is unhappy about their being gone, he assumes they must be miserable as well; moreover, he dislikes change in general, and marriage is a form of change.
Isabella Knightley (née Woodhouse) is the elder sister of Emma and daughter of Henry. She is married to John Knightley, and spends much of her time at home caring for her five children (Henry, 'little' John, Bella, 'little' Emma, and George).
John Knightley is Isabella's husband and George's younger brother. He is an old acquaintance of Jane Fairfax. He indulges his family's desires for visits and vacations, although he would prefer to stay at home, especially if the weather is less than perfect.
Criticism and themes
Early reviews of Emma were generally favorable, but there were some criticisms about the lack of story. John Murray remarked that it lacked "incident and Romance"; Maria Edgeworth, the author of Belinda, to whom Austen had sent a complimentary copy, wrote:
there was no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own – & he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow – and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel!!
Emma Woodhouse is the first Austen heroine with no financial concerns, which, she declares to the naïve Miss Smith, is the reason that she has no inducement to marry. This is a great departure from Austen's other novels, in which the quest for marriage and financial security are often important themes in the stories. Emma's ample financial resources put her in a much more privileged position than the heroines of Austen's earlier works, such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Jane Fairfax's prospects, in contrast, are bleak.
In contrast to other Austen heroines Emma seems immune to romantic attraction. Unlike Marianne Dashwood, who is attracted to the wrong man before she settles on the right one, Emma shows no romantic interest in the men she meets. She is genuinely surprised (and somewhat disgusted) when Mr Elton declares his love for her—much in the way Elizabeth Bennet singularly reacts to the obsequious Mr Collins. Her fancy for Frank Churchill represents more of a longing for a little drama in her life than a longing for romantic love. Notably too, Emma utterly fails to understand the budding affection between Harriet Smith and Robert Martin; she interprets the prospective match solely in terms of financial settlements and social ambition. It is only after Harriet Smith reveals her interest in Mr Knightley that Emma realizes her own feelings for him.
While Emma differs strikingly from Austen's other heroines in these two respects, she resembles Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot, among others, in another way: she is an intelligent young woman with too little to do and no ability to change her location or everyday routine. Though her family is loving and her economic status secure, Emma's everyday life is dull indeed; she has few companions her own age when the novel begins. Her determined though inept matchmaking may represent a muted protest against the narrow scope of a wealthy woman's life, especially that of a woman who is single and childless.
Film, television and stage adaptations
Emma has been the subject of many adaptations:
- 1948: Emma
- 1972: Emma (BBC television), starring Doran Godwin as Emma.
- 1995: Clueless, a loose modern adaptation of the novel, by Amy Heckerling, starring Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz (Emma).
- 1996: Emma, a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma.
- 1996: Emma, a Television drama starring Kate Beckinsale as Emma.
- 2009: Emma (BBC television), starring Romola Garai as Emma.
- 2010: Aisha, starring Sonam Kapoor as Aisha (Emma – Hindi language Version), produced by Rhea Kapoor
- 2011: Jane Austen's Emma: A Romantic Musical Comedy presented by the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and directed by Jeff Calhoun.
- The novel Emma is featured in the film Naked (1993) by Mike Leigh, in which the character Johnny (played by David Thewlis) confuses the title and the name of the author.
- Joan Aiken wrote a companion novel, Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen's Emma.
- Reginald Hill wrote a 1987 short story "Poor Emma" (included in the 2007 paperback There are no Ghosts in the Soviet Union) in which finances and security play the central role.
- The Importance of Being Emma, a novel by Juliet Archer, is a modern version of Emma.
- Emma and the Werewolves: Jane Austen's Classic Novel with Blood-curdling Lycanthropy, a mashup novel by Adam Rann.
- Andrew Trees' novel Academy X, about a prep school in New York City, utilizes Emma in the plot. The main character, John, is head of the English department and teaches Emma to his senior literature class. The character of Caitlin is often compared to the eponymous heroine because of her looks, money, and high-standing position in the social hierarchy of the school.
- William Deresiewicz, "A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter" (Penguin Press, 2011)
- ^ Austen-Leigh, James Edward. A Memoir of Jane Austen. 1926. Ed. R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967. p. 157
- ^ http://www.austen.com/emma/ch1.htm
- ^ http://www.austen.com/emma/ch1.htm
- ^ a b Todd, Janet (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. Cambridge University Press. pp. 94. ISBN 978-0-521-85806-9.
- ^ Jane Austen at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ "Casting announced for BBC One's Emma this Autumn" at BBC One (4 April 2009)
- ^ Jones, Kenneth."'Emma', Paul Gordon's Austen-Inspired Musical, Opens Jan. 23 at Old Globe" playbill.com, 23 January 2011
- Emma at Project Gutenberg
- Chronology/Calendar for Emma
- Emma study guide, quotes, themes, teaching guide
- Emma, complete text and audio
- Emma audio book, public domain solo recording by Moira Fogarty at Internet Archive
- Emma, free audio book at LibriVox
- Emma, Easy to read text.
Jane AustenGeneral Life Places People AnalysisWorks Major Minor Juvenilia CharactersElinor Dashwood • Edward Ferrars • Marianne Dashwood • John Willoughby • Elizabeth Bennet • Fitzwilliam Darcy • Jane Bennet • Lydia Bennet • Charles Bingley • Fanny Price • Edmund Bertram • Mary Crawford • Henry Crawford • Tom Bertram • Maria Bertram • Emma Woodhouse • George Knightley • Anne Elliot • Captain Frederick Wentworth • Catherine Morland • Henry TilneyAdaptations Sense and Sensibility Pride and Prejudice1940 film • First Impressions (1959 musical) • 1980 TV miniseries • 1995 TV miniseries • Darcy's Story • Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003 film) • Mr. Darcy's Daughters (2003 novel) • An Assembly Such as This (2003 novel) • Duty and Desire (2004 novel) • These Three Remain (2005 novel) • Bride and Prejudice (2004 film) • 2005 film • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009 parody novel) • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010 parody novel) Mansfield Park Emma Northanger Abbey Persuasion
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