Last updated: 6/30/2023
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The Novel

The opening paragraph of Emma reads: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

Characters: Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Woodhouse, & Harriet Smith

Emma is "faultless in spite of her faults" - intelligent, sweet, and capable, but spoiled by her simple-minded old father, Mr. Woodhouse, and her former governess, Mrs. Weston (Miss Taylor). Having served as mistress of her father's house, Hartfield, since the age of twelve, Emma has led a life largely under her own authority. She is inclined to think well of herself and her ideas, with few to challenge her. Though many of her views on life, especially on marriage, are well-grounded, they are often mistakenly applied.

In the limited sphere of village life at Highbury, Emma is in great danger of proceeding through life with mistaken notions of reality. With Mrs. Weston's marriage, she is somewhat isolated and restlessly bored ("...with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude."), and so she undertakes to gentrify the sweet but simple Harriet Smith. Emma's main flaw is her inability to understand the world and community around her, and her efforts at romantic engineering among her friends and neighbors threaten to end in disaster. The only charaters who will challenge her apparent perfection are her friend Mr. Knightley and his brother, John, who is married to Emma's sister, Isabella. Their superior insight is juxtaposed with her delusion, and it is through Mr. Knightley that Emma finally comes to understand the immaturity of her tendencies.

According to my friend Kay, Emma is an "ENFP" personality type by the Myers-Briggs personality typing system. This mean's that she's an Extroverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving sort of person, big on creativity, lax on the monotonous, and so busy making brilliant insights that she fails to consider the fact that she could be wrong (this is my Myers-Briggs type, and Newland Archer's, as well!)! Her type is a perfect compliment to Mr. Knightley's "ISTJ." For more information on Jungian personality typing, go to David Keirsey's site. There, the Keirsey family has posted a personality typing test based on the same dichotomies as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test.

You may continue reading about Emma, or skip down to Mr. Woodhouse or Harriet Smith.

Mrs. Weston, upon her marriage and removal from Hartfield, on Emma's character

She knew that at times she must be missed...but dear Emma was of no feeble character; she was more equal to her situation than most girls would have been, and had sense, and ehergy, and spirits that might be hoped would bear her well and happily through its little difficulties and privations.

"With all dear Emma's little faults, she is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a better daughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend? No, no; she has qualities which may be trusted; she will never lead any one really wrong; she will make no lasting blunder; where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times."

Mr. Knightley on Emma's character

"She will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding."

"Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family. At ten years old she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen. She was always quick and assured; Isabella slow and diffident. And ever since she was twelve, Emma has been the mistress of the house. In her mother she lost the only person able to cope with her. She inherits her mother's talents, and must have been under subjection to her."

"There is an anxiety, a curiousity, in what one feels for Emma. I wonder what will become of her."

"She always declares she will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that she has yet seen a man she cared for. It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good."

Emma's looks

Mrs. Weston: "Such an eye! - the true hazel eye - and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion - oh, what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size! such a firm and upright figure! There is health not merely in her bloom, but in her air, her head, and her elegance. One hears sometimes of a child being 'the picture of health;' now, Emma always gives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health. She is loveliness itself."

Mr. Knightley: "I have not a fault to find with her person. I think her all you describe. I love to look at her; and I will add this praise, that I do not think her personally vain."

Emma on marriage

"It is always incomprehensible to a man , that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her."

"My being charming is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming - one other person at least. And I am not only not going to be married at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all. I must see somebody very superior to any one I have yet seen, to be tempted...I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it."

"I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing; but I have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine."

"A single woman of good fortune is always repsectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else!"

"I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to 'Yes,' she ought to say 'No' directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart."

"You must be the best judge of your own happiness. If you prefer Mr. Martin to every other person, if you think him the most agreeable man you have ever been in company with, why should you hesitate? You blush, Harriet. Does anybody else occur to you at this moment under such a definition? Harriet, Harriet, do not deceive yourself; do not be run away with by gratitude and compassion."

Emma on Matchmaking

On the Weston marriage - " have forgotten one matter of joy to me...and a very considerable one - that I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for anything."

As her father bids her make no more matches - "I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed, for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world! And after such success, you know! Everybody said that Mr. Weston would never marry again..."

Mr. Knightley: "...why do you talk of success? where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said."

Emma, in reply: "And have you never known the triumph of a lucky guess? I pity you. I thought you cleverer, for, depend upon it, a lucky guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it."

Emma on blunders

...she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of the circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgement are forever falling into...

Emma, planning personal reform in the face of losing Mr. Knightley

When it came to such a pitch as this, she was not able to refrain from a start, or a heavy sigh, or even from walking about the room for a few seconds; and the only source whence anything like consolation or composure could be drawn, was in the resolution of her own better conduct, and the hope that, however inferior in spirit and gaiety might be the following and every future winter of her life to the past, it would yet find her more rational, more acquainted with herself, and leave her less to regret when it were gone.

Mr. Woodhouse

This section is still being developed; in the meantime, please check out The Mr. Woodhouse Defense League.

Harriet Smith

About Harriet:

Miss Smith was a girl of seventeen, whom Emma knew very well by sight, and had long felt an interest in, for account of her beauty.

Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her, several years back, at Mrs. Goddard's school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history. She had no visible friends, but what had been acquired at Highbury...

She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness...

Emma was not struck by anything remarkably clever in Miss Smith's conversation, but she found her altogether very engaging - no unconveniently shy, nor unwilling to talk - and yet so far from pushing, showing so proper and becoming a deference, seeming so pleasantly grateful for being admitted to Hartfield, and so artlessly impressed by the appearance of everything in so superior a style to what she had been used to, that she must have good sense, and deserve encouragement. Encouragement should be given...all those natural graces should not be wasted ont eh inferior society of Highbury and its connections. The acquaintances she had already formed were unworthy of her. The friends from whom she had just parted , though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm. They were a family of the name of Martin, whom Emma knew well by character, as renting a large farm of Mr. Knightley...she knew Mr. Knightley thought highly of them, but they must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a girl who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect. She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintances, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure, and powers.

Emma, on Harriet's lack of inquisitiveness regarding her parentage:

Harriet had no penetration. She had been satisfied to hear and believe just what Mrs. Goddard chose to tell her; and looked no further.

Harriet, on the difference between Mr. Knightley and Mr. Martin:

"Certainly, he is not like Mr. Knightley. he has not such a fine air and way of walking as Mr. Knightley. I see the difference plain enough. But Mr. Knightley is so very fine a man!"

Harriet, upon showing Mr. Martin's letter of proposal to Emma:

"Is it a good letter, or is it too short?...well - and - and what shall I do?"

Mr. Knightley on Harriet's claims on rational, image-conscious men:

"What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature, or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations ... not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information ... She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all."