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Love and Despair in Jane Austen's Emma

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Emma - Love and Despair

 

The story, Emma, by Jane Austen, is a riveting tale about a heroine who through her determined will to assist others, realizes and attains her own dreams and desires.  The story begins with 21 year old, Emma Woodhouse struggling with the loss of her governess of 16 years and a truly dear friend, Miss Taylor.  Miss Taylor recently wedded Mr. Weston and moved half a mile away from the Woodhouses’ residence at Hartfield.  Both Emma and her father are trying to cope with this drastic change and overcome their sense of despondency.  Emma feels as if she has lost her best friend and is extremely depressed about the predicament. 

 However, Emma’s distraught and lonesome manner quickly changes with the arrival of Harriet Smith.  Harriet, a young girl of unknown lineage, is a student at Mrs. Goddard’s school. Emma sees the reformation and refinement of Harriet as a challenge, and decides to take her under her wing.  There is a rapid change of atmosphere and mood, as Emma is more cheerful and content because of her newfound friend.  The two girls become best friends, and Emma’s wound from Miss Taylor’s departure gradually begins to heal.  As the story progresses, Emma notices Harriet’s fondness of a young farmer by the name of Robert Martin.  Emma feels that Mr. Martin is not worthy of her dear friend’s hand, and convinces Harriet to decline his proposal.  Emma, confident of her own matchmaking abilities, then tries to make a match between her companion and Mr. Elton, who is a charming gentleman of an impetuous background. This reveals one of the themes in the story, which is social class prejudice. Although Mr. Martin’s earnings are quite respectable, Emma feels that because Harriet is a part of her life now, she should have the same opportunities and lifestyle as her own.  Harriet can acquire this by marrying into a higher-class family.

             Emma’s determination and will to make the match successful prevent her from noticing the clues that Mr. Elton has been leaving her behind. Those of which disprove Emma’s hopes of his interests in Harriet; but rather reveal his feelings for Emma, herself. Mr. Knightley, who is the brother-in-law of Emma, suggested to her earlier on that Mr. Elton had “a great deal of good-will towards [her]” (Austen 94), which can be seen as foreshadowing.  Mr. Elton does declare his love for Emma, which leaves her shocked and upset.  “Without scruple--without apology—without much apparent diffidence, Mr. Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover.  Emma tried to stop him; but vainly, he would go on, and say it all”  (Austen 108).

 After this incident, Emma admits to her self-deception and the flaws of her previously revered abilities. She accepts her error and resolves to remedy Harriet’s situation. Harriet forgives Emma for her faults as they attempt to mend Harriet’s broken heart.

             Frank Churchill, the stepson of Miss Taylor visits Hartfield for the duration of a few weeks.  His stay brings a warm welcome from Emma, as she seems to have taken a great liking to the young man.  Master Churchill’s sentiments appear to be returned to Emma, as they become very close friends.  A sudden twist of events occur in the story line, where everyone finds out that Mr. Churchill has been secretly engaged to a Miss Fairfax for approximately 2 months. Most were caught off guard by the news of the engagement, including the reader.  It had only been mentioned once and very briefly, that Mr. Churchill and Miss Fairfax could have been possible acquaintances. The atmosphere is very suspenseful at this time as curiosity overwhelms all.  As Mr. Churchill explains the entire situation through a letter, the reader as well as the other characters is informed about the matter in great detail. This is done using the flashback technique.

             Emma is uneasy about the affair at first, for she had thought that Mr. Churchill was attracted to her.  However, she soon recovers from the disappointing event and finds herself appreciating Mr. Knightley, one of the family’s oldest and dearest friends, in a way she had never perceived him before.  She had always thought of him as a brother figure; a person she could have intellectual discussions with, and a person she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to.  I feel that the climax occurs when Mr. Knightley pronounces his undying love for Emma, as they commit themselves to one another.  Emma finally acknowledges that it was Mr. Knightley, whom she desired, the entire time; that is to say, she had an epiphany.  Harriet as well, admits to herself that Mr. Martin is the only man for she ever truly loved, and they too, unite in wholly matrimony. 

 The story is an on-going roller-coaster of love and despair; love triangles that only end, in order to embark on another.  The atmosphere is a constant cycle of blissfulness and disheartenment.  The plot can be compared to one of a daytime soap opera, only without all the intimate details.

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