It is the aim of this piece to consider how two elements are developed in the opening chapters of three classic novels written by 19th century English women: Emma, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre, respectively. The elements to be considered are a) character; and b) character relationships. Consideration will be given to see how each opening chapter develops these two aspects, and the various approaches will be compared and contrasted as well.
A total of ten characters are mentioned by name in the first chapter of Emma, though of these only three speak, the dialogue of each of the three serving to reinforce the description of each which is given in the narrative (Austen 362-67). Emma, the eponymous character, is introduced in the first sentence of the novel as being a young woman who is “handsome, clever, and rich,” a character who seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence” (Austen 362). But though the author describes her character with such glowing terms,, she is not ideal, much less perfect: the fourth paragraph opens by saying that “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” (Austen 362). A seed of ominous potential is planted here as well, for the narration presents Emma as suffering from hubris, something which has the potential to further influence the plot – and of course her own subsequent character – later in the story.
Other traits of Emma’s character appear in the opening chapter as well. She is presented as being quite amiable, for it is said that “she dearly loved her father” (Austen 362) and had “many acquaintance” ...
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...which is “completely removed from the stir of society“(E. Brontë 368). He relates how he has a reputation for being withdrawn and cold (as he puts it “deliberate heartlessness”) by telling of an incident which transpired the month before, in which he elicited and then shyly rebuffed the romantic interests of a beautiful young woman he encountered while vacationing at the coast (E. Brontë 370). He is also seen to lack discretion, as he proceeds to provoke Mr. Heathcliff’s dogs into attacking him and must then fight them off and call out for help in restraining them (E. Brontë 370-371). Upon being delivered by a maid armed with a frying pan and a sharp tongue, he remarks to Mr. Heathcliff that the ”herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir. You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers“(E. Brontë 371).
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