Emma: The Character

Emma Woodhouse, who begins the novel "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition" (Austen 1), suffers from a dangerous propensity to play matchmaker, diving into other’s lives, for what she believes is their own good. Despite this, she is a sympathetic character. Her matchmaking leads only to near-disasters and her expressions of remorse following these mistakes are sincere and resolute. Jane Austen's Emma concerns the social milieu of a sympathetic, but flawed young woman whose self-delusion regarding her flaws is gradually erased through a series of comic and ironic events.

The events which serve to refine Emma are witnessed and commented upon by Mr. Knightly, a man who serves at the start of the novel as a voice of reason and ends the novel as Emma's husband. Emma is transformed by Knightly, “one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse and the only one who told her of them” (Austen 3), and her eventual marriage to Knightly reflects an ability to embrace her flaws and mollify her matchmaking competence with greater caution. Through her marriage she is not "reformed," but becomes more self-aware.

This self-awareness comes through a gradual shift in her beliefs about marriage. In this regard, she is more than eager to arrange other people's live. She encourages her protegé, Harriet Smith to reject the proposal of Robert Martin, in belief that he is beneath her. However, others believe Robert Martin to be better than Harriet Smith, but Emma, more than often, believes her opinion to be correct:

"You think I ought to release him, then," said Harriet looking down. "Ought to release him! My dear Harriet, what do you mean? Are you in any doubt as to that?. . . I certainly have bee...

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..., 396).

As can be seen in these critical analyses, Emma poses significant challenges to the critic. While it is a work of prose that has been almost universally recognized as genius, it is also a work that eludes conclusive interpretation. Paradoxically, it could be that the novel's resistance to definitive analysis is one of its greatest strengths.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Emma. New York: Norton, 1993.

Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford:

Clarendon, 1975.

Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988.

Litz, A. Walton. Jane Austen: A Study of her Artistic Development. New York: Oxford UP, 1965.

McMaster, Juliet. "Love and Pedagogy." Jane Austen Today. Ed. Joel Westheimer. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1975. 64-91.

Poovey, Mary. "The True English Style." Persuasions 5 (1983): 48-51.
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