Jane Austen's Emma - Rebel or Conformist?

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Emma - Rebel or Conformist?

Near the town of Highbury, a village located in the eighteenth century English countryside, sits the estate of Hartfield where Emma Woodhouse resides with her health conscious father who finds fault with all of life's necessities. When Emma's governess and close comrade, Miss Taylor, marries Mr. Weston, an affluent neighbor, and moves to his nearby estate, sociable Emma is forced to find herself a new companion. Harriet Smith, a naive teen who lives at Mrs. Goddard's boarding school, though of a lower class due to her illegitimacy, seems desperately in need of Emma's management and counsel. Sure that she was the cause of the perfect match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, Emma is determined to find an equally exceptional match for Harriet. The young rector, Mr. Elton, seems the perfect candidate for a future husband, and Emma sets out to match her new friend with the young clergyman.

The imaginative Emma views Mr. Elton as falling deeply in love with Harriet and greatly encourages Harriet's feelings for him to inflame. When an old friend of Harriet's, Robert Martin, who is equal to her in social status, sends her a marriage proposal, Emma quickly discourages it and helps Harriet write the letter of refusal. Mr. Knightely, Emma's neighbor and close friend is greatly disappointed by this action and tells Emma that Harriet made a formidable mistake in refusing such an offer. Emma does not care for this response for in her eyes Mr. Elton's feelings for Harriet are blossoming beautifully and are quickly being reciprocated.

On the eve of a dinner held at the Weston's estate, Harriet comes down with a cold and Emma is disappointed in Mr. Elton's lack of sympathy for the invalid. The sno...

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...y were so rigid of structure that a person's respectability was tarnished if they broke one of the standards. Emma Woodhouse tries to defy some of these codes, but finds that it is much easier to live up to the standards society determines.

Works Cited and Consulted

Austen, Jane. Emma. Ed. Stephen M. Parrish. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1993.

Brown, Julia Prewitt. “Civilization and the Contentment of Emma.” Modern Critical Views: Jane Austen. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 87-108.

Johnson, Claudia L. “’Not at All What a Man Should Be!’: Remaking English Manhood in Emma.” Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. 191-203.

Litz, A. Walton. "Limits of Freedom: Emma" Emma. 1972. Norton Critical ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993, 369-377

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