Emma By Jane Austen

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Emma By Jane Austen

About the Author

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon, England. She was the seventh child
of the rector of the parish at Steventon, and lived with her family until they moved to
Bath when her father retired in 1801.

Her father, Reverend George Austen, was from Kent and attended the Tunbridge School before
studying at Oxford and receiving a living as a rector at Steventon. Her mother, Cassandra
Leigh Austen, was the daughter of a patrician family. Among her siblings she had but one
sister, Cassandra, with whom she kept in close contact her entire life. Her brothers
entered a variety of professions: several joined the clergy, one was a banker, while
several more spent time in the military. Although her family was neither noble nor
wealthy, Rev. Austen had a particular interest in education, even for his daughters.
Although her novels focus on courtship and marriage, Jane Austen remained single her
entire life. She died in Winchester on July 8, 1817.

Jane Austen published four novels anonymously during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility
(1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815). Two novels,
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1817. These novels are
prominent for her satiric depiction of English society and manners.

Summary of Emma

Jane Austen's Emma is a novel of courtship. Like all of Austen's novels, it centres on the
marriage plot: who will marry whom? For what reasons will they marry? Love, practicality,
or necessity? At the centre of the story is the title character, Emma Woodhouse, an
heiress who lives with her widowed father at their estate, Hartfield. At the beginning of
the novel, she is a self-satisfied young woman who feels no particular need to marry, for
she is in the rather unique condition of not needing a husband to supply her fortune.

At the beginning of the novel, Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, has just married Mr. Weston,
a wealthy man who owns Randalls, a nearby estate. The Westons, the Woodhouses, and Mr.
Knightley (who owns the estate Donwell Abbey) are at the top of Highbury society. Mr.
Weston had been married earlier. When his previous wife died, he sent their one child
(Frank Churchill) to be raised by her brother and his wife, for the now-wealthy Mr. Weston
could not at that time provide for the boy.

Without Miss Taylor as a companion, Emma adopts the orphan Harriet Smith as a protege.
Harriet lives at a nearby boarding school where she was raised, and knows nothing of her
parents. Emma advises the innocent Harriet in virtually all things, including the people
with whom she should interact. She suggests that Harriet not spend time with the Martins,
a local family of farmers whose son, Robert, is interested in Harriet. Instead, Emma plans
to play matchmaker for Harriet and Mr. Elton, the vicar of the church in Highbury. Emma
seems to have some success in her attempts to bring together Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton.
The three spend a good deal of leisure time together and he seems receptive to all of
Emma's suggestions.

The friendship between Emma and Harriet does little good for either of them, however.
Harriet indulges Emma's worst qualities, giving her opportunity to meddle and serving only
to flatter her. Emma in turn fills Harriet Smith with grand pretensions that do not suit
her low situation in society. When Robert Martin proposes to Harriet, she rejects him
based on Emma's advice, thinking that he is too common. Mr. Knightley criticizes Emma's
matchmaking, since he thinks that the dependable Robert Martin is Harriet's superior, for
while he is respectable, she is from uncertain origins.

Emma's sister, Isabella, and her husband, Mr. John Knightley, visit Highbury, and Emma
uses their visit as an opportunity to reconcile with Mr. Knightley after their argument
over Harriet.

The Westons hold a party on Christmas Eve for the members of Highbury society. Harriet
Smith, however, becomes ill and cannot attend. During the party, Mr. Elton focuses his
attention solely on Emma. When they travel home by carriage from the party, Mr. Elton
professes his adoration for Emma, and dismisses the idea that he would ever marry Harriet
Smith, whom he feels is too common for him. Mr. Elton obviously intends to move up in
society, and is interested in Emma primarily for her social status and wealth. Shortly
after Emma rejects Mr. Elton, he leaves Highbury for a stay in Bath. Emma breaks the bad
news to Harriet Smith.

As of this time, Frank Churchill has not yet visited his father and his new wife at
Randalls, which has caused some concern. Emma, without having met the young man, decides
that he must certainly be a good suitor for her, since he is of appropriate age and
breeding. Another character who occupies Emma's thoughts is Jane Fairfax, the
granddaughter of Mrs. Bates, an impoverished widow whose husband was the former vicar, and
the niece of Miss Bates, a chattering spinster who lives with her mother. Jane is equal to
Emma in every respect (beauty, education, talents) except for status, and provokes some
jealousy in Emma. Jane will soon visit her family in Highbury, for the wealthy family who
brought her up after her parents had died has gone on vacation. There is some indication
that Jane might be involved with Mr. Dixon, a married man, but this is only idle gossip.

Mr. Elton returns from Bath with news that he is engaged to a Miss Augusta Hawkins. This
news, along with an awkward meeting with the Martins, greatly embarrasses poor Harriet

Frank Churchill finally visits the Westons, and Emma is pleased to find that he lives up
to her expectations, even though Mr. Knightley disapproves of him. Emma and Frank begin to
spend time together, yet he seems somewhat insubstantial and immature. He makes a day trip
to London for no other reason than to get his hair cut. Soon afterward, Jane Fairfax
receives a pianoforte from London, and Emma assumes that Mr. Dixon sent it to her. As
Frank and Emma spend more time together, Mr. Knightley becomes somewhat jealous, while
Emma in turn becomes jealous as she suspects that Mr. Knightley might be in love with her
rival Jane Fairfax.

Frank Churchill must abruptly leave Randalls when he learns that his aunt is unwell. His
aunt is an insufferable woman, proud and vain, and she exercises great authority over her
nephew. Thinking that Frank was ready to profess his love for her, she convinces herself
that she is in love with Frank, but is unsure how to tell that she actually loves him.
Finally, she realizes that she must not be in love with him, for she is as happy with him
absent as she is with him present.

Mr. Elton brings his new wife back to Highbury. She is an insipid name-dropper, who
compares everything to the supposedly grand lifestyle of her relatives, the Sucklings and
addresses her new aristocrats in Highbury with a startling lack of formality. Emma takes
an instant dislike to her, and upon realizing this, Mrs. Elton takes a dislike to Emma.

When Frank Churchill returns, he and Emma sponsor a ball at the Crown Inn. During this
ball, Mr. Elton openly snubs Harriet Smith, but Mr. Knightley, who graciously dances with
her, saves her from his social slight. After the ball, when Harriet and her companions are
walking home, they are assaulted by a group of gipsies, but Frank Churchill saves the
girl, a situation which becomes the talk of Highbury. This leads Emma to believe that
Frank Churchill, whom Emma is sure she does not love, would be a suitable match for
Harriet. When discussing what happened the next morning, Harriet does admit that she has
some feelings for the man who saved her the night before yet she does not explicitly name
Frank. Thanks to this new passion, Harriet finally gets over Mr. Elton.

At an outing at Box Hill, Frank Churchill, whose recent behaviour had been questionable,
proposes a game for entertaining Emma, and during this game Emma makes a rude comment to
Miss Bates. Afterwards, Mr. Knightley severely reprimands Emma for doing so, since Miss
Bates is a poor woman who deserves Emma's pity and compassion, and not her scorn and
derision. When Emma goes to visit Miss Bates the next day to apologize, she learns that
Jane Fairfax has taken ill. She was preparing to leave for Maple Grove to become a
governess for a family, a situation that she earlier compared to the slave trade. Emma now
begins to pity Jane Fairfax, for she realizes that the only reason that Jane must enter
into a profession is her social status. Otherwise, she would be as highly regarded as Emma

There is shocking news for Emma when Mrs. Churchill dies. Freed from his overbearing aunt,
Frank reveals to the Westons that he has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax. Mr.
Knightley begins to show a greater romantic interest in Emma, but when she attempts to
break the bad news to Harriet Smith about Frank Churchill's engagement (the second
heartbreak for Harriet), Emma learns that Harriet in fact had fallen for Mr. Knightley,
who saved her socially at the Crown Inn ball. Emma now realizes that she is the only one
who can marry Mr. Knightley, and that she has done Harriet a great disservice by making
her think that she can aspire to such unreasonable elevation.

Mr. Knightley soon professes his love for Emma, and they plan to marry. Yet there are two
obstacles: first, if Emma were to marry she would have to leave her father, who dotes on
her; second, she must break the news to Harriet Smith. Emma and Mr. Knightley decide that,
when they marry, he should move to Hartfield, for Mr. Woodhouse cannot be left alone and
would not bear moving to Donwell Abbey. Harriet takes the news about Mr. Knightley well,
and soon after she reunites with Robert Martin. The wrongheaded aspirations that Emma
encouraged in Harriet are now gone, and she becomes engaged to her original and most
appropriate suitor. She even learns of her parentage: her father is a respectable

The novel concludes with marriage: between Robert Martin and Harriet Smith, Frank
Churchill and Jane Fairfax, and between Mr. Knightley and Emma Woodhouse, who has grown to
accept the possibility of submitting some degree of her independence to a husband.

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