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 Smith. 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 herself. 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 tradesman. 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.
Emma Woodhouse – The novel’s title character and protagonist, she is beautiful, charming, quick-witted, and intelligent. “Handsome, clever and rich,” Emma is a twenty-one year old daughter of a wealthy gentleman accustomed to “having her own way” and cursed with a “disposition to think a little too well of herself. ” Although a meddler who demonstrates a maddening self-confidence, Emma is generally well intentioned. The novel is essentially a story of how Emma matures from a clever young woman to a more modest and considerate woman, able to accept the idea of love.
Austen declared her to be “a character whom no one but me will much like. ” Emma is certainly immodest and somewhat self-absorbed, but her missteps and confusion are what make her human. She lives alone with her father and participates with great pleasure in all the village’s social events–not least because they provide ample opportunity for matchmaking and flirtation. She does not have many friends her own age, and enthusiastically takes on Harriet Smith as a new project, happily serving as an example of lady-like perfection and pointing out similar exemplars of the perfect gentleman among their male acquaintances.
She is a young woman too intelligent for her time; finding no adequate vehicle for her talents, she must put them to use in matters of courtship, gossip, and matchmaking. Quote 1: “doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgments, but directed chiefly by her own. 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…. ” Chapter 1 Mr. Knightley – A sensible man of thirty-seven, his brother had married Emma’s elder sister, Isabella. He is an old family friend.
He is the only character who is openly critical of Emma, pointing out her flaws and foibles with great frankness. At the same time, he clearly possesses great affection for her, and all of his advice is aimed at improving Emma’s character and behaviour. He lives at Donwell Abbey and rents property to the Martins, a family of wealthy farmers whom he likes and advises. He marries Emma at the end of the novel.
Quote: “Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them…. Chapter 1, pg. 8 Mrs. Isabella Knightley: Emma’s elder sister, a pretty, elegant woman of amiable disposition. She is delicate and pales in comparison to the more sharp-witted Emma. Harriet Smith – A short, plump and fair girl of seventeen, she is of somewhat dubious origins. Emma is mostly responsible for bringing Harriet into Highbury society and constantly instructs and advises her, although not always to her benefit. Emma fills her with a pretension that is inappropriate for her status.
She exalts Emma and obeys her every suggestion, even casting aside her relationship with Robert Martin because Emma implies that it is beneath her. Supported at school by an unknown sponsor, Harriet’s parentage is unknown and she is therefore of a lower class than Emma herself. She is beautiful but not very accomplished, and Emma introduces her to a social circle higher than what she is accustomed to and encourages her to marry into it. In the end, she marries Mr. Martin, a farmer that Emma considers too coarse but is more appropriate in status for Harriet.
Frank Churchill – The son of Mr. Weston, he was brought up by his uncles, the Churchills, who could better support him at the time. Highbury society enthusiastically anticipates his visit to his newly married father, but he consistently delays. Frank Churchill is somewhat superficial, more interested in pursuing pleasure than any concrete pursuits, but he is also handsome and charming enough to attract Emma. He is secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax, but cannot reveal this because the aunt who raised him would energetically object.
Jane Fairfax – An orphan, the only child of Mrs. Bates’ youngest daughter. Upon her mother’s death, she was taken in by Colonel Campbell, who served with her father in the army. The same age as Emma, she is equally talented, charming and well-regarded, a fact that quite vexes Emma. She is secretly engaged to Frank Churchill. They naturally become rivals in Emma’s mind, though the two maintain a loose friendship. Mr. Woodhouse – Emma’s father is a wealthy man possessed of a large estate, Highbury. A hypochondriac, he does not like to keep late hours and panics at the thought of sitting out-of-doors or walking “past the shrubbery.
He wants Emma to remain unmarried and keep him company, and he encourages her in all of her pursuits, even matchmaking. Isolated in his estate, Mr. Woodhouse has few enjoyments. Although he dotes on Emma, he also indulges her more selfish tendencies and is largely unpleasant. His complaints and lack of activity make him appear a much older man than he actually is. Mrs. Weston and Mr. Weston – The former Miss Taylor, she raised Emma and remains her adviser and close friend.
She left Hartfield to marry Mr. Weston, a local widower, but continues to entertain the young people of the village and encourages an association between Emma and her stepson Frank. He is from a respectable family that has been progressively moving up in society, and amassed a modest fortune. Mr. Elton – Vicar of the church in Highbury whom Emma chooses as a possible suitor for Harriet Smith but who only has interest for Emma herself. After Emma quickly rejects him, he marries the pretentious and rude Augusta Hawkins. Mrs. Elton – She is the daughter of a rich merchant in Bath.
She is unpopular in Highbury due to her poor manners and arrogance, but becomes good friends with Jane Fairfax. Her status in society rests only on the fact that her sister married very well. She refuses to treat others with the proper respect they are accorded, including even Mr. Knightley. Mr. John Knightley – A tall, gentleman-like, clever man, respectable and reserved. Emma dislikes him somewhat for his severity and lack of patience. He is Knightley’s brother and Woodhouse’s son-in-law. He is married to Isabella, Emma’s sister. They live in London and visit only occasionally.
Mr. John Knightley is given to complaint and bad humour; his wife is submissive and devoted entirely to him. Mrs. Goddard: The mistress of a Boarding school where girls might be sent to receive a little education. Her school was in high repute. One of her former students is Harriet Smith, who now assists Mrs. Goddard. Miss Bates: The daughter of Mrs. Bates, she was neither young, married, handsome nor rich. She is a pitiable character with the worst predicament. She lacks all distinguishing traits such as intellect or cleverness, yet she was mostly happy and treated others with great goodwill.