Study Guide

Mr. Elton in Emma

By Jane Austen

Mr. Elton

If "Who’s going to marry Harriet?" were a gameshow, Mr. Elton would be contestant #1. Just don’t tell him that. He’s convinced that he can marry Emma. After all, he’s handsome enough. He’s also pretty up on all the pick-up lines of the day – even rhyming ones. Remember his riddle? Despite his smooth talking and greasy smiles, though, Mr. Elton can’t manage to win Emma’s heart. He runs off to lick his wounds…and returns with a brand new wife.

As the parson of Highbury, Mr. Elton holds a respectable place in society. That’s lucky for him, since he certainly couldn’t take a place in high society (or Highbury society, for that matter) based upon his bankroll.

We interrupt this program for a quick historical note: in Austen’s time, clergymen were often the younger sons of nobility or young men of good but poor families. We don’t get too much background on Mr. Elton in Emma, but it’s pretty safe to assume that he was brought up around gentlemen, or perhaps in a wealthy family. Of course, the only way for younger sons to get money was often to marry rich women – which is exactly what Mr. Elton does. OK, back to our story….

Oh, wait – where’d he go?

Interestingly enough, after Mr. Elton gets married, he seems to fade out of the novel almost completely. Sure, we get a few scenes of the Eltons simpering together as they make fun of Harriet, but after Emma shuts Mr. Elton down, our narrator doesn’t seem so interested in what he’s doing. After all, his new wife might just be more of a social climber than he is. By the end of the novel, Mr. Elton seems more like a faithful sidekick than a character in his own right. But then again, he wasn’t so interesting to begin with, anyway.

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