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. […] The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her. (1.4)
Imagination can be a dangerous thing – especially when it allows an over-inflated ego to take control!
How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority? (5.15)
Mr. Knightley’s argument is based upon an implicit understanding of the standards of Highbury. As long as no one better than Emma is immediately nearby, she’ll never feel the need to improve herself. Local (not universal) standards are valued.
Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a young lady to raise her expectations too high. (8.47)
Mr. Knightley, the only true social critic of the novel, argues against Emma’s friendship with Harriet largely because it seems to be based upon a self-deception (on Emma’s part).
[…] she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgment are for ever falling into […] (13.21)
Emma’s judgment of Mr. Knightley returns to her with a vengeance by the end of the novel!
It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. (16.10)
Emma’s moralizing, while accurate, only lasts as long as she remembers to keep her imagination in check.
Emma's very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut. (25.1)
Looks matter in Austen’s novel – but the ability to appear naturally good-looking is akin to being naturally genteel. Too much effort seems gauche. And, in Frank’s case, spendthrift.
[…] certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it. (26.2)
Frank’s haircut isn’t nearly as troubling as the fact that he doesn’t make a big deal of it. Emma suggests that this could mean he undertakes such "folly" on a regular basis – and is now therefore immune to it.
I would much rather have been merry than wise. (30.18)
Emma’s statement is a bit out of character – she prides herself on her wit. Perhaps Frank’s influence affects her statement here.
Can you trust me with such flatterers?—Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong? (38.47)
Emma’s banter with Knightley reveals that she does, indeed, know how misguided her own reflections can be – even if she refuses to take her conscience seriously.
What right had he to come among us with affection and faith engaged, and with manners so very disengaged? What right had he to endeavour to please, as he certainly did—to distinguish any one young woman with persevering attention, as he certainly did—while he really belonged to another?—How could he tell what mischief he might be doing? (46.45)
Emma accuses Frank of the same recklessness with love which she herself could be guilty of.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. (1.1)
Beginning with a perfect beginning is a sure sign that things are going to take a detour soon! Most importantly, this description of Emma focuses on the stability of her home and social situation.
It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness. (2.4)
"Unsuitable" because the wife was rich and the husband poor, Mr. Weston’s first marriage becomes a cautionary tale about the need for social situations to be similar in order for love to actually exist.
[…] from various united causes, from his long residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms. (3.1)
Mr. Woodhouse’s small social circle is a particularly exaggerated instance of the sorts of micro-societies which characterize most Austen novels.
Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I should be happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to—Every body has their level but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. (15.36)
Even Mr. Elton has a strong sense of how Harriet fits into a social hierarchy. Emma’s affection (and her determination) blinds her as to Harriet’s prospects.
Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent, and all the elegancies of mind. The very want of such equality might prevent his perception of it; but he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family—and that the Eltons were nobody. (16.9)
There’s a strange elitism in this attempt to empathize with Elton. He can’t understand how unfit he is for Emma – because he’s too unfit to understand.
I think there are few places with such society as Highbury. I always say, we are quite blessed in our neighbors. (21.38)
Austen’s world centers completely upon a small cross-section of rural England. Even her most worldly characters seem to gravitate to rural areas – as if a small town is the center of the world.
The Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them. (25.6)
Emma single-handedly undertakes the task of upholding the social hierarchy of Highbury – but if only Emma recognized the hierarchy, of what value is it?
If we exert ourselves, I think we shall not be long in want of allies. (32.37)
Mrs. Elton’s "we" is something that Emma wants no part of! The idea of establishing oneself as the patroness of a town is pretty condescending, but it’s also a role that Emma silently assumed was her own!
The change on Mrs. Elton's side soon afterwards appeared, and she was left in peace—neither forced to be the very particular friend of Mrs. Elton, nor, under Mrs. Elton's guidance, the very active patroness of Jane Fairfax, and only sharing with others in a general way, in knowing what was felt, what was meditated, what was done. (33.12)
Two things: one, that social friendships are just that – purely social interactions (without much feeling involved); two, that the social world of Highbury seems to have a general knowledge base of its own. You don’t have to be involved in an event to know all about it.
I am a great advocate for timidity—and I am sure one does not often meet with it.—But in those who are at all inferior, it is extremely prepossessing. (33.7)
Mrs. Elton becomes the mouthpiece for every stereotypical narrow-minded comment that rich people could make about their "inferiors." Of course, as Emma is quick to point out (if only to herself), Mrs. Elton isn’t all that rich herself.
Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston, only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful. (1.7)
Ironically, Emma never seems to value blood relations. Family is as often silly as it is truly comforting.
It was now some time since Miss Taylor had begun to influence his schemes; but as it was not the tyrannic influence of youth on youth, it had not shaken his determination of never settling till he could purchase Randalls, and the sale of Randalls was long looked forward to; but he had gone steadily on, with these objects in view, till they were accomplished. He had made his fortune, bought his house, and obtained his wife; and was beginning a new period of existence, with every probability of greater happiness than in any yet passed through. (2.6)
Note how important obtaining an actual home (i.e., a property) is to Mr. Weston’s happiness. A happy home is a home that he owns himself.
"It is the greatest absurdity [….] The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home—and the folly of people's not staying comfortably at home when they can!" (13.24)
A man’s home is his castle. Valuation of home (and domestic spaces) reaches its height with Mr. Woodhouse.
Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. (18.15)
Austen’s narrator advocates for a sharp division between personal and public life.
Her objections to Mr. Knightley's marrying did not in the least subside. She could see nothing but evil in it. It would be a great disappointment to Mr. John Knightley; consequently to Isabella. A real injury to the children—a most mortifying change, and material loss to them all;—a very great deduction from her father's daily comfort—and, as to herself, she could not at all endure the idea of Jane Fairfax at Donwell Abbey. (26.88)
Emma’s objections to a potential match for Mr. Knightley are expressed in terms of how everybody in her social circle would feel about such a change, not just her own reaction.
She had a great idea that people who had extensive grounds themselves cared very little for the extensive grounds of any body else; but it was not worth while to attack an error so double-dyed […] (32.21)
Emma’s ironic observation can, of course, be taken two ways. It’s clear that Mrs. Elton cares nothing about anybody but herself (and her family’s land). It’s also somewhat true that everybody – even good people – is most attached to their own, familiar landscape.
Time will generally lessen the interest of every attachment not within the daily circle[…] (34.23)
Given that social circles in Highbury are so very small, it’s fitting that a character from London should utter this. Austen seems to be emphasizing, again, how a small group of people can seem to comprise an entire world.
It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive. (42.39)
Again, Donwell is perfect not just because it’s beautiful. It’s also perfectly English.
It was just what it ought to be, and it looked what it was—and Emma felt an increasing respect for it, as the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding. (42.35)
Donwell Abbey is the absent center of this novel. It’s everything a country house should be – which makes it the ideal for anyone (including Emma).
She had an unhappy state of health in general for the child of such a man, for she hardly knew what indisposition was; and if he did not invent illnesses for her, she could make no figure in a message. (39.14)
Everyone creates their own delusions. If Emma imagines potential matches for everyone, then her father imagines illnesses for all of his loved ones.
Sorrow came—a gentle sorrow—but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness.—Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. (1.5)
Any novel that centers on marriage must have an opponent to union. Mr. Woodhouse describes marriage as a form of separation, not union.
Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable [...] (1.11)
For Mr. Woodhouse, marriage is the one agent of change which can still trouble him.
A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter. (7.31)
Emma, a well-off young woman, has the ability to refuse offers of marriage. Other women (like Jane and Harriet) are not so lucky.
Oh! to be sure […] it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her. (8.34)
Emma frequently says things that are bitingly accurate – and completely out of context.
Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want. I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my father's. (10.14)
Emma’s position is indeed enviable – at least from Harriet’s perspective. But even Harriet recognizes a hole in Emma’s plans which Emma herself can’t seem to see. Again, note how good she is at saying what she doesn’t need – not what she does.
The pain of his continued residence in Highbury, however, must certainly be lessened by his marriage. Many vain solicitudes would be prevented—many awkwardnesses smoothed by it. A Mrs. Elton would be an excuse for any change of intercourse; former intimacy might sink without remark. It would be almost beginning their life of civility again. (22.8)
Marriage almost remakes Mr. Elton completely. What seems awkward to Emma about their social exchanges changes after he comes back with a wife. Maybe Mr. Woodhouse is right about marriage changing things, after all!
Happily he was not farther from approving matrimony than from foreseeing it.— Though always objecting to every marriage that was arranged, he never suffered beforehand from the apprehension of any; it seemed as if he could not think so ill of any two persons' understanding as to suppose they meant to marry till it were proved against them. (23.35)
For Mr. Woodhouse, marriages never seem planned – a mindset completely unlike his daughter’s!
But, my dear papa, you are no friend to matrimony; and therefore why should you be so anxious to pay your respects to a bride? […] It is encouraging people to marry if you make so much of them. (32.55)
Emma exploits the tension between Mr. Woodhouse’s fine sense of social responsibility and his selfishness in this passage. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the bride in question is Mrs. Elton!
Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him. Nothing should separate her from her father. (48.1)
Emma’ determination to stay single supposedly depends upon her father’s happiness – much like her determination to keep Mr. Knightley single supposedly expresses her concern for her nephew’s inheritance.
It is fit that the fortune should be on his side, for I think the merit will be all on hers. (48.13)
Frank and Jane’s marriage is universally seen as an unequal alliance – but not because of money. Ironically, by the end of the novel, the standards for judging marriages seem to have changed.
Harriet Smith was the natural daughter of somebody. […]This was all that was generally known of her history (3.9)
Illegitimacy should cross Harriet off of any respectable person’s list of acquaintances. Emma’s either particularly sympathetic – or particularly pig-headed – in her determination to imagine a good family for Harriet.
She was not much deceived as to her own skill either as an artist or a musician, but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved. (6.19)
Emma’s vanity never extends to self – deception, which our narrator extends as a sign of hope that she’ll change with time.
But, Miss Smith, indeed!—Oh! Miss Woodhouse! who can think of Miss Smith, when Miss Woodhouse is near! (15.32)
Mr. Elton taps into a common thread of Emma’s assessment of her own value.
No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very 'aimable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him." (18.28)
Mr. Knightley’s allusion to French standards of manners suggests his wisdom in recognizing different codes of conduct – and implies that he’s a true English gentleman.
What is right to be done cannot be done too soon. (23. 40)
Mr. Weston’s words, especially when directed at Frank, seem rather ironic. As we learn, too much of the plot turns on the deferral of doing (or thinking) the right things about people whose social positions don’t protect them from derision.
There is always a look of consciousness or bustle when people come in a way which they know to be beneath them. (26.10)
Emma is as critical of Knightley as she is of Frank. Any man of substance should, in her mind, carry himself as a man of substance – which includes driving to parties in a nice carriage.
[…] she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; […] that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr. Elton no good. (32.15)
The narrator’s evaluation of Mrs. Elton here seems to mirror Emma’s own – a parallel that helps us to establish Emma as the central character of the novel.
[…] to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in the scale of vanity. […] General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be. (38.3)
Social discrimination is as important as sociality. Mr. Weston’s willingness to be too hospitable creates an interesting counterpart to Mr. Woodhouse’s hesitation to ever leave his own home.
"[…] if any difficulties should arise, my housekeeper is extremely clever."
"I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn any body's assistance." (42. 25-6)
Discussing servants’ feelings (or senses of worth) is a rare occurrence in a novel based on gentry (or upper-class people). In this passage, the two speakers use servants as ways to reiterate their own positions.
Birth, abilities, and education, had been equally marking one as an associate for her, to be received with gratitude; and the other—what was she? (48.17)
Austen fundamentally values social equality, as we see with Emma’s re-evaluation of her friendship with Harriet.
She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure, and powers. (3.12)
Harriet becomes Emma’s fix-it project out of a strange combination of sympathy and boredom. Emma longs to become an author – of another person’s social reputation.
Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of. (22.1)
With typical irony, Austen’s narrator offers a tongue-in-cheek observation. Most people only stop being critical when you’re officially off the market (the marriage market or the life market). And even then, the goodwill doesn’t last too long.
Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction. […] I mention no names; but happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet! (31.15)
Despite her ego when it comes to match-making (or social hierarchy), Emma’s valuation of her friend is selfless to the point of being misguided
[…] every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving; but in the general amount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over. They separated too much into parties. (43.1)
Bad parties start off exactly the same as good ones. Austen’s narrator tracks the sinking feeling of a bad party, complete with the sense that there’s no real reason why nothing is working out as planned.
I must, I will,—I will tell you truths while I can; satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now. (43.52)
Mr. Knightley’s honesty is his one unchangeable trait. It’s this honesty which can break through Emma’s desperation to remain witty and gleeful at the Box Hill party.
Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous—or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate? (47.41)
Actually, for Emma, it is. This is her first realization of how tangled human emotions can be.
Upon my word […] I begin to doubt my having any such talent. (47.13)
Emma’s self-doubt has to be expressed first to Harriet (whom she doesn’t quite respect) before she can share it with people like Mr. Knightley.
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing—for she had done mischief. (47.40)
Emma’s self-recrimination, while mostly true, is also incredibly melodramatic – a sign, perhaps, that she hasn’t truly learned how to judge her actions.
A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched—she admitted— she acknowledged the whole truth. (47.25)
For once, Emma’s wit aids in her ability to grasp the reality of a situation. Austen captures the utter confusion of her character’s thoughts during a moment of revelation.
To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavour. (47.37)
Emma’s self-reflection is only prompted when her emotions are directly engaged. Austen seems to suggest, for Emma at least, that rational needs to be accompanied by emotional engagement.
I was tempted by his attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased.— An old story, probably—a common case—and no more than has happened to hundreds of my sex before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding. (49.17)
Emma continually re-works her representation of her feelings for Frank. With Knightley, they finally become introspective. Perhaps Knightley’s honesty inspires her own.
But you were preparing yourself to be an excellent wife all the time you were at Hartfield. You might not give Emma such a complete education as your powers would seem to promise; but you were receiving a very good education from her, on the very material matrimonial point of submitting your own will, and doing as you were bid; and if Weston had asked me to recommend him a wife, I should certainly have named Miss Taylor. (5.11)
OK, we’ve got to admit, Mr. Knightley drives us crazy here. A wife should submit to her husband’s will. We sure hope he’s joking.
[…] perhaps no man can be a good judge of the comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex, after being used to it all her life. (5.6)
Mrs. Weston articulates a stream of which is largely sidelined in this narrative – that women, without men, develop their own societies. Readers, the most reliable judges of a novel, are hereby warned not to judge women’s (or Emma’s) actions in society too quickly.
[…] till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. (8.44)
Emma’s conviction that Harriet is a gentlewoman leads her to expect unrealistic things from her marriage. Note how many conditional phrases pepper this quote!
[…] she had the pleasure of seeing him most intently at work with his recollections; and at the same time, as she could perceive, most earnestly careful that nothing ungallant, nothing that did not breathe a compliment to the sex should pass his lips.
Mr. Woodhouse, ever the gentleman, would rather re-iterate the same riddle several times than repeat one of the many ungallant ones about women which he knows. (9.7)
A young woman, if she fall into bad hands, may be teazed, and kept at a distance from those she wants to be with; but one cannot comprehend a young man's being under such restraint, as not to be able to spend a week with his father, if he likes it. (14.24)
Austen’s female characters frequently reflect on the different possibilities available to different genders. In this case, Emma reflects upon the utter economic dependence of women upon their caretakers.
Isabella, passing her life with those she doated on, full of their merits, blind to their faults, and always innocently busy, might have been a model of right feminine happiness. (17.1)
Isabella may be a perfect woman, but she’s not a very interesting one. There’s a reason why Emma is the protagonist of this story.
Oh! the blessing of a female correspondent, when one is really interested in the absent! (30.36)
Besides the obvious sexism of this statement (women are the only ones around with time to write letters), Austen might be alluding to the way that women are frequently the storytellers in this text. Sort of like Austen herself.
[…] I was not thinking of the slave-trade […] the governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies. (35.15)
The life of a working woman was one to be shunned. By allowing Mrs. Elton to compare the life of a governess to that of a slave, however, Austen might be expressing an isolated (and privileged) view of relative social injustices.
But consider—you need not be afraid of delegating power to me. I am no young lady on her preferment. Married women, you know, may be safely authorised. (42.14)
Mrs. Elton unwittingly parrots a common social convention: unmarried women are always scheming to get something (like a man’s attention) out of any social engagement. Married women are safe, because they no longer desire men. Hmm.
I am Lady Patroness, you know. It is my party. I will bring friends with me. (42.12)
Mrs. Elton expresses a deep need to be the top of the social ladder. Her grasping is funny – but it articulates an understanding of the importance of social networking in Austen’s novel.
I hope, with all my heart, the young man may be a Weston in merit, and a Churchill in fortune. (5.15)
Again, standards only mean something when a ready example is nearby. Merit and fortune become represented by Weston and Churchill, respectively.
[…] a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. (10.18)
Jane Fairchild’s potential fate shows us how different a single woman who is not of good fortune can expect her life to be. Emma never really has to consider such sad possibilities.
[…] a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal and cross. (10.18)
Austen’s characters often take a very pragmatic view about finances. Without money, you can’t afford to be pleasurable. Therefore, any happy marriage has to take money into account.
[…] where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones. (18.21)
Emma displays precocious knowledge of the dangers of wealth – even if she never seems to question the dangers of her own (similar) situation.
You were very popular before you came, because you were Mr. Weston's son—but lay out half a guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues. (24.14)
Money makes the world go ‘round. And Highbury is definitely part of the real world.
The very first subject after being seated was Maple Grove, "My brother Mr. Suckling's seat;"—a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove. The grounds of Hartfield were small, but neat and pretty; and the house was modern and well-built. Mrs. Elton seemed most favourably impressed by the size of the room, the entrance, and all that she could see or imagine. "Very like Maple Grove indeed!—She was quite struck by the likeness! (32.18)
Emma hates Mrs. Elton for comparing wealth so blatantly – but she frequently judges people in exactly the same way!
Blessed with so many resources within myself, the world was not necessary to me. I could do very well without it. (32.35)
Oh, the lies we tell to look good in front of our friends! Mrs. Elton has to convey the fact that she’s not settling for less than she could get when she married Mr. Elton, and declaring that she doesn’t need big rooms is one way to do it.
Even the most trivial financial exchanges open the possibility for larger financial worth.
The rich brother-in-law near Bristol was the pride of the alliance, and his place and his carriages were the pride of him. (32.16)
In Austen’s world, it’s impossible to be well-respected without all the trappings of well-to-do gentlefolk, but it’s also impossible if the trappings are all that you possess.
"I know how highly you think of Jane Fairfax," said Emma. Little Henry was in her thoughts, and a mixture of alarm and delicacy made her irresolute what else to say. (33.23)
Emma can’t allow herself to think of Jane as a rival, so she thinks of Mr. Knightley’s marriage as a dis-service to her nephew. Inheriting Donwell Abbey, not marrying Mr. Knightley, becomes the prime concern.
It is remarkable, that Emma, in the many, very many, points of view in which she was now beginning to consider Donwell Abbey, was never struck with any sense of injury to her nephew Henry, whose rights as heir-expectant had formerly been so tenaciously regarded. (51.34)
Austen’s narrator points out the inconsistencies between this and Emma’s earlier positions. Perhaps she isn’t as materialistic as we might have thought!
One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other. (9.77)
Austen uses Emma to express a wisdom (and tolerance) which seems to be beyond her years. Perhaps this is because it’s directed at her father – for whom she’s often a different person entirely.
Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. (10.23)
Emma’s treatment of the old and poor is usually very considerate and pragmatic – an interesting contrast to her relationships with the young or the wealthy.
[…] she would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken—more in error—more disgraced by mis-judgment, than she actually was, could the effects of her blunders have been confined to herself. (16.1)
Although Emma often imagines things which don’t exist, she’s never callous about their after-effects. Guilt becomes key to her transformation. Here, however, it’s only fleeting guilt.
Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. (30.3)
The conflation of truly admirable values with trivial ones is a classic Austen move. Knightley, of course, is speaking ironically – or is he?
Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. (33.35)
We’re not talking about Emma’s own faults, here, of course. Emma’s delighted to hear the Jane isn’t quite perfect – especially when the speaker is Mr. Knightley. Austen’s novel doesn’t allow for perfect people – so choosing which sorts of faults you can live with becomes important.
A young lady who faints, must be recovered; questions must be answered, and surprizes be explained. Such events are very interesting, but the suspense of them cannot last long. (39.4)
This is another classic move of Austen’s narrator. Right at an exciting part, our narrator backs out of the action to narrate in very broad strokes.
Yet he would speak. He owed it to her, to risk any thing that might be involved in an unwelcome interference, rather than her welfare; to encounter any thing, rather than the remembrance of neglect in such a cause. (41.30)
Knightley’s honor always trumps his better (or more selfish) instincts. It seems like he loves Emma by now, but he’s willing to risk her respect to tell her the truth.
Frank was next to Emma, Jane opposite to them—and Mr. Knightley so placed as to see them all; and it was his object to see as much as he could, with as little apparent observation. (41.17)
When Knightley decides to play detective, he does it only for the best reasons – love (for Emma) and jealousy (of Frank). OK, maybe they’re not equally good reasons.
[…] such extreme and perpetual cautiousness of word and manner, such a dread of giving a distinct idea about any body, is apt to suggest suspicions of there being something to conceal. (24.42)
Ironically, gossip is the fuel for most misunderstandings in this novel – and yet Emma recognizes the all-too-human propensity for gossip by pointing out how unnatural personal reserve seems in Highbury.
She never stopt till she had gone through the whole; and though it was impossible not to feel that he had been wrong, yet he had been less wrong than she had supposed—and he had suffered, and was very sorry—[…] and she was so happy herself, that there was no being severe; and could he have entered the room, she must have shaken hands with him as heartily as ever. (51.1)
As Austen’s narrator takes us through Emma’s response to Frank’s letter, she’s also teaching us how to read – how to be sympathetic to characters we encounter.
"There does seem to be a something in the air of Hartfield which gives love exactly the right direction, and sends it into the very channel where it ought to flow.
The course of true love never did run smooth—
A Hartfield edition of Shakespeare would have a long note on that passage." (9.25)
Emma’s reference to Shakespeare might suggest the level of involvement she has in manipulating her fellow characters (through her romantic matchmaking) as players on a stage.
Harriet’s love life – she sees herself as the director (or even the writer) of a play.
She had talked her into love; but, alas! she was not so easily to be talked out of it. (22.9)
Once the imagination is captured, it becomes hard to undo its effects. Harriet, for all her simplicity, finds it even harder to give up on an idea than Emma does.
[…] there was nothing to denote him unworthy of the distinguished honour which her imagination had given him; the honour, if not of being really in love with her, of being at least very near it, and saved only by her own indifference—(for still her resolution held of never marrying)—the honour, in short, of being marked out for her by all their joint acquaintance. (25.2)
Emma’s fantasies about Frank are all iterated in negative constructions; "nothing," "not," and "in-" pepper her conclusions. It’s a strange – and perhaps compromised – version of a love declaration.
[…] they say every body is in love once in their lives, and I shall have been let off easily. (31.4)
Emma’s pragmatism in matters of the heart is in fine form here. Notice that she’s the one persuading herself to be in love. No one else is really involved.
I certainly will not persuade myself to feel more than I do. I am quite enough in love. I should be sorry to be more. (31.2)
Emma manages to talk herself out of love as soon as she imagines herself in it! Note, though, that even Emma is influenced by universal maxims about love. No one gets to be truly individual in an Austen novel.
It was a clear thing he was less in love than he had been. Absence, with the conviction probably of her indifference, had produced this very natural and very desirable effect. (37.3)
For once, Emma’s confidence in her knowledge of people’s hearts pays off. It’s interesting that it’s only Frank whom she knows so well – they’re actually more alike than she might like to think.
This gallant young man, who seemed to love without feeling, and to recommend himself without complaisance […] (41.19)
Knightley’s opinion of Frank speaks to the dangers of marrying for money: rich young men feel no need to act responsibly.
Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection. (48.1)
Social hierarchies might seem shallow, but they give us a good grasp on how Austen articulates emotional connections, as well. Emma’s desire to be first in a party becomes the only way that she can express her love for Knightley.
[…] this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults […] (49.40)
This passage is perhaps the only real insight we get into Knightley’s love for Emma, which otherwise seems rather inexplicable at times!
If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.—You hear nothing but truth from me. (49.36)
Knightley’s proposal is true to form. He promises nothing but honesty – which is something Emma is now more than willing to take.