Study Guide

Emma Transformation

By Jane Austen

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Chapter Three

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.

Chapter Twenty-Two

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.

Chapter Thirty-One

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

Chapter Forty-Three

[…] 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.

Mr. Knightley

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.

Chapter Forty-Seven
Emma Woodhouse

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.

Chapter Forty-Nine
Emma Woodhouse

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.

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