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.
And thus begins the story which features one of Austen’s most trying leading ladies.
Now the novels of Jane Austen are full of many obnoxious characters, Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs. Bennett and Sense and Sensibility’s Mrs. Jennings being the two that stand out in my mind the most.
Both of these women love matchmaking and meddling in others lives. Mrs. Bennett because she wants to marry off her daughters and Mrs. Jennings because she has already married off her daughter and is now bored.
Jane must have based these characters off of someone she knew (or many people she knew) because this type of character makes appearances throughout all her novels and often serves the purpose of bringing about conflict or moving the story along.
And then there is Emma. She is very much like these women in her meddling and scheming. In fact it would almost seem like Emma is a younger version of these ridiculous women.
Doesn’t Mrs. Bennet’s forcing Jane to go to Bingley’s on horseback so she’ll get sick seem like something that Emma would make Harriet do to push her towards Mr. Elton?
Maybe Emma is the story of what could have happened to Mrs. Jennings if she had the proper guidance (Knightley) in her younger years.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So for now, instead of making grandiose theories about what Jane could have been writing, I will tell you about what she did write.
As illustrated in the above quote, Emma has lived a very privileged life. She’s pretty, she’s rich and she’s never had any real problems besides the death of her mother but that was when she was a baby.
Now as mentioned in a previous post based on my reaction to Kate Beckinsale’s Emma I did not like her. And in rereading, I still found her incredibly irritating at times.
So now I will give you the Pros and Cons on Emma Woodhouse.
Con: She’s a Selfish Meddler
When Emma persuades Harriet to refuse Robert Martin, she is acting in her own self-interest. She does not consider whether or not Mr. Martin would make Harriet happy, and she even tells Harriet that if she were to end up with Mr. Martin she would no longer be able to be her friend because of social differences.
Pro: She Really Does Care About Her Friends
Even though her motives were wrong, she does want Harriet to be happy, she just assumes she knows what will make Harriet happy better than Harriet.
And when Emma realizes she was wrong about Mr. Elton and hurt Harriet, she feels terrible and does her best to make amends.
Con: She Thinks Too Highly of Her Own Opinions
When Emma gets it in her head that something is true, it’s true. She is convinced that Mr. Elton likes Harriet even when all the evidence and everyone else (Mr. Knightley) tells her that it isn’t so. She twists any logic she is given so that it will fit her view.
And it just gets so obnoxious!
Pro: She is Capable of Learning From her Mistakes
She learns that meddling in other peoples business just brings pain to them and she works to become better.
And by the end of the novel she’s a much better and less irritating person.
So yes, Emma is obnoxious and meddling. However, in rereading I realized that this was exactly how Jane Austen wanted her to come across. Because only by making her insufferable at the beginning can you appreciate her growth throughout the novel.
Tune in next time for the long awaited post on Mr. Knightley. Yes, it’s actually happening!