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Emma - Jane Austen - 1816

Emma is a comic novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1816, about the perils of misconstrued romance. The main character, Emma Woodhouse, is described in the opening paragraph as "handsome, clever, and rich" but is also rather spoiled. Prior to starting the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like."
She might be right there. However, there is something likeable in Emma, after all. She is rather selfish and starts a lot of different things only to abandon them later but she means well with other people. She might be too intelligent for her time, women were not supposed to think.

Emma is the Jane Austen's only heroine without money problems, that's already a difference to her other novels. Maybe that's what makes it so interesting.


(thread first started 15.01.07)

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The answers/thread:


minxminnie 15th January 2007 05:43 PM

I think this is my favourite Austen. Some days. Emma is just so funny, in the way she just can't see disaster coming, and I could re-read the scenes with Mrs Elton any number of times. Sory I don't have anything more erudite to say about this great novel at the moment!


MarkC 15th January 2007 07:25 PM

Jane Austen didn't quite succeed in her aim of taking a heroine no one else would like. I like Emma Woodhouse (what can I say, I like them all, although I struggle a bit with Catherine Moorland and Fanny Price), of course she has her flaws but she is essentially a kind hearted person even if she manages to get things completely wrong on several occasions. Her fallibility only adds to her charm though.


I struugle to pick favourites, either of JA novels or heroines since my choices vary with the wind, but Emma has a lot to recommend it. The humour was never more dry, for example this line:


Mr. Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs. Elton's beginning to talk to him.
has me in hysterics every time.


One favourite I can pick is I would say that Mr Knightley is my favourite of her romantic heroes, because he is almost always the perfect gentleman in his actions to everyone, yet is never afriad to tell Emma when he thinks she is being foolish but without talking down to her. Mr Darcy, while not without merits, gets far too much of the "Jane Austen hero" coverage :P. Or maybe it's because he's 37, as am I, and the idea of a 21 year old wife with £30,000 is quite appealing :naughty:


And not quite on the topic but since the story has been filmed several times, I still think that Alicia Silverstone's "Emma" was the closest version on film to the spirit of the original character, even if she was called Cher :P .


Momo 15th January 2007 11:05 PM

There's too much to quote from both your posts already, so I'll try to just write it down.

Same as MM, this is my favourite sometimes. Because I find it hard, too, to pick a favourite among her novels. (If I have to, it's Persuasion, most of the time.)

I also like all of her heroines, even Fanny Price. Don't know why you dislike her, Mark. Although, from your point of view I can understand why you would want to marry Emma. -wink-

There are a lot of funny, dry humour parts in all of Jane Austen's novels. Though, the one you picked is extremely funny, I agree. And as you like Mr. Knightley of the male heroes best, I think I agree there. Though, Captain Wentworth is great, too (part of the reason I love Persuasion).

Haven't seen Alicia Silverstone as "Emma", but it sounds interesting. Is that the movie "Clueless"?


Starry 16th January 2007 07:47 AM

Emma is definitely not my favourite Austen novel, not even just after I've re-read it, LOL and the reason is Emma herself. She really does annoy me and I don't really like Mr Knightley either. I never warmed to him like Captain Wentworth or Mr Darcy.


The movie Clueless however is a big favourite of mine. -smile-


Has anyone read "Jane Fairfax" by Joan Aiken? It is a "companion" novel to Emma and tells the story of Jane Fairfax. I don't always like novels based on Austen books, but this one is great and I actually liked it better than Emma itself :eek:


I had to replace a few smileys just with the word because there were too many of them in the posting.

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I found some later replies.


#6 16th January 2007, 09:27 AM


LOL and ...

I've forgotten -what does LOL stand for?


#7 16th January 2007, 09:28 AM



Laughs out loud.


#8 16th January 2007, 10:52 AM



My favourite is probably Persuasion too. I do enjoy Emma and I've often wondered how much of Jane Austen herself is in this character. What I don't enjoy or at least I do but it makes me squirm with embarrassment is Emma's treatment of Harriet. Jane Fairfax is an extremely intriguing character, I've never quite reconciled the secret engagement with Jane's character as perceived by those around her. I'm always curious about her.I'll have to look out for the book you mention Starry.


Certainly I think the humour in this one is some of Austen's dryest and it rewards re reading.


#9 16th January 2007, 11:23 AM



Very easily my favourite Austen, having a high level of emotional and literary maturity (which is arguably still greater in Persuasion) yet without compromising on the humour that is so fundamental to the Austen experience for me. It's just outrageously funny in places (Miss Bates is comic genius) and I delight in a heroine who's flawed but with whom we keep our sympathies - just! Lizzy is too 'easy' a heroine in that respect (if you know what I mean!): the feisty, independent-minded woman who's wrong about Darcy but understandably so doesn't take the skill that's necesssary for a portrayal such as Emma.


I'm also a Knightley fan and I think his conversations with Emma in which he tries to steer her are superb. Box Hill does indeed make me shudder, but that's part of the delight - I wouldn't if I didn't care about Emma. The pattern of false learning is also excellent and makes for a more complex reading experience than is always the case elsewhere.


I think the range of characters is one of the most satisfying in her novels - the Eltons, Frank, Mr W, Harriet - they're all wonderful creations. I was never a great fan of Jane Fairfax, to be fair, but then that's almost inevitable given the parallel role she's playing for juxtaposition with Emma.


The Prince Regent even insisted it was dedicated to him to show his approval! Not that Austen was over the moon about that, given his general unpopularity. Still, for all his other failings, George had excellent taste culturally, so who are we to argue with royalty?


#10 16th January 2007, 12:48 PM

Red Fox


I really like Emma. I'd rate Pride & Prejudice as my favourite Austen book, followed by Emma then Sense & Sensibility.


There are so many wonderful characters in Emma, and a lot of humour. Austen may not have expected her readers to like Emma, but I think we do because she seems human, not perfect, even though someone in her position in society was expected to be above reproach.


Mr Knightley is a perfect gent. I wish he were My Mr Knightley!


#11 16th January 2007, 06:44 PM



Re Mr K - I know this is a modern reading, but I can never quite accept the idea of him and Emma together. He's known her since he was a child. But it seems to happen a lot in Austen - like Marianne falling for Colonel Brandon. I would have given Emma a Capt Wentworth figure.


#12 17th January 2007, 10:00 AM

Red Fox


Colonel Fitzwilliam in P&P would be the best catch of all Austen's male characters!


#13 17th January 2007, 12:21 PM


Colonel Fitzwilliam in P&P would be the best catch of all Austen's male characters!

Why's that Red Fox? You think him a better catch than Bingley or Darcy, then?


#14 17th January 2007, 12:50 PM

Red Fox


I think he's a much underrated character. He is kind to Elizabeth, personable and his manners were much admired.


He's maybe not as well off as Bingley or Darcy, but a colonel would have a good living and he's obviously well connected. He'd have more backbone than Bingley and seems far easier to get on with than Darcy.


Perhaps he is just too good to be true!!


#15 17th January 2007, 01:44 PM



Ah, well he would be a great catch if you had a bit of money, but I think he says (or someone says) at some point that he is basically at Darcy's beck and call because he doesn't have much money and would need to marry into money to have much in the way of independance. Isn't this why Elizabeth isn't thinking seriously about him while she's in Kent?

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  • 4 months later...

My favourite is Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion, or possibly Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility (yes, I know he is a little bit 'dry', but he is a good, kind and sensitive man - it probably doesn't hurt that Alan Rickman played him in the 1995 film version).


Emma is a great book, although it my least favourite of all of Jane Austen's - but I really like all her books; more so upon rereading them. I actually really warmed to the character of Emma. She was selfish in some respects and saw things only as she wanted to see them, but she was also warm-hearted and full of good intentions. I imagine her as the sort of person who you cold easily get exasperated with, but couldn't help liking.

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I never take JA's comments at face value. A lot of her comments were tongue-in -cheek. And her comment about no one liking the heroine except herself stems from the trend where the heroines were very beautiful, and highly accomplished and could do no wrong.


People were **used to** such heroines. They would find Emma too close to perhaps themselves to be thought of as the heroine of a book.

She probably knew that readers of her style of novels would definitely like her.


As for clueless having the *real* novel-like Emma, I beg to differ.


Most people quote the first part of the sentence from chapter 1;

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home ...


What they fail to mention is the last part;

..and happy disposition,


'Clueless' concentrated on the first part. We see a Cher obsessed with shopping and clothes, very unlike Emma, but very much like a rich girl.


The combination with not only the rest of the sentence, but also what comes later in the book;

...and natural cheerfulness like Emma's,

we get a totally different personality not like Cher's.


Moreover Emma was kind and thoughtful towards the poor and sick right from the beginning, which again we are told;

..Emma was compassionate.


Yes, Emma is easily my favourite along with Catherine. :D


I shall leave with another humourous quote from the book, though I think the whole book deserves attention :)


There is this funny line about Mr. Woodhouse, all concern and polite with Mr. Knightley about his return from London in the rain, when both he and Emma return to the house after the walk and confession and proposal. We know how worried he is about catching a cold;

JA writes about Mr. Woodhouse;

"Could he have seen the heart, he would have cared very little for the lungs; ..."

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I find it interesting that Jane Austen believed that no one would like Emma but herself. :) I definitely do not like Emma the character, and didn't like the book as a whole. As characters I found them boring or very dislikable.


The emphasis these characters placed on gossip in their lives is what turned me off to the characters.


I have contemplated trying to reading it again and seeing if I can appreciate it now, but we shall have to see.

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I like the character of Emma. Although this is my least favourite Austen book, I still enjoyed it a lot. Emma reminds me a little of Marianne from Sense and Sensibility - impetuous and headstrong, but ultimately warm-hearted, and with her loved ones' interests at heart (even though her actions don't always seem to show it).


Maybe for it's time, Emma (the character was more unlikeable), whereas we are used to seeing such villains in literature nowadays (I know there have always been villains, but I think the villains nowadays are getting more and more violent and nasty in books), that Emma seems very nice by comparison!

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I certainly wouldn't describe Emma as a villain. She was a spoiled rich kid but she meant well for her friends. She was influenced easily but in general she had a good heart.

I quite enjoy her because she seems human, like starting all those projects and never finishing them (sounds familiar to me) etc. And in the end, she finds what she always wanted.

It certainly isn't my least favourite Jane Austen. If I had to choose, it would probably be Northanger Abbey. Don't you think it's great that Jane Austen managed to write so many completely different novels with just six of them?

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I agree - Emma is definitely not a villain. I actually think she is a very likeable character, and am quite surprised that Jane Austen thought she would not be liked (but I guess that she meant that the character of Emma would perhaps not be liked by the other characters, rather than by the readers of the book). Emma was impetuous and tended to act without thinking, but she always acted with the best of intentions.


And like you say Momo, I love the fact that each of Jane Austen's books are different. I enjoyed them all. When I say Emma was my least favourite, I just mean that for me it was 8 out of 10, rather than 9 out of 10, which I would rate most of her others as.

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delanochicana's quote

The emphasis these characters placed on gossip in their lives is what turned me off to the characters


Well, that's what Emma used to say.

She was put off by all the - "tittle tattle of Highbury." ;)


True, everyone gossips in 'Emma' including Mr. Knightley.

Everyone gossips - I think :D


Do give the book another try, and look out for all the clues hidden in Miss Bates' chatter, or in the narrator's comments :)

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Emma is one of my favourites, probably my second favourite after Pride and Prejudice. In a way it reminds me of Cranford - although it's probably more accurate to say that Cranford reminds me of Emma, as Emma came first - but the small town feel of the book, with its gossip and chatter, is very similar.


I love Emma as a character but I think this is because I watch her rather than identifying with her. I'm amused by her self importance and I like her for trying to help her friend, even if she gets it all wrong.

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delanochicana's quote



Well, that's what Emma used to say.

She was put off by all the - "tittle tattle of Highbury."


True, everyone gossips in 'Emma' including Mr. Knightley.

Everyone gossips - I think


Do give the book another try, and look out for all the clues hidden in Miss Bates' chatter, or in the narrator's comments :)


Ok :D I will add to my TBR list for very soon...it's worth giving another try. ;) And I will remember your hints!

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