Emma (novel)

For the novel by F. W. Kenyon, see Emma (Kenyon novel).

Title page of first edition, volume 1 of 3
Author Jane Austen
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel of manners
Published 23 December 1815[1] (title page gives 1816) John Murray
Preceded by Mansfield Park
Followed by Northanger Abbey

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in GeorgianRegency England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters.

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like."[2] In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.

This novel has been adapted for several films, many television programs, and a long list of stage plays.

Plot summary

Emma Woodhouse has just attended the wedding of Miss Taylor, her friend and former governess, to Mr Weston. Having introduced them, Emma takes credit for their marriage, and decides that she likes matchmaking. After she returns home to Hartfield with her father, Emma forges ahead with her new interest against the advice of her brother-in-law Mr Knightley and tries to match her new friend Harriet Smith to Mr Elton, the local vicar. First, Emma must persuade Harriet to refuse the marriage proposal from Robert Martin, a respectable, educated, and well-spoken young farmer, which Harriet does against her own wishes. However, Mr Elton, a social climber, thinks Emma is in love with him and proposes to her. When Emma tells him that she had thought him attached to Harriet, he is outraged. After Emma rejects him, Mr Elton leaves for a stay at Bath and returns with a pretentious, nouveau-riche wife, as Mr Knightley expected. Harriet is heartbroken and Emma feels ashamed about misleading her.

Frank Churchill, Mr Weston's son, arrives for a two-week visit to his father and makes many friends. Mr Knightley suggests to Emma that, while Frank is clever and engaging, he is also a shallow character. Jane Fairfax comes home to see her aunt, Miss Bates, and grandmother, Mrs Bates, for a few months, before she must go out on her own as a governess. She is the same age as Emma, but Emma has not been as friendly with her as she might. Emma envies her talent and is annoyed to find all, including Mrs Weston and Mr Knightley, praising Jane. The patronising Mrs Elton takes Jane under her wing and announces that she will find her the ideal governess post before it is wanted. Emma begins to feel some sympathy for Jane's predicament.

Emma decides that Jane and Mr Dixon are mutually attracted, and that is why she has come home. She shares her suspicions with Frank, who met Jane and the Campbells at a vacation spot a year earlier, and he apparently agrees with her. Suspicions are further fueled when a piano, sent by an anonymous benefactor, arrives for Jane. Emma feels herself falling in love with Frank, but it does not last to his second visit. The Eltons treat Harriet badly, culminating with Mr Elton publicly snubbing Harriet at the ball given by the Westons in May. Mr Knightley, who had long refrained from dancing, gallantly steps in to dance with Harriet. The day after the ball, Frank brings Harriet to Hartfield, she having fainted after a rough encounter with local gypsies. Harriet is grateful, and Emma thinks this is love, not gratitude. Meanwhile, Mrs Weston wonders if Mr Knightley has taken a fancy to Jane but Emma dismisses that idea. When Mr Knightley mentions the links he sees between Jane and Frank, Emma denies them, while Frank appears to be courting her instead. He arrives late to the gathering at Donwell in June, while Jane leaves early. Next day at Box Hill, a local beauty spot, Frank and Emma continue to banter together and Emma insults Miss Bates.

1898 illustration of Mr Knightley and Emma Woodhouse, Volume III chapter XIII

When Mr Knightley scolds Emma for the insult to Miss Bates, she is ashamed and tries to atone with a morning visit to Miss Bates, which impresses Mr Knightley. On the visit, Emma learns that Jane had accepted the position of governess from one of Mrs Elton's friends after the outing. Jane now becomes ill, and refuses to see Emma or accept her gifts. Meanwhile, Frank was visiting his aunt, who dies soon after he arrives. Now he and Jane reveal to the Westons that they have been secretly engaged since the autumn but Frank knew that his aunt would disapprove. The strain of the secrecy on the conscientious Jane had caused the two to quarrel and Jane ended the engagement. Frank's uncle readily gives his blessing to the match and the engagement becomes public, leaving Emma chagrined to discover that she had been so wrong.

Emma is certain that Frank's engagement will devastate Harriet, but instead Harriet tells her that she loves Mr Knightley, although she knows the match is too unequal. Emma is startled, and realizes that she is the one who wants to marry Mr Knightley. Mr Knightley returns to learn Emma's reaction to the engagement. When she admits her own foolishness, he proposes and she accepts. Now Harriet accepts Robert Martin's second proposal and they are the first couple to marry. Jane and Emma reconcile, and Frank and Jane visit the Westons. Once the period of deep mourning ends, they will marry. Before the end of November, Emma and Mr Knightley are married with the prospect of "perfect happiness".

Principal characters

Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of the story, is a beautiful, high-spirited, intelligent, and 'slightly' spoiled young woman of twenty when the story opens. Her mother died when she was young. She has been mistress of the house since her older sister got married. Although intelligent, she lacks the discipline to practise or study anything in depth. She is portrayed as very compassionate to the poor, but at the same time has a strong sense of class status. Her affection for and patience towards her valetudinarian father are also noteworthy. While she is in many ways mature, Emma makes some serious mistakes, mainly due to her conviction that she is always right and her lack of experience. Although she has vowed she will never marry, she delights in making matches for others. She falls in love briefly with Frank Churchill, but that passes away easily. She realises at the end that she loves Mr Knightley.

George Knightley is a neighbor and close friend of Emma, age 37 years(17 years older than Emma). He is her only critic. Mr Knightley is the owner of the estate of Donwell Abbey, which includes extensive grounds and farms. He is the elder brother of Mr John Knightley, the husband of Emma's elder sister Isabella. He is a man of thoughtful manners, aware of how others react to words and events. Mr Knightley is annoyed with Emma for persuading Harriet to turn down Mr Martin, a farmer on the Donwell estate; he warns Emma against matchmaking Harriet with Mr Elton, knowing that Mr Elton seeks a bride with money. He is suspicious of Frank Churchill and his motives; he sees that Frank has something secret going on with Jane Fairfax.

Mr Frank Churchill, Mr Weston's son by his first marriage, is an amiable young man. 23 years old, who manages to be liked by everyone. Mr Knightley sees him as immature, because he fails to visit his father for so long. After his mother's death, he was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle at the family estate Enscombe and whose last name he took at his majority. His uncle was his mother's brother. Frank enjoys dancing and music and living life to the fullest, but he is not above a secret engagement when he fears his aunt will forbid it. He manipulates and plays games with the other characters to ensure his engagement to Jane remains concealed.

Jane Fairfax is an orphan whose only family consists of her aunt, Miss Bates, and her grandmother, Mrs Bates. She is a beautiful, clever, and elegant woman, with the best of manners. She is the same age as Emma. She is well-educated and talented at singing and playing the piano; she is the sole person whom Emma envies. An army friend of her late father, Colonel Campbell, feels responsibility for her, and sees to her education, sharing his home and family with her when she turned nine years old. She has little fortune, however, and the plan is that she become a governess a prospect she dislikes. The secret engagement goes against her principles and wears on her.

Harriet Smith, a young friend of Emma, just seventeen when the story opens, is a pretty but unsophisticated girl. She has been a parlour boarder at a nearby school, where she met the sisters of Mr Martin. Emma takes Harriet under her wing early on, and she becomes the subject of Emma's misguided matchmaking attempts. She is revealed in the last chapter to be the natural daughter of a decent tradesman, although not a "gentleman". Harriet and Mr Martin are wed. The now wiser Emma approves of the match.

Philip Elton is a good-looking, initially well-mannered, and ambitious young vicar, 27 years old and unmarried when the story opens. Emma wants him to marry Harriet; however he aspires to secure Emma's hand in marriage to gain her dowry. Mr Elton displays his mercenary nature by quickly marrying another woman of lesser means after Emma's rejection.

Augusta Elton, formerly Miss Hawkins, is Mr Elton's wife. She has her 10,000 pounds, but lacks good manners, at best, using people's names too intimately as one example (Jane, not Miss Fairfax, Knightly, not Mr Knightley). She is a boasting, pretentious woman who expects her due as a new bride in the village. Emma is polite to her but does not like her. She patronises Jane, which earns Jane the sympathy of others. She displays many of the faults for which Mr Knightley reprimands Emma, however on a much larger scale. Ironically much of Emma's dislike of Mrs Elton arises from these faults.[3]

Mrs Weston was Emma's governess for sixteen years as Miss Anne Taylor and remains her closest friend and confidante after she marries Mr Weston. She is a sensible woman who loves Emma. Mrs Weston acts as a surrogate mother to her former charge and, occasionally, as a voice of moderation and reason. The Westons and the Woodhouses visit almost daily. Near the end of the story, the Westons' baby Anna is born.

Mr Weston is a widower and a business man living in Highbury who marries Miss Taylor in his early 40s, after he bought the home called Randalls. By his first marriage, he is father to Frank Weston Churchill, who was adopted and raised by his late wife's brother and his wife. He sees his son in London each year. He married his first wife, Miss Churchill, when he was a Captain in the militia, posted near her home. Mr Weston is a sanguine, optimistic man, who enjoys socialising, making friends easily in business and among his neighbours.

Miss Bates is a friendly, garrulous spinster whose mother, Mrs Bates, is a friend of Mr Woodhouse. Her niece is Jane Fairfax, daughter of her late sister. She was raised in better circumstances in her younger days as the vicar's daughter; now she and her mother rent rooms in the home of another in Highbury. One day, Emma humiliates her on a day out in the country, when she alludes to her tiresome prolixity.

Mr Henry Woodhouse, Emma's father, is always concerned for his health, and to the extent that it does not interfere with his own, the health and comfort of his friends. He is a valetudinarian (i.e., similar to a hypochondriac but more likely to be genuinely ill). He assumes a great many things are hazardous to his health. His daughter Emma gets along with him well, and he loves both his daughters. He laments that "poor Isabella" and especially "poor Miss Taylor" have married and live away from him. He is a fond father and fond grandfather who did not remarry when his wife died; instead he brought in Miss Taylor to educate his daughters and become part of the family. Because he is generous and well-mannered, his neighbors accommodate him when they can.

Isabella Knightley (née Woodhouse) is the elder sister of Emma, by seven years, and daughter of Henry. She is married to John Knightley. She lives in London with her husband and their five children (Henry, 'little' John, Bella, 'little' Emma, and George). She is similar in disposition to her father.

John Knightley is Isabella's husband and George's younger brother, 31 years old (10 years older than Jane Fairfax and Emma). He is an attorney by profession. Like the others raised in the area, he is a friend of Jane Fairfax. He greatly enjoys the company of his family, including his brother and his Woodhouse in-laws, but is not the very sociable sort of man who enjoys dining out frequently. He is forthright with Emma, his sister-in-law, and close to his brother.

Other characters

Development of the novel

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like."[2] In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.


Early reviews of Emma were generally favourable, but there were some criticisms about the lack of story. John Murray remarked that it lacked "incident and Romance";[4] Maria Edgeworth, the author of Belinda, to whom Austen had sent a complimentary copy, wrote:[4]

there was no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own – & he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow – and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel!!

Although Austen's Pride and Prejudice is usually recognized as the author's masterpiece, critics such as Susan Morgan of Stanford University have placed Emma as being their personal favorite among all of Austen's novels.[5]


In contrast to other Austen heroines, Emma seems immune to romantic attraction, at least until her final self-revelation concerning her true affections. Unlike Marianne Dashwood, who is attracted to the wrong man before she settles on the right one, Emma generally shows no romantic interest in the men she meets and even her flirting with Churchill seems tame. She is genuinely surprised (and somewhat disgusted) when Mr Elton declares his love for her, much in the way Elizabeth Bennet reacts to the obsequious Mr Collins, also a parson. Her fancy for Frank Churchill represents more of a longing for a little drama in her life than a longing for romantic love. For example, at the beginning of Chapter XIII, Emma has "no doubt of her being in love", but it quickly becomes clear that, even though she spends time "forming a thousand amusing schemes for the progress and close of their attachment", we are told that "the conclusion of every imaginary declaration on his side was that she refused him". [6]

Allusions to real places and vehicles

The fictional Highbury is said to be 16 miles from London, but the real Highbury is only 4.5 miles north of Charing Cross; in Jane Austen's day, Islington was a rural village, entirely separate from the City of London. Emma's sister Isabella and her family live in Brunswick Square, between the City and the West End of London; the fields had just been transformed at the turn of the century into terraces of Georgian houses. Richmond, where Frank Churchill's aunt and uncle settle in the summer, is now part of the greater London area, but then was a separate town in Surrey.

Most of the other places mentioned are in southern England, such as the seaside resort towns of Weymouth, Dorset, South End, and Cromer in Norfolk. Box Hill, Surrey is still a place of beauty, popular for picnics. Bath, where Mr Elton went to find a bride, is a well-known spa city in the southwest. The place furthest away is the fictional Enscombe, the estate of the Churchills, in the real Yorkshire, in the north.

Mrs Elton frequently refers to the upcoming visit of her well-married sister, who will certainly arrive in their barouche-landau. This was an expensive carriage for summer use.[7][8]


Emma has been the subject of many adaptations for film, TV, radio and the stage.






  1. Advertisement in The Morning Chronicle 23 December 1815 p. 1.
  2. 1 2 Austen-Leigh, James Edward (1967) [1926]. A Memoir of Jane Austen (R. W. Chapman ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 157.
  3. Shmoop Editorial Team (11 November 2008). "Mrs Elton". Shmoop. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  4. 1 2 Todd, Janet (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-521-85806-9.
  5. Susan Morgan. In the Meantime. The University of Chicago Press, Chapter One, "Emma and the Charms of Imagination," pp23-51.
  6. Austen, Jane. Emma. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.
  7. Ratcliffe, Ed (2012). "Transports of Delight: How Jane Austen's Characters Got Around". The Inkwell. Menlo Park, California: Jane Austen Society of North America. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  8. Ratcliffe, Ed (2012). "Transports of Delight: How Jane Austen's Characters Got Around" (pdf). JASNA NorCa. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  9. Mazmanian, Melissa. "Reviving Emma" in a Clueless World: The Current Attraction to a Classic Structure. Persuasions Online: Occasional Papers No. 3. Fall 1999. Jane Austen Society of North America website. Accessed 12 November 2013.
  10. Stern, Lesley. "Emma in Los Angeles" Clueless as a remake of the book and the city. Australian Humanities Review website, 1997. Accessed 12 November 2013.
  11. "Aisha based on Jane Austen's novel Emma". Indiatimes. Archived from the original on 6 September 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Emma Adaptations Pages: Other Versions. Retrieved 27 December 2011
  13. "Pemberly Digital - About". Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  14. "I am Emma Woodhouse - Emma Approved: Ep 1 - Youtube. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  15. "The Emma Adaptations Pages: Emma by Michael Fry". Retrieved 27 December 2011
  16. Culturvulture November 2004: Emma at Aurora Theatre Company in Berkley
  17. The Providence, Phoenix, December 7, 2000: Emma Rewards. Retrieved 27 December 2011
  18. TheaterMania 2004: Emma (NYMF). Retrieved 27 December 2011
  19. 'Set Play' – Emma, Times Educational Supplement, 25 February 2000
  20. Broadway World, August 17, 2007: "World Premiere Emma Steps into TheatreWorks 8/22". Retrieved 27 December 2011
  21. NYMTF: Emma 2007. Retrieved 27 December 2011
  22. Heartbreak Productions: Emma 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2011
  23. Seattle Times October 16, 2009: "Attention, Austen fans: Emma Comes to Book-It". Retrieved 27 December 2011
  24. Playbill 9 Feb 2010: "World Premiere of Emma Set to Bow at Cleveland Play House. Retrieved 27 December 2011
  25. "AFTEC". Aftec.hk. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
  26. Aiken, Joan (1997). Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen's Emma. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312157074.
  27. Emma: A Modern Retelling (2014), Harper Collins, London. ISBN 978-0-00-755386-0

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