Emma is more unpleasant than appealing. Discuss with reference to the first 9 chapters.
The first line of the novel ‘Emma’, by Jane Austen, claims Emma to be ‘handsome, clever, and rich’, this sums up Emma’s character completely. It is important to list these first of all, for fear of the reader to immediately dislike her. Indeed, later on-on the first page, Emma’s faults are listed, claiming her to have too much of her own way and herself thinking very highly of herself. Emma’s stubbornness and vanity is mostly the centre of a majority of the novels conflicts, as throughout the novel, Emma attempts to develop emotionally. Austen also portrays Emma’s weaknesses in more subtle ways, she says although befriending Miss. Smith as good for Emma because she has someone to talk to and to keep her company, but then hints that it would have been better for Emma to have had a governess, or a friend that met her intellectually, because Miss. Smith cannot
meet her in intellect, it is, Emma’s ability to mould her new friend. This is one of Austen’s techniques; this will be discussed later in this essay.
In the first chapter, when her governess leaves the household when she marries, Emma has mixed feelings on the subject, on one hand, she feels she has lost a best friend, as the person who has acted more as her mother, than any other, has left; Miss Taylor’s attitude towards Emma, was as quoted, “…and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault”
This just goes to show where Emma would get her selfish mannerism from. It was a very close relationship the two shared, secrets were told and friendship and trust was passed between the two. This would show Emma as being human, at least, although, later on in the chapter her faults are described, she is shown by Austen to have genuine feelings, and it’s only natural for one to feel upset when they lose the total devotion of a friend. Apart from feeling upset that Miss Taylor has left, Emma is also upset for her own sake, she is upset that she has no companion in the house and, believes that her father-the only other person that lives in the house-cannot stimulate Emma in conversation mainly because he is senile and doesn’t meet Emma at an intellectual level.
The description of Emma in the beginning of this novel can instantly, for the reader, decide whether they are going to like her or not, obviously as her mannerisms are unveiled throughout the first three or so chapters, but the first description of Emma is enough to decide ones mind of her instantly. The fact that she is beautiful, clever and rich leads the reader to image Emma Woodhouse as being fairly high in society, but yet, her real self is not revealed. Emma’s real self however, is described perfectly with the line ‘…did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her’
Here, Austen uses her subtlety to tell the audience that, Emma, for all her graces, cannot see her faults.
Austen’s technique makes comments like the one previously mentioned, seem less vulgar and striking. In stead of saying plainly that Miss. Smith is simply dim, or thick, Austen will use a much more subtle approach, saying that she is not of an advanced mind or that she was not the cleverest person, this alternative to the direct word would give the impression that the author has a little compassion, and doesn’t wish to bestow in the reader an uncivilised image of the author, whereas her main character clearly has none when it comes to saying what she thinks.
One of many examples that may distort the readers view, or opinion of Emma, is her befriending Harriet Smith. Harriet Smith was a guest along with her school mistress, Mrs. Goddard, at a dinner party held by Emma and her father. Emma sees her friendship with Harriet as a chance to mould someone and to grow them into anything Emma pleases; the friendship is good for Emma, because Harriet Smith has great respect for her and Hartfield, but Emma befriends Miss. Smith solely for superficial reasons, as she is not interested in Miss. Smith’s person, only her company, and - Oh the possibilities. Emma is able to mould and manipulate Miss. Smith as her Naïve attitude allows her to be pulled in many different directions by many people. Emma does this very well, imposing views and attitudes on the poor defenceless lady, the most striking display of this is when Miss. Smith receives a letter of proposal from Mr. Martin, Emma dismisses it, and says that Miss. Smith cannot possibly marry him, already she has made her point, consequently Miss. Smith begins to draft a letter of refusal to the farmer.
What Emma Woodhouse loves to do is to play the matchmaker, she loves to meet new people and pair up which ever of her friends (male or female) she likes, this happens to her new friend Harriet, one of Emma’s primary objectives was Emma begins by taking Miss. Smith under her wing, she wants to eradicate any feelings that she might have with the Martin farming family, the problem that Emma has with this friendship is that Miss. Smith is a close friend of Mr. Martin, and Mr. Martin being a working class man, and much lower down in the social scale than Emma, she does not wish to befriend such an inferior to herself. Miss. Smith receives a letter from Mr. Martin in chapter 7, proposing marriage to her, Miss. Smith is overjoyed at the letter and insists on reading it again and again, but when Miss. Smith shows it to her new best friend, Emma instantly begins to mould her mind, Emma, tries and succeeds in making Miss. Smith believe that Mr. Martin is simply playing with her emotions and that she should decline the offer, which she does. To the audience reading this, able to see what Emma is thinking, this is completely immoral; being able to see the fragility of Miss. Smith, and what this could mean to her, if she were not so naïve. But the audience would instantly take a dislike to Emma, if they have not previous to this, here is Emma Woodhouse; she has everything, and she is deterring, neigh forcing, subtly, Miss. Smith from accepting this offer, even though it has made her so happy, she must decline.
Emma, aside from her faults does have a side that indicates to the reader that she does have a heart, when she and Miss. Smith go to Miss. Bates house, Emma cares for Miss. Bates’ mother, put her to bed and brings food for them. This is like an oasis in a desert of Emma’s mannerisms, the oasis, is Emma’s fondness for Miss. Bates and her mother. What ever compassion the reader had lost of Emma in the past couple of chapters, it is all gained when we learn of her kindness. Although the Bates’ were definitely not in the same social class as Emma was, they are described as being kind hearted soles, Miss. Bates sees no bad in anyone, she can only see the good. This appears to surprise Miss. Smith also, Miss. Smith enters the Bates’ house and just sits and looks in utter disbelief at what she is seeing Emma do. This has a very positive effect on the audience regarding their
perception of Emma, because if Emma was made out to be a complete cow, the novel would be unreadable, the part of Emma would constantly be playing down the other characters, and while they all may prosper, she would fail miserably. But this is a welcome break from the vanity that Emma puts out, the reader can begin to like Emma again, but only until she becomes her usual self once more.
In conclusion, Emma Woodhouse is quite unpleasant, her manipulation of close friends, i.e. Miss. Smith, her endless vanity, her total disregard for other characters feelings in the novel, toying with their emotions and trying to set them up with each other, all of these far outweigh her pleasantness as a character, yes she does care for Miss. Bates and her mother, yes her heart is sometimes in the right place when matching two friends up, but from seeing her point of view in the novel, the reader cannot help but feel that the young lady is shallow and her blindness to her actions. But then If Jane Austen had made this character as a nice, pleasant well mannered human, neither wishing pain nor suffering on any living sole, it would be rather dull, there would be no huge blunder to read through, and only be able to gasp in awe at how much embarrassment this is probably creating for this character. After all, it is a love story, and love stories cannot be complete without a few love mismatches on the way.