Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
In Emma, Jane Austen tells the story of a young woman described by the narrator of the novel as “having rather too much her own way” and possessing “a disposition to think a little too well of herself.” Although Austen claimed that her heroine was someone “whom no one would like but myself,” Emma Woodhouse has captivated readers and critics, many of whom have acclaimed the novel as Austen’s finest.
The second daughter of one of the ranking families in the village of Highbury, Emma is accustomed to directing the social lives of her reclusive father and other townspeople. Only her father’s good friend Mr. Knightley, a bachelor nearly twice her age, speaks directly and forcefully to Emma about her meddlesome nature and about her misperceptions of others. The marriage of her governess Miss Taylor to local squire Mr. Weston, described in the opening paragraphs of the novel, convinces Emma that she has been a successful matchmaker. She immediately turns her attention to transforming Harriet Smith, a resident at a local boarding school, into a lady worthy of marrying the village’s highly eligible cleric, Mr. Elton. After persuading Harriet that she is too good to marry a tradesman who genuinely loves her, Emma becomes distressed when she learns that Mr. Elton has no affection for Harriet; instead, he has fallen for Emma herself. With deftness and a touch of cruelty, she rebukes the minister, who departs Highbury for an extended...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Highbury. English village sixteen miles southwest of London. Although Jane Austen says it is a populous place, readers find it quite small indeed. A short walk away from the village center are Ford’s, a clothing and fabric store; a bakery; the Bates apartment, over a place of business; a church and a vicarage; the Crown Inn; and Mrs. Goddard’s school. Less than a mile from Emma’s home is Randalls, a little estate belonging to the Westons. Adjoining Highbury is Donwell and its most important estate, Donwell Abbey, the old-fashioned home of Mr. George Knightley and the center of his large farming enterprise. Located on his land is Abbey Mill Farm.
The novel tells of Emma’s growth into adulthood. The isolated and restricted village in which she lives reflects her own initial isolation. For the first twelve chapters, she never strays far from home, which she shares with her unmarried father. Besides Mr. Knightley, her most frequent visitor is a silly school girl named Harriet Smith. Soon Emma’s horizons begin to expand, until, by the end of the novel, she has learned a great deal about many other people—and herself. This movement is expressed geographically. Sometimes Emma makes journeys from home. She socializes more with the people of Highbury, even attending a party given by her social inferiors. She goes to Randalls on Christmas Eve; she visits Donwell Abbey. More often, however, Emma’s expanding horizons are suggested by people coming to Highbury from other parts of England.
(The entire section is 647 words.)
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Emma, a romantic comedy of manners, paints a sparkling and amusing picture of genteel village life in Great Britain during the brief Regency period preceding the Victorian period. Marriage and social position are the primary focus of this work as the women characters, faithful to the social dynamics of the time, seek financial and social security through advantageous marriages. Of the many genteel women in the novel, only Emma can choose to stay single without serious financial and social sacrifice. The other unmarried women of the story are either prospective brides or the “unfortunate” ones, such as Jane Fairfax’s aunt Miss Bates, obliged to earn a living looking after others and receiving pity or indifference from most of their neighbors. Though the picture of village life drawn by Jane Austen is filled with humorous scenes and characters, the underlying grim reality of unmarried women’s lives is a sobering one.
Emma clearly understands that marriage is the only answer to her new friend Harriet Smith’s uncertain social position and undecided future. Emma quickly dismisses Harriet’s eager suitor Robert Martin as unacceptable because he lacks sufficient social position to be worthy of her friend; he is merely a hardworking, modest farmer. When Mr. Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law, points out that Emma has grand plans for a young woman lacking virtually any social position, and in fact one who could be a member of a disreputable family, Emma strongly objects to his negative comment, countering that her protegée can as likely be a romantic heroine, a lost heiress of a noble family. She later learns from Mr. Knightley that Harriet is the...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Emma, considered one of Jane Austen’s finest works, was received with considerable praise and public interest. Even the great novelist of that time, Sir Walter Scott, admired her work for its artistry and elegance. Austen’s novels followed and improved on a tradition begun by the popular writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840), the author of Evelina (1778). This genre of social comedy novel presented women’s stories more naturally than other English novels had. Unlike the popular fantasies of exotic places and melodramatic events, such as the gothic thriller The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), by Ann Radcliffe, Emma is a comic story of rather ordinary events in a typical English village. The characters could be found around many card tables in country houses of those days.
Though the domestic events in novels such as Emma may seem ordinary or even trivial to modern readers, Austen and others were attempting to present a clear and fair picture of the very restricted domestic world women lived in at that time. Women in these novels seem preoccupied with making advantageous marriages simply because marriage was the sole respectable occupation available to well-bred women. Some readers may also criticize Emma for its excessive emphasis on marriage as a calculated means to acquire money and materialistic possessions—houses, land, servants. In truth, these possessions often ruled the marital choices that women...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. When the story opens, how old is Emma?
2. Why isn’t she married?
3. What are the Woodhouses’ feelings on the day of Miss Taylor’s wedding?
4. Who did Miss Taylor marry?
5. What social position do the Woodhouses occupy in High¬bury?
6. Why doesn’t Mr. Woodhouse think they will ever see Miss Taylor again?
7. What is Mr. Knightley’s connection to the Woodhouses?
8. How does Mr. Knightley think the Woodhouses regard Miss Taylor’s marriage?
9. Why does Mr. Knightley question Emma’s claims that she made the match herself?
10. What does he think of her plans to match Mr. Elton with a...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. How had Mr. and Mrs. Churchill acquired a son?
2. How had Mr. Weston acquired Randalls?
3. How had Frank been brought up?
4. Why did the townspeople of Highbury believe a visit from Frank Churchill was imminent?
5. Why had Mrs. Weston formed a very favorable idea of Frank?
6. What is Miss Taylor’s attitude about the separation of her and Emma?
7. What is Mr. Woodhouse’s reaction to the separation?
8. How do the townspeople tease Mr. Woodhouse?
9. Who is Mr. Perry?
10. What character trait of Mr. Woodhouse is apparent from the last two paragraphs of this chapter?
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapters 3-5 Questions and Answers
1. Why did everyone who knew Miss Bates respect her?
2. How is Mrs. Goddard’s school regarded?
3. What is Harriet Smith’s background?
4. What convinces Emma that Harriet is worthy of her efforts?
5. How are the Martins connected to Mr. Knightley?
6. What are some assumptions that Emma makes about Mr. Martin?
7. What does Emma think of farmers in general?
8. How does Emma debunk Mr. Martin?
9. What does Mr. Knightley reveal about Emma’s education?
10. Why does Mr. Knightley say he is interested in Emma?
1. Though the daughter of the former vicar of Highbury...
(The entire section is 403 words.)
Chapters 6-8 Questions and Answers
1. What stands out about Emma’s portfolio of paintings?
2. From this, what is revealed about Emma?
3. What decisions are made about Harriet’s portrait?
4. Why doesn’t Mr. Woodhouse want the background to be out of doors?
5. What convinces Emma that Mr. Elton must be in love with Harriet?
6. How does Emma downplay the letter Mr. Martin sends Harriet?
7. How does Harriet react to Emma’s manipulating her emotions toward Mr. Martin?
8. What small compliment does Mr. Knightley offer Emma?
9. What does Mr. Knightley think of Mr. Martin?
10. Why is Mr. Knightley confident that Mr. Elton will not...
(The entire section is 366 words.)
Chapters 9-11 Questions and Answers
1. What becomes of Emma’s intention to improve Harriet’s mind?
2. What new scheme does Emma devise to get Harriet and Mr. Elton together?
3. When Mr. Elton sends a riddle, what conditions does he put on it?
4. Why is Mr. Woodhouse convinced that Emma wrote the riddle?
5. How does Emma respond when Harriet wonders why Emma isn’t married?
6. How next does Emma contrive to get Harriet and Mr. Elton together?
7. What ruse does Emma use once they are in Mr. Elton’s house?
8. How is Isabella Knightley portrayed?
9. How is John Knightley portrayed?
10. How does John Knightley show insight?...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Chapters 12-15 Questions and Answers
1. What does Emma do to soften Mr. Knightley’s attitude toward her when he comes to their house?
2. How much older is Mr. Knightley than Emma?
3. Why was Mr. Woodhouse especially agitated by his son-in-law’s harsh words about Mr. Perry?
4. Why did Harriet wish to return to her boarding school when she became ill?
5. How does John Knightley characterize Mr. Elton?
6. Why does Emma feel drawn to Frank Churchill?
7. How does Mrs. Weston characterize Mrs. Churchill?
8. How does Mr. Elton characterize Emma?
9. Why is Emma so concerned when Mr. Elton joins her in the carriage?
10. What makes their...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Chapters 16-18 Questions and Answers
1. Where does Emma give the Knightley brothers credit?
2. How does Emma convince herself not to feel anything for Mr. Elton’s open declaration of love for her?
3. What relapse does Emma suffer immediately after swearing off involvement with Harriet’s romantic life?
4. Why is Emma surprised at the contents of Mr. Elton’s note?
5. What does Emma think her father will say to this obvious omission?
6. How do Harriet’s tears affect Emma?
7. What is Emma’s promise to Harriet?
8. What further increases Emma’s discomfort at having been wrong about Mr. Elton’s affections?
9. Why does Mr. Knightley think...
(The entire section is 458 words.)
Chapters 19-21 Questions and Answers
1. Why doesn’t Emma visit Mrs. and Miss Bates more often?
2. Why does the visit backfire?
3. What catches Emma’s attention most while Miss Bates is speaking?
4. What fuels her suspicions?
5. At age eighteen, Jane is ready to make her way in the world as a governess; why hasn’t she?
6. Why does Mr. Knightley think Emma does not like Jane?
7. How does Emma try to coax Jane Fairfax into gossiping with her?
8. Why is Mr. Woodhouse certain that Jane Fairfax spent a pleasant evening?
9. How does Mr. Knightley turn that assumption to his advantage?
10. How does Mr. Martin show his regard for...
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Chapters 22-24 Questions and Answers
1. What was Mr. Elton’s attitude upon returning to Highbury?
2. How long after Mr. Elton had been introduced to Augusta Hawkins did he propose?
3. What does Emma think of the intended bride of Mr. Elton?
4. What was contained in the note that Elizabeth Martin wrote to Harriet?
5. Why does Harriet lack the heart for a visit to the Martins?
6. How long does Emma decide Harriet shall stay at the Martin farm?
7. Why does Emma regret the Martin’s rank?
8. How does Frank Churchill go overboard in praising Mrs. Weston?
9. Why does Emma think Mr. Knightley is wrong about Frank Churchill?
10. Why does...
(The entire section is 485 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Questions and Answers
1. What is Mrs. Weston’s reaction to Frank’s going to London to get his hair cut?
2. What is Mr. Knightley’s reaction?
3. What is Emma’s reaction?
4. Who are the Coles?
5. Why is Emma sorry to have received an invitation to their party?
6. What changes her mind about going?
7. Why is Emma pleased to see Mr. Knightley’s coach in front of her on the road to the Cole house?
8. How does Mrs. Cole evidence good manners?
9. What does Emma discover was the real reason for Mr. Knightley bringing his carriage?
10. Who does Mrs. Weston guess might have sent the pianoforte?
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapters 27-29 Questions and Answers
1. Why isn’t Emma satisfied with Harriet’s praise for her musicianship?
2. Why does Frank think he shouldn’t go to the Bates’ house to view the pianoforte?
3. How is Mr. Woodhouse’s name brought into Miss Bates’ monologue?
4. What does Emma notice that alters her opinion of Jane Fairfax?
5. Why does Frank say he wants to hold another ball?
6. What does Emma perceive about Frank’s nature when they are sizing up the rooms at Randalls?
7. How does Frank assure Mr. Woodhouse that no one will catch cold at the Crown Inn?
8. What does Mr. Woodhouse think of Frank?
9. Why does Emma protest calling in...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Emma certain that Mr. Knightley doesn’t love Jane Fairfax?
2. Why does Frank say his mother is ill?
3. What does Emma learn about Frank’s visit to the Bates’ house?
4. What statement of Frank’s almost cuts through the layers of politeness he normally displays?
5. What does Emma think Frank is about to reveal before Mr. Weston and Mr. Woodhouse come into the room?
6. How does Emma interpret Frank’s remarks about her?
7. What does Emma tell Harriet to do?
8. How does Emma justify her friendship with Harriet?
9. How does Emma justify her father’s behavior?
10. What is Emma...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 32-33 Questions and Answers
1. What is Harriet’s assurance to Emma upon leaving the Eltons’ for the first time?
2. What is a barouche-landau?
3. How does Mrs. Elton correct Emma?
4. What is Emma surprised to hear from Mrs. Elton about Mr. Knightley?
5. Why does Emma tell her father it was acceptable for him not to have paid the Eltons a courtesy call?
6. What is Mr. Elton’s apparent reaction to his wife?
7. How does Mrs. Elton’s behavior toward Emma change?
8. Why does Emma think Jane might have declined Mrs. Dixon’s invitation to Ireland?
9. Why does Mrs. Weston think Jane has become friendly with the Eltons?
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapters 34-36 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Emma relieved Harriet declines her dinner invitation?
2. Why does Emma think Jane will never like her?
3. Why does Jane decline Mrs. Elton’s offer?
4. Why does Emma take Jane’s arm to go into dinner?
5. How does Jane respond to Mrs. Elton’s suggestion that she secure a position with a family of means?
6. How does Mrs. Elton treat Mr. Woodhouse?
7. Why is John Knightley surprised that Mr. Weston would show up so late in the evening?
8. Where is Enscombe?
9. Why does Mr. Weston say that Mrs. Churchill has no claims on arrogance?
10. Why does John Knightley think his boys might be in...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
Chapters 37-39 Questions and Answers
1. What is Emma’s reaction to the news of Frank Churchill’s return to Highbury?
2. Why is Mr. Weston especially thrilled that the Churchill family is moving closer to Highbury?
3. What fault does Emma find with Mr. Weston?
4. Why does Mrs. Elton demand that Frank Churchill be her partner?
5. What does Emma notice about Frank’s behavior?
6. What does Emma observe about Mr. Knightley?
7. What can be inferred from Mr. Elton’s behavior?
8. Why does Emma say it would be proper for Isabella and John to dance together?
9. Why couldn’t Harriet escape the encroaching gypsies?
10. How did Frank...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Chapters 40-42 Questions and Answers
1. Why was Emma ashamed at the sight of the court plaister?
2. Why does Emma think Harriet shouldn’t throw out both mementos?
3. Why is the name of the someone Emma and Harriet speak of never mentioned?
4. Why does Frank say he dreamed about Mr. Perry’s new carriage?
5. What does Miss Bates reveal in her monologue?
6. What was the first word that Frank scrambled?
7. How does Jane stop the game?
8. Why is Emma eager to go to Box Hill before the party takes place there?
9. Why does Emma say Frank will never go to Switzerland?
10. How does Emma reply to Frank’s complaint that he is sick of...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Chapters 43-45 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Emma beginning to suspect that Frank’s flirtations are fake?
2. Why does Mr. Knightley question Emma about the game Frank proposes?
3. How does Emma receive Frank’s request that she choose a wife for him?
4. How does Emma first respond when Mr. Knightley accuses her of having hurt Miss Bates’s feelings?
5. Why is Emma so glad to be playing backgammon with her father?
6. What is the atmosphere in the Bates’ house when Emma arrives?
7. How does Emma contrast Mrs. Churchill and Jane Fairfax?
8. Why does Emma blush when her father brings up her visit to the Bates’ house?
9. Why is Emma...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapters 46-47 Questions and Answers
1. What is Mrs. Weston’s response to the secret engagement?
2. What is Emma’s response?
3. What is Emma’s concern for the family that was to employ Jane?
4. Why does Emma blush when the name Dixon is uttered?
5. What is Emma referring to with her quote, “the world is not their’s, nor the world’s law?”
6. Why do Mr. Knightley’s prophetic words, “Emma, you have been no friend to Harriet Smith” haunt her?
7. What other mistake did Emma make when she assumed Harriet and she were talking about Frank Churchill, not Mr. Knightley?
8. What two incidents convince Harriet that Mr. Knightley has singled her out...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
Chapters 48-49 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Emma say that Mr. Knightley has tried to improve her and wanted her to do right “as no other creature had at all shared?”
2. Why would Emma be content if Mr. Knightley stayed single?
3. Why does Emma banish Harriet from Hartfield?
4. Why does Emma exclaim “Poor girl!” in referring to Jane Fairfax?
5. What contributed to Jane Fairfax’s burden during her secret engagement?
6. Why does Emma think Mr. Knightley is neither cheerful and not communicative when he returns from London?
7. Why does Mr. Knightley call Frank an “abominable scoundrel?”
8. Why does he refer to him as “a favorite of...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Chapters 50-52 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Emma say of her father, “Could he have seen the heart, he would have cared very little for the lungs?”
2. Why doesn’t Emma want to read the letter from Frank Churchill?
3. What fact comes to light about Jane Fairfax from the letter?
4. What does Frank think about the Eltons?
5. What does Mr. Knightley think of Frank’s reference to Emma?
6. Why does this make Emma blush?
7. What are Mr. Knightley’s final thoughts on Frank Churchill?
8. Why was Isabella Knightley eager to have Harriet visit?
9. Why is Mrs. Elton so happy when Emma comes to visit Jane?
10. How soon does Jane...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Chapters 53-55 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Emma say she can never call Mr. Knightley “George”?
2. Why does Emma have such a hard time persuading her father to give his consent to her marriage?
3. How long do Mr. Knightley and Emma think it will be before the news is all over Highbury?
4. Why do the Eltons respond to the match between Mr. Knightley and Emma as they do?
5. Why does Emma lean into her workbasket to conceal her face when Mr. Knightley tells her that Harriet accepted Mr. Martin’s proposal?
6. Why isn’t Mr. Knightley surprised at Harriet’s agreeing to marry Robert Martin?
7. Why does Emma forgive Frank so readily?
8. How does Frank show...
(The entire section is 614 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Austen, Jane. Emma: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews, and Criticism. Edited by Stephen M. Parrish. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972. An excellent beginning for the student first reading Emma, this collection brings together the definitive text, the background materials that Austen may have used, and important critical articles. A selected bibliography is included.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Jane Austen’s “Emma.” New York: Chelsea, 1987. In this representative selection of criticism, Austen scholars focus on aspects such as Emma’s imagination and Austen’s power of understatement. Also includes consideration of...
(The entire section is 576 words.)