Emma Questions and Answers
by Jane Austen

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In the incipit of the novel Emma, why is "them" in italics in the sentence "Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters." What does it mean?

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In chapter 1 of Jane Austen’s Emma, the character of Miss Taylor, recently married and now Mrs. Weston, is introduced soon after Emma herself. Jane Austen writes:

Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters.

The italicized word them refers to Miss Taylor and Emma, contrasting their relationship with that of Miss Taylor and Emma’s elder sister, Isabella, and also, by implication, with the relationship of Emma and Isabella. At the time the novel begins, Isabella has been married for seven years. Since Emma is nearly twenty-one, this means that Miss Taylor has been her governess since she was around five years old. She was always a kind and indulgent governess to both girls but, since Isabella left home seven years ago, when Emma was fourteen, Miss Taylor has become much more than a governess. She and Emma have enjoyed a relationship of “equal footing and perfect unreserve” throughout Emma’s teenage years. Miss Taylor was therefore closer to her at a crucial time of her life than her actual sister.

This opening, emphasizing Emma’s closeness to Miss Taylor, makes it clear that Miss Taylor’s marriage and removal from Hartfield will leave Emma in a state of boredom and solitude, which she will attempt to alleviate, setting the stage for her friendship with Harriet and her ill-judged matchmaking schemes.

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