What does the following sentence mean in Emma by Jane Austen? "The Woodhouses were first in consequence there."

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We are at the start of Jane Austen's novel, Emma. Austen is introducing the character of Emma Woodhouse, who is:

handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

But soon enough, Emma is vexed and distressed. She and her father live in the country estate of Hartfield, near the village of Highbury. For several years, Emma has been blessed with the company of her governess, friend, and intellectual companion, Isabella Taylor, but now Isabella has married and moved with her husband to another village. Emma's sister is far away and rarely visits from London. Emma's father is beloved, but he is not exactly a brainy fellow, in her view:

though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time.

All around her, Emma cannot find her match, now that Isabella is gone. As she considers her surroundings, she sees that:

Highbury, the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfield, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies, and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses were first in consequence there. All looked up to them. She had many acquaintance in the place, for her father was universally civil, but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day.

Emma believes that her family, the Woodhouses, are "first in consequence" in Hartfield and Highbury—that is, there is no other family in the area that is as important as the Woodhouse family and that everyone looks up to them.

Emma is a snob at the start of the book, no doubt about it. She is a spoiled meddler who thinks highly of herself and her family. The story of Emma is how she is proved wrong, and indeed, as Jane Austen herself wrote:

I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.

Austen uses sharp satire to paint the clueless character of Emma, and the young woman's belief that her family is "first in consequence" in their provincial realm is a good example of how Austen shape's Emma's character for us.

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