List of Characters
Emma Woodhouse—Protagonist of the novel; youngest daughter of Mr. Woodhouse and his deceased wife; sister of Isabella (Woodhouse) Knightley; mistress of Hartfield estate.
Mr. Woodhouse—Emma’s father; elderly, sedentary master of Hartfield.
Mrs. Weston (Miss Taylor)—Emma’s former governess, now friend; wife of Mr. Weston; mistress of Randalls country house.
Mr. Weston—(Captain Weston)—Retired militia; husband of Mrs. Weston; biological father of Frank Churchill; master of Randalls.
Mr. Knightley (George)—Gentleman farmer and magistrate; master of Donwell Abbey; neighbor and friend of Emma and Mr. Woodhouse.
Mr. Elton—Vicar of Highbury; young bachelor.
Harriet Smith—Illegitimate daughter of unknown persons; placed in Mrs. Goddard’s Boarding School in Highbury; befriended by Emma.
Mrs. and Miss Bates—Widow of former Vicar of Highbury and her spinster daughter; social friends of the Woodhouses; aunt and cousin of Jane Fairfax.
Jane Fairfax—Orphaned niece of Mrs. Bates; taken in by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell who undertook her education; secret fiancée of Frank Churchill.
Mr. and Mrs. Churchill—Aunt and uncle of Frank Weston Churchill whom they adopt; brother and sister-in-law to Miss Churchill, deceased first wife of Mr. Weston.
Frank (Weston) Churchill—Son of Mr. Weston and the deceased Miss Churchill; adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Churchill; brought up in fashionable London society; secret fiancé of Jane Fairfax.
Augusta (Hawkins) Elton—Social climbing wife of Mr. Elton; daughter of tradesman, eager to break into society at Highbury.
John and Isabella (Woodhouse) Knightley—Lawyer brother-in-law and sister of Emma Woodhouse; residing in Brunswick Square in London.
Robert Martin—Tenant of Abbey Mill farm, rented from Mr. (George) Knightley; fond of Harriet Smith.
Elizabeth Martin—Sister of Robert; resident of Abbey Mill; schoolfriend of Harriet.
Mr. and Mrs. Coles—Tradespeople of the village of Highbury, rising in fortune and rank to the upper middle class.
Mrs. Goddard—Mistress of a boarding school.
Mr. and Mrs. Cox—Lawyer family.
The major plot of Knightley's pursuit and mentorship of Emma is set against the subplot of Frank Churchill's pursuit of Jane, creating a dynamic set of main characters who act as foils, revealing each others strengths and weaknesses. Another subplot is Emma's manipulation of Harriet out of the engagement to Robert Martin, and into brief attachments to Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Knightley, before she independently accepts Robert Martin's second proposal. Since Martin remains in the background and Harriet Smith is largely Emma's pawn, it is the Churchill-Fairfax liaison that speaks most precisely to the situation between Knightley and Emma. First Knightley, the older, socially established man exposes the limitations in the younger, still socially dependent Churchill's character: Frank is impulsive, self-centered, garrulous, overtly passionate, and secretly engaged, thus putting Jane Fairfax in a compromised position socially and financially. Knightley is by contrast generous, judicious in his speech, only covertly passionate, and trying to find the right moment to propose to Emma, whom he would never dream of compromising in any social, financial, or other way. The very most he does is annoy her with advice giving. Yet Churchill's pursuit of Jane, and his ultimate good luck, suggest that Knightley is perhaps too reserved and restrained in his passions, and perhaps a bit weary and too easily wounded, refreshingly unlike Churchill, but slightly the loser because of it.
Likewise, Jane Fairfax is held as a mirror up to Emma. Jane is poor (and therefore under pressure to marry) where Emma is wealthy, mature where Emma is young and headstrong, of a developed character while Emma's is still being formed, and suffering herself, whereas Emma is causing suffering in others. Jane is also hemmed in by her role of the poor, secretly engaged...
(The entire section is 1,458 words.)