Miss Emma Woodhouse

Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse in BBC's "Emma" (2009)

The beginning of the book Emma, of course, opens with a description of Emma Woodhouse herself:

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

That opening statement is basically how Emma is for the entire course of the book. She is young, innocent, open-minded, and basically living in her own little world of perfection. She does not know of any troubles in life, other than her mother’s death, but she cares for her community a lot. She is kind of the center of attention of the town, until Jane Fairfax comes. And, the most important thing is that Emma believes that she is a fantastic matchmaker. The book starts with the wedding of two people whom she set up, Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. Mrs. Weston, like her friend Harriet Smith who later fills her shoes, believes that Emma can do no wrong.
“Where shall we see a better daughter or a kinder sister or a truer friend? . . . She will make no lasting blunder; where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times.” – Mrs. Weston in Chapter Five

“She had always wanted to do everything, and had made more progress, both in drawing and music, than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang — and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command and ought not to have failed of. She was not much deceived as to her own skill either as an artist or a musician, but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.”

(Chapter 6)

Mrs. Weston, like Harriet Smith, does not see the faults of Emma, while Mr. Knightley is one to point them out. Her father, Mr. Woodhouse, also absolutely loves her. Emma is intelligent, but is also mistaken a lot of the time. She is narcissistic; she thinks that she is the best at everything until Miss Jane Fairfax comes. But, in another sense, she is kind, compassionate, caring, and she is able to realize her mistakes; however, she is also meddlesome, even whenever she tries not to be. She does not want to wed, but is also very confused on the subject of love; especially in the lives of other people. She is basically a character who is sometimes hard to like, but is actually pretty comical in her mistakes and her mind-set. I like her a lot, mainly because she is pretty ignorant to things that are happening right under her nose. Her “world” does not always go the way that she plans, but she truly cares for the people of Highbury.


Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley in "Emma" (1996)

Mr. Knightley is basically the man of the novel. He is rich, he is kind, he is caring, he lives in an amazing house, and he is attractive. He is Emma’s closest friend, and her sister’s brother-in-law. Mr. Knightley is also a very interesting character, like Emma, Harriet Smith, and Jane Fairfax, in the subject of love; most importantly, he is unmarried. George Knightley is a true gentleman for having all of the wealth that he has. He cares about people like Miss Bates and Miss Harriet Smith, and he also cares about Emma’s interference in Harriet’s life. Mr. Knightley serves kind of as a watchdog older brother of Emma’s sometimes improper actions, and the truly nice guy of the town. He offers his hand to dance with Harriet Smith, when nobody else does; which, honestly shows what type of guy he is.

“You might not see one in a hundred with gentleman so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley.”

Although he is around sixteen years older than Emma, Harriet, and Miss Jane Fairfax, they all still consider him to be a great tea-time friend. Although, sometimes condescending to Emma to keep her from overstepping her boundaries, George Knightley is basically the epitome of chivalry and receives the attention of many single women in the story. The only fault I can think of him is that he points out the faults in Emma.

“Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them….” (Chapter One)

Tamisan Greig as Miss Bates in BBC's "Emma" (2009)

Miss Bates is not one of the major characters in the novel, but as described below from Chapter Three of the novel, she is a character with an amazing heart; but she is an unmarried woman in a time where marriage is very important. Miss Bates and her mother, Mrs. Bates, are the people who Jane Fairfax comes to live with in Highbury. Miss Bates gossips for pages when she speaks. Emma makes fun of her once, and receives major backlash from her commentary on Miss Bates; and, Miss Bates starts to think that it is her fault that Emma does not like her. I think that Miss Bates is primarily included to provide an example of somebody who is kind, but is unwed at the time; I think that she shows Emma what her future may be like if she does not actually wed someone. She also is one of the reasons why news spreads so quickly around town.

“Her [Mrs. Bates] daughter [Miss Bates] enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother and the endeavor to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, a woman whom no one named without goodwill. It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved everybody, was interested in everybody’s happiness, quick-sighted to everybody’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbors and friends and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody and a mine of felicity to herself.” Chapter 3

Miss Harriet Smith

Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith in BBC's "Emma" Series (1996)

Harriet Smith is probably a combination of the funniest and saddest character in the book Emma. She is chosen as the girl who will marry Mr. Elton, if only in Emma’s mind. She attended Mrs. Goddard’s school and lived in the boarding house. She is, basically, an orphan, and the only news of her father is that he recently paid more money to have her room upgraded at the boarding house.
An excerpt from Chapter Three describes her:

“She was a very pretty girl, and her beauty happened to be of a sort which Emma particularly admired. She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness, and, before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance.”

She becomes very attached to Emma. She is always around Emma’s house, called Hartfield, and basically begins to idolize Emma Woodhouse. She even listens to Emma’s subtle hints to not marry Mr. Martin, who is seems she actually loves at the beginning of the book, because his lack of class, lack of money, and because his proposal letter was too short. However, I think that she is actually an intelligent person, just a little bit over-whelmed by the new life which Emma created for her. Harriet’s love life is one of the most important plots of the entire story. It seems that she falls for every single bachelor in the book. Emma actually seems to really appreciate Harriet, and believes that she is a good match for anyone, even though she really has no known background at all.

Even the very kind Mr. Knightley states this about the friendship between Emma and Harriet in Chapter Five:

“I do not pretend to Emma’s genius for foretelling and guessing. I hope, with all my heart, the young man may be a Weston in merit, and a Churchill in fortune.–But Harriet Smith–I have not half done about Harriet Smith. I think her the very worst sort of companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing. She is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority? And as for Harriet, I will venture to say that she cannot gain by the acquaintance.”

Harriet has a very important role in the story; her actions, and the actions to those around her, such as Mr. Elton, culminate to a pretty funny, yet sometimes sad story of her new life.

Who Was Jane Austen?

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 as was second youngest child in her family; she was the seventh born to Cassandra and George Austen. Her family was not rich, but still made a respectable amount of money; her father was a clergyman. For one year, Jane and her sister, also named Cassandra, went to a boarding school similar to the boarding school described as Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma. She did much of her learning at her own home, and learned things such as piano and how to draw. Jane became very acquainted with the literature and novels of her day. She was a fan of social events and visits to larger towns and places like London.

At the age of seventy, her father decided to retire to Bath, England. Bath is mentioned numerous times by a character in Emma, Mrs. Elton, whom Emma greatly dislikes suggests that Mr. Woodhouse take a trip to bath to help him relax. Jane Austen, like Emma in this example, also responded negatively to Bath:

Bath, England

“Ah! that’s a great pity; for I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, where the waters do agree, it is quite wonderful the relief they give. In my Bath life, I have seen such instances of it! And it is so cheerful a place, that it could not fail of being of use to Mr. Woodhouse’s spirits, which, I understand, are sometimes much depressed. And as to its recommendations to you, I fancy I need not take much pains to dwell on them. The advantages of Bath to the young are pretty generally understood. It would be a charming introduction for you, who have lived so secluded a life; and I could immediately secure you some of the best society in the place. A line from me would bring you a little host of acquaintance; and my particular friend, Mrs. Partridge, the lady I have always resided with when in Bath, would be most happy to shew you any attentions, and would be the very person for you to go into public with.” (Chapter 32)
Emma’s thought of going to Bath, was that the trip was “out of the question”.

Jane Austen wrote a total of six novels, and is most known for her novel Pride and Prejudice which was formerly titled First Impressions and was denied by the editor, without him even looking at it. Austen also dedicated the book Emma to George IV at his request, because he was a fan, even though she did not really like him. Jane Austen soon died on July 18, 1817 at the age of 41, because of Addison’s disease.

Mr. Elton is one of the more bland characters of the novel toward the end of the book, but at the beginning of the book he is basically the bachelor who Emma wants to make her next matchmaking target. He is the new town vicar, he is wealthy, and he is overall, a pretty amiable, yet sometimes bland, character. He is introduced in the first chapter of the book after Miss Taylor is mentioned as successfully having wed someone Emma introduced her to, Mr. Weston. Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, tells Emma that she should no longer interfere with the love lives of people; Emma responds to this stating:

“Only one more papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton! You like Mr. Elton, papa, — I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him – and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably that it would be a shame to have him single any longer – and I thought when he was joining their hands to-day, he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kind of office done for him!” (Taken from Chapter One)

Emma offers to do a portrait of Miss Smith, and Mr. Elton is very enthusiastic about the idea. He believes the painting is amazing, and even sets off right away to get the portrait framed in London, personally. Emma believes he does so to show off the portrait of such a pretty girl to his family.

Harriet Smith, a lower-class, basically no-name for herself girl, is claimed as Emma’s new Miss Taylor; and with that, the quest for love between the two of them is set. Mr. Elton’s show of love for Miss Smith is iffy, but Emma Woodhouse believes it is apparent that Mr. Elton returns the love for Harriet. He even sends a sort of pre-proposal puzzle in the mail. One funny set-up between them is when Emma decides she is going to pretend like she has lost her shoelace, and let them have a moment alone. However, the two do not take the opportunity to have an intimate moment. Mr. Elton is not all he appears to be and he falls in love with someone else other than what Emma had planned.

Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill in "Emma" (2009)

Frank Churchill is the son of Mr. Weston, and the step-son of Emma’s previous governess, Miss Taylor, now Mrs. Weston. The first thing that I noticed about him was that he did not bear his father’s last name. That is because he was raised by Mr. Weston’s deceased wife’s family, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill (his aunt and uncle). He is an attractive fellow that comes from his house in Enscombe to visit his father in Highbury for the first time to see his father. Frank is kind of the talk of the town, and everybody has expectations of how wonderful he is going to be. He does have a few odd things about him; first of all, he goes sixteen miles just to get a haircut; odd right?

He also seems to be more of a “mama’s boy”, but instead of his mother he is very dependent on his aunt. Mr. Knightley has sort of a loathing attitude toward Frank. Emma has a curiosity and kind of air of confusion about her relation to Frank Churchill, and the rest of the town’s relation to him is mainly admiration. Emma especially thinks that Harriet Smith has moved on to the “new kid in town” over Mr. Elton. She thinks this mainly because of an incident involving a group of gypsies, who were mainly children, and Frank Churchill saving Harriet, and less obvious actions. But, Frank is definitely an interesting sociable and “perfect” character; much like Emma herself. Frank is yet another man added into the strange love triangle, or more of a love octagon, it seems, that appears in the book.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 39 about the account of which Harriet told Emma:

“A child on the watch, came towards them to beg; and Miss Bickerton, excessively frightened, gave a great scream, and calling on Harriet to follow her, ran up a steep bank, cleared a slight hedge at the top, and made the best of her way by a short cut back to Highbury. But poor Harriet could not follow. She had suffered very much from cramp after dancing, and her first attempt to mount the bank brought on such a return of it as made her absolutely powerless; and in this state, and exceedingly terrified, she had been obliged to remain.

How the trampers might have behaved, had the young ladies been more courageous, must be doubtful; but such an invitation for attack could not be resisted; and Harriet was soon assailed by half a dozen children, headed by a stout woman and a great boy, all clamorous, and impertinent in look, though not absolutely in word. More and more frightened, she immediately promised them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more, or to use her ill. She was then able to walk, though but slowly, and was moving away — but her terror and her purse were too tempting, and she was followed, or rather surrounded, by the whole gang, demanding more.

In this state Frank Churchill had found her, she trembling and conditioning, they loud and insolent. By a most fortunate chance his leaving Highbury had been delayed so as to bring him to her assistance at this critical moment.”