THE ENDING (PAGES 346-412)
Because of time constraints, I have to
move on to Thackeray; on the other hand, there are topics I do not want
to omit. So I created this page to touch upon some issues raised by the
ending, to stimulate your thinking about the novel, to suggest paper
topics, and to help you study for the midterm. The questions and brief
comments are arranged by category. I have followed the same procedure
in Other Issues
lists a range of critical perspectives on the novel.
Initially, Emma discouraged Mr. Knightley
from revealing his feelings about, as she thought, Harriet. But on
perceiving his pain, she decided against going indoors and encouraged
him to speak, "cost her what it would" (p. 367). Did her decision
indicate a moral and emotional magnanimity or largeness? Did it show
her capacity to place the well being of someone she loved before
herself? (Was this trait also operant in her relationship with her
Was Mr. Knightley rational in his proposal
or was he carried away by his feelings? The narrator refers to "the
momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment" (p. 370). Do you think
he was aware of any growth or change in Emma? Or was he possibly
responding, consciously or unconsciously, to a more receptive attitude
toward himself? Was he rational and sensible when he thought of Emma as
"faultless in spite of all her faults" (p. 371)? Incidentally, how can
Emma be "faultless in spite of all her faults"?
What values does Austen's description of
Emma's accepting him assume? For instance, the narrator comments:
for as to any of that heroism of sentiment
which might have prompted her to entreat him to transfer his affection
from herself to Harriet as infinitely the most worthy of the two–or
even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and
forever, without vouchsafing any motive because he could not marry them
both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet with pain and with
contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that
could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain. (p.369)
Do the words "heroism of sentiment" and "sublimity" indicate that
Austen approves of these feelings and, by extension, would approve of
Emma's rejecting him? Or are they used ironically to indicate an
excessive sentiment or sentimentalism at the expense of reason? Lionel
Stevenson provides a good definition of sentiment or sentimentalism, as
the "wilful refusal to face unpleasant or brutal facts, easy indulgence
in shallow and insincere emotions, and assumption of a refined
sensibility." Consider Austen's use of "flight of generosity run mad"
in this passage. And is Harriet in fact superior to Emma and a
preferable bride for Mr. Knightley?
Many readers are upset by Austen's failure
to provide a touching or emotional love scene. Rather than describing
Emma's response and the love passage that presumably took place between
Emma and Mr. Knightley, all Austen says is, "What did she say? Just
what she ought, of course. A lady always does" (p. 369). Is this an
evasion, a serious flaw in the novel? Does it show that Austen is
incapable of depicting passion or that she herself lacks strong
feelings? Certainly Charlotte Brontë thought so.
ENGAGEMENT TO MR. KNIGHTLEY
Was Mr. Knightley an appropriate husband for Emma? A
character in Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall wonders, "What
can it have been like, in bed with Mr. Knightley? Sorrow awaited that
woman." Arguing for Mr. Knightley as a good choice, Lionel Trilling
says, "she chooses her husband wisely and seriously and eagerly."
Was he really a father substitute? Mr. Woodhouse barely
counted as a father. Mr. Knightley, sixteen years older than Emma,
called her "a spoiled child" and "little Emma." Or was he, as at least
once critic suggests, a mother substitute? After all, he moved
into Hartfield and lived with Emma and her father.
Emma has been charged with being sexually cold and so
marrying Mr. Knightley.
THE ENGAGEMENT OF
FRANK AND JANE
Was Frank and Jane's marriage based on
romantic passion? Did passion overpower their judgment? Frank said that
he would have gone mad if Jane had refused him; Jane agreed to a secret
engagement in violation of her own sense of right behavior and of
society's values. Emma pitied Jane for yielding to passion or excessive
"Poor girl!" said Emma again. "She loves him,
then, excessively, I suppose. It must have been from attachment only
that she could be led to form the engagement. Her affection must have
overpowered her judgment." (pp. 359-60)
Mrs. Weston agreed with Emma's assessment, "Yes, I have no doubt of her
being extremely attached to him" (p. 360).
Was Frank and Jane's passionate love
intended to contrast with the companionable love of Emma and Knightley?
Their love has also been called "intelligent love." The anonymous
reviewer who coined this phrase asserted that intelligent love, "the
giving and receiving of knowledge, the active formation of another's
character, or the more passive growth, under another's guidance is the
truest and strongest foundation of love." Which marriage and type of
love does Austen prefer? Which type of love provides the stronger basis
for a successful marriage in Austen's scale of values, if not in yours?
Does Austen ignore the fact that Frank
kept the engagement secret in order to inherit the Churchill money?
Would focusing on this fact affect the reader's view of Frank? Does she
make clear what Frank would have done if Mrs. Churchill had lived?
Is Emma's marriage a happy one? Austen
says, in the final sentence of the novel, "the wishes, the hopes, the
confidence, the predictions of the small band of true lovers who
witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of
the union" (p. 412). Nevertheless, many readers see the marriage as
doomed to unhappiness; what other result is possible with Mr.
Knightley's giving up his own home and having to live with Mr.
Woodhouse? Others argue that Emma has not changed significantly, as
shown by her not telling him about Harriet during their engagement; nor
do they believe that she will tell them once they are married. Even if
they are right, does her reticence necessarily spell problems? Austen
seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can
it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little
mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken,
the feelings are not, it may not be very material. Mr. Knightley could
not impute to Emma a more relenting heart than she possessed or a heart
more disposed to accept of his. (p. 369)
Is Austen exonerating Emma's withholding information? If so, does this
statement inevitably justify Emma's behavior, since Austen says such
not be significant; this is not, of course, the
saying it is not
significant. Is Austen being realistic about
human behavior and accepting Emma's reticence, or is she being ironic
and so implying problems ahead for the marriage?
Does ending with Emma's marriage avoid
dealing with implicit issues?
Does having Emma and Mr. Knightley live
with her father after marriage enable Austen to ignore her problematic
relationship with her father?
Does Emma deserve to be happy? Is it right
that she is not punished for her misdeeds? Are these even valid
Their marriage is facilitated and Mr.
Woodhouse's objections are removed for a comic and undignified reason,
a rash of chicken thefts. With this device, is Austen emotionally
distancing the reader from the romance and marriage, to prevent a
stereotyped and sentimental response to weddings and happy endings?
The novel opens with one wedding and
closes with three weddings. Also, it both opens with Emma, Mrs.
Woodhouse, and Mr. Knightley together at Hartfield and closes with them
together at Hartfield. Is the ending suggested by the beginning?
DISCUSSION OF EMMA