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, 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 The Ending. Quotations lists a range of critical
perspectives on the novel.
In what sense is Emma a comic character–in being witty and
having a sense of humor or in being ridiculous so often? Or
isn't she comic?
Emma's fancy, rather than good sense, dominated when
indulged in stereotypical romantic fantasies–e.g., meeting
Mr. Elton on an errand of charity would increase his love
for Harriet, rescuing Harriet from gypsies would encourage
Frank to fall in love with her, and the love-struck Mr.
Elton spent the evening in London sentimentally admiring
Harriet's portrait. It also created theories which hid the
truth from her; love lets Elton see ready wit in Harriet,
Mr. Elton's talk of the menu of a dinner would lead to love;
Mr. Elton quickly accepted Mr. John Knightley's offer of a ride because
single men had a propensity for eating out.
Did Emma push against the limits imposed by her
Did Mr. Knightley assert and uphold those limits?
In view of the fact that Emma never separated from her
father and that she learned to see the world as Knightley saw it,
was she ever truly autonomous? Despite her wealth and lack
of obvious restraints, was Emma truly free? Was Jane Fairfax
superior to Emma in choosing love over society's rules?
This novel has been called a bildungsroman, a novel
of education. Generally in a bildungsroman, the protagonist
matures as a result of gaining important insights into the
self and/or the world. A crucial question in Emma is
whether Emma changed and, if she did, how significant the
change was. Also, did her growth entail any loss?
Emma decided that Frank would be an appropriate match
Harriet, that she would not encourage Harriet, and that
they would not mention his name. What did she learn from
the Elton fiasco and what didn't she learn?
Did Emma finally give up her fancy and manipulation of
others? what about her scheme to get Harriet out of the way by sending
her to Isabella's in London? She professed a preference
for openness and honesty, even though she didn't tell Mr.
Knightley about Harriet. Do you think she tells him after
they are married?
If you see Mr. Knightley as the upholder of society's
values, did Emma need to learn the principles he inculcated? Do
you agree with those critics who believe she had to change
before she would be a good wife for Mr. Knightley or even
that she had to change in order to be worthy of him?
Was Emma's change in attitude toward Miss Bates (p.
toward Jane (p. 328), and toward her fantasy about Mr. Dixon
(p. 332) significant? If significant, do you think the change
Was there a significant change in her attitude and
feelings toward Harriet when she thought Harriet was in love with
Frank (p. 346)? when she knew Harriet was in love with Mr.
Knightley (pp. 351-8)?
Did Emma perceive and take responsibility for her
misguided behavior and self-created delusions? Consider
the following passage: "She was most sorrowfully indignant,
ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her–her
affection for Mr. Knightley. Every other part of her mind
was disgusting" (p. 355).
Did Miss Bates's compulsive talking suggest a narrow life
with few outlets? A number of critics suggest that the the
narrowness of her life and the dark side of life are symbolized
by her caution to Emma and Harriet that "ours is a rather dark
staircase–rather darker and narrower than one would wish" (p. 216).
Did Emma avoid Miss Bates because her praise of Jane
not gratify Emma's need for praise and preeminence?
Does the reader's attitude toward Miss Bates change
because of her pain at Box Hill?
In the opening scene, Emma was isolated with her father, but
her anxieties were dissipated by Mr. Knightley's arrival.
As the novel progressed, she became increasingly involved
with social activities (dinner at the Westons, dinner for
the Eltons, Coles' dinner, the ball at the Crown, the outing
to Donwell Abbey, and the excursion to Box Hill). Simultaneously,
her social circle enlarged (Harriet, Mrs. Elton, Frank, Jane).
With Jane's engagement, Mrs. Weston's baby, her cruelty to
Miss Bates, and Mrs. Knightley's assumed marriage to Harriet,
Emma was again isolated, with her father as her primary companion.
And again Mr. Knightley rescued her. Did her isolation, however
temporary, result from the expression of her self and her
self-interest? Was the free expression of self and self-interest (e.g.,
and Emma) a threat to society?
Emma uses the term elegant as high praise. Often it
means elegance of mind, or a sensitivity to human values.
Elegance also indicates a polished manner and appearance.
Mr. Knightley expressed his disapproval of Frank's
behavior and Emma's vision of him by contrasting what he called French
amiableness with English amiableness. He was distinguishing
between superficial manners and moral principle. To use
definitions from Johnson's Dictionary, Frank was
"pretending" to concern for others; he was not being "pleasing"
because he had a genuine consideration for the others, as did Mrs.
AUSTEN AND THE
Is Austen uncritically accepting of her society, or is she
concerned with the social responsibility of the privileged
(that is, idealizing their responsibilities and showing the
consequences of not fulfilling them)? Or both?
Does the reader experience characters from the outside
and/or from within?
Does the reader experience Highbury from the outside
and/or from within?
Is one way the narrator keeps up interest in a very
circle of people and in Emma by having characters arrive
in and leave Highbury? Frank was expected and Jane arrived.
Mr. Elton left for Bath and Frank arrived. Frank returned
to Enscomb and Mrs. Elton arrived.
Is Austen, as a prisoner of her society (if she is),
to say what she likes about it? (This is the most difficult
question and one I offer as a brain teaser; I will not base
a test question on it.)
Does Austen use the weather to reflect the feelings and
situations of the characters? Emma heard the news of Frank's impending
arrival in the spring. Mr. Elton's proposal occurred during
a snowstorm; her distress was mirrored by an intensified
snow storm which temporarily cut them off. When Emma feared
that she had lost Mr. Knightley, a "cold stormy rain set
in." The next day, he and the sun reappeared. Her marriage
occurred during October, a time of harvest and fruition.
DISCUSSION OF EMMA
|Day 2 (M, Feb. 4)
||Austen, Emma, pp. 7-102
Point of View and The Narrator
| Day 3 (W, Feb. 6)
||Emma, pp. 103-209
Emma, Harriet, and Mr.
| Day 4 (M, Feb. 11)
||Emma, pp. 209-317
|Day 5 (W, Feb. 13)
||Emma, pp. 317-412
The Ending (Pages 346-412)
Web paper due (1-2 pages)