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These quotations are intended to stimulate your thinking about the novel. Don't accept these interpretations uncritically; test them by applying them to the novel and decide whether they are valid statements about Emma or to what extent may they be valid.. I don't agree with many of them, though I do think they are interesting and useful as approaches into the novel. Parentheses indicate my comments.


Wayne C. Booth: "Though Emma's faults are comic, they constantly threaten to produce serious harm, yet Emma must remain sympathetic or the reader won't wish for or delight in her reform."

—: "Jane is superior to Emma in most respects except the stroke of good fortune that made Emma the heroine of the book. In matter of taste and ability, of head and of heart, she is Emma's superior."

J.F. Burrows: Mr. Knightley is "one fallible creature among others" and certainly not Austen's "spokesman and chief guardian of her values."

Douglas Bush: "Austen does not convince us that a woman with Jane's mind, integrity, emotional intensity could fall and remain in love with such a dubious light-weight as Frank."

Marilyn Butler: "Jane Austen depicts even the best minds as continually fallible, under the pressure of new evidence and potentially undermined from within by selfishness. Her only constants are abstract qualities–directness, honesty, sincerity, humility–the characteristics striven for by people who care about truth. She sees perfectability as a condition of human life, but not perfection." (By extension, this means that continuous effort is necessary in Austen's moral world.)

Alistair M. Duckworth: "Emma in the end chose society rather than self, an inherited order rather than a spontaneous and improvised existence." (Frank and his games are one example of a spontaneous, improvised existence.) Claudia L. Johnson objects that Duckworth's contention "implicitly opposes and prefers the orderly, patriarchal, rational, masculine, and, above all, right to the disorderly, subjectivist, imaginative, feminine and self-evidently wrong."

Arnold Kettle, "Human happiness not abstract principle is her concern."

Wendy Moffat: "Is Emma's marriage a sign of her independence or a chastisement for her delusions of autonomy? How should we read her professed immunity to marriage?"

Marvin Mudrich: Emma is "a confirmed exploiter"; therefore, the ending is ironic.

Martin Price: "The larger irony that informs all of Jane Austen's comic art is a sense of human limitations."

According to Horace Walpole, "Life is a comedy to those think, a tragedy to those who feel." Building on this comment, Ian Watt suggests that Jane Austen's novels, which are comedies, "have little appeal to those who believe thought inferior to feeling."

Joseph Wiesenfarth: "Once Emma knows herself and others, she is ready to accept the responsibility of the bride of George Knightley" (i.e., she is worthy of him and able to fulfill the social responsibilities of the wife of a man in his social position).

---: Mr. Woodhouse is "an example of a radical detachment from reality...who spins out a world of his own... he is the most gentle and egocentric character in Emma. His daughter is in no immediate danger of absorbing her father's gentleness, but he represents the danger of detachment from reality by way of egotism that she is liable to. Certainly Mr. Woodhouse has everything his way. Indeed, he is the only character in the novel who continuously has Emma under his control."

John Wiltshire: "Frank presents the possibility of seeing things another way–one that allows much more to impetuosity and surprise, to passion and risk-taking. In this view Mr. Woodhouse would be seen as blocking the way, a man whose depressive fussiness inhibits and shuts down opportunities and possibilities of life, and Mr. Knightley's masculine rationality and rule-giving an attempt to contain and organize a world that is actually much more volatile."


 Day 1
Austen, Emma, pp. 7-102
  Austen Overview
  Point of View and The Narrator
 Day 2 Emma, pp. 103-209
  Emma, Harriet, and Mr. Elton
 Day 3
Emma, pp. 209-317
  Day 4
Emma, pp. 317-412
  Mr. Knightley
  Women's Lot
  The Ending (Pages 346-412)
  Other Issues
Web paper due (1-2 pages)

January 26, 2009