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
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
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
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
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."
DISCUSSION OF EMMA