Discuss Jane Austen’s portrayal of her central character in the opening chapters of the novel
Emma by Jane Austen can be described as a social satire of the Regency Age and was first published in 1816.Austen uses the omniscient narrator to immediately introduce the central character, eponymous heroine Emma Woodhouse, in the opening chapter of the novel by describing her as “handsome, clever and rich with a comfortable home and a happy disposition,” and saying how she “seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence,” with very “little to distress or vex her.However, Austen’s use of the word “seemed” may indicate that the reality of Emma’s perfect and privileged life may affect her interaction with others and consequently cause her to have many flaws due to the fact that she is good looking, indulged and allowed “rather too much her own way.
” Emma may be described as an exception to society in the way that she is a financially independent with a fortune of thirty thousand pounds, a vast amount of money in the Regency age.
During this period, many women needed to marry for financial stability and some marriages tended to resemble business contracts as opposed to true love because so much was based on this factor. Perhaps Emma’s situation means that she may be one of the few women who is able to marry for love as opposed to finance? Austen often portrays Emma as a meddlesome and interfering character in the opening of the novel.
These traits really come across when Mr Knightley, Austen’s voice of reason, discusses Harriet’s refusal of Mr Martin, an “intelligent gentleman-farmer,” and blames Emma’s influence for her turning down a man who is more than her equal in class and status, factors influential to most marriages in the Regency Age. Austen highlights this importance by referring to different social ranks as the “first set” and the “second set. ” Mr Knightley guides and advises Emma with well-balanced thoughts and advice that genuinely penetrates through her self-deluding personality.
Mr Knightley states realistically that Emma is wrong to meddle with Harriet and encourage her to pursue Mr Elton; he describes Harriet as “not a sensible girl,” with “no respectable relations” illustrating the importance of marrying within the right social class and also a weakness in the character of Emma Woodhouse due to the fact that she manipulates situations to suit what she wants and can sometimes avoid reality if it does not agree with her.
This weakness can go on to affect and hurt others, for example raising Harriet’s hopes and expectations of marrying above her even though this is unlikely to happen. Another character who is responsible for Emma’s behaviour is her father, Mr Woodhouse. Mr Woodhouse is at fault due to the fact that he is an over “indulgent and affectionate” father who fails to see weaknesses in his youngest daughter’s character, therefore being unable to correct her mistakes and teach Emma how to consider other people’s feelings.
Emma’s father is also described as “dearly loved” by her but “no companion” due to his age and distance from her. Emma’s loss of her mother may also affect her personality and explain why she has become so strong-willed and independent minded. The only female influences she has really benefited from include her sister Isabella who moved out after marrying Mr John Knightley and Mrs Taylor her governess who marries Mr Weston, a match Emma feels she is responsible for creating.
As well as living within a class-conscious society, Emma conforms to the proper and polite tradition of behaviour, regarded highly at the time. When Mr John Knightley and Isabella come to stay, Emma’s “sense of right,” permits that Mr Knightley dines with them. However, Mr Woodhouse is slightly “against the inclination” that “anyone should share with him in Isabella’s first day. ” This “sense of right” illustrates how Emma feels it is important to act properly and conform to social etiquette in line with what is “right. ”
Although Emma is described as a “spoiled child” by John Knightley, Austen also illustrates how self-contained her life is on Isabella’s visit. Emma urges them not to “talk of the sea” because it makes her “miserable” and “envious” as “she has never seen it. ” Emma’s life seems circled around little more than painting and playing the piano and this may be why she feels the need to meddle with other people’s relationships for her own amusement. Overall, Austen introduces many themes and social rules and regulations along with the introduction of Emma Woodhouse.
Emma seems to be a very lucky and privileged individual although she does not always make the best of her advantageous situation causing her to have an arrogant and self-righteous side to her personality. Emma’s situation is not normal and her fortune sets her aside from other women as she does not need to marry for the sake of financial gain and security, this sets her aside from being an accurate reflection of social interaction of the times. However, Emma’s conformity when it comes to social class rules and etiquette illustrates the class conscious society of Regency England and the importance of propriety.