Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jane Austin's Emma: Miscellaneous Notes

Jane Austen's Technique:

Many of Jane Austen’s characters are memorable for their style of speech. The long monologues of Harriet Smith, Mrs Elton and Miss Bates are pure comic self-revelation. Each has a characteristic way of expressing their thoughts, usually conveyed in the structure of sentences, and their characters can often be clarified by tracing the way their thoughts succeed each other and the way they pass from one subject to the next. However, it is also characteristic of the figures in these novels that they reveal as much about those around them as they do about themselves. 

Similarly, the plots provide regular social gatherings when the behaviour of each character can be observed and interpreted. In most cases there is a discussion of the social event between two or more people, which enables different interpretations to be expressed. The ‘truth’ about a character is thus constantly speculated about and analysed by others. For example, the dinner at the Coles is full of private and public conversations speculating about others’ behaviour. This question of "who sent Miss Fairfax a pianoforte" is the subject of general speculation, then secret guesswork between Emma and Frank Churchill. Next, Mrs Weston and Emma speculate about a romance between Mr Knightley and Miss Fairfax, and Emma and Mr Knightley discuss the pianoforte. The following morning, Emma and Harriet discuss the previous evening’s gathering.

Jane Austen's distinctive technique invites the reader to observe in other characters qualities which both unexpectedly resemble and differ from those in the central one. Thus, the heroine's moral nature is dramatically displayed for us at levels of which she is not conscious.

Austen's style:

Emma is in fact most perfect work. It combines all the qualities for which Austen has been most admired while Swift and Defoe deals with political, social and religious issues, Austen focuses on limited social environment. Her novels mainly talk about themes of marriage, social hierarchy and hypocrisy. Thus, Austen is concerned with a very narrow and limited area of human experience. Politics and religion do not enter into any of her discussions. The most outstanding social issue in her novel is marriage which is viewed in the context of English class structure of the time. Marriage is the dominant theme.

Austen uses social criticism to discuss the social flaws in her society. Here, she criticizes the rigidity of the class-consciousness which prevails in her society. She shows how Emma's outlook is governed by consciousness of class-distinction. She also shows that marriage is not a game. It should be based on love. Love is more important than social status or money for the marital relationship.

Austen also criticizes self-deception as a social and personal disease. It makes the human being detached from the truth.

Austen focuses on the importance of being intellectual. Although Emma is an intelligent girl, she cannot be described as an intellectual. The intellect is the ability to reason. The intellectual is a person who works and lives by using his mind and who is interested in activities which include thinking and understanding rather than feeling. The reader sees that Emma is indulged in self-deception. She wastes her time in trivial activities. She never completes reading a book, or painting a picture. Austen criticizes the people of this society who usually spend their time in gossiping. They waste their time instead of filling the gap. Emma is content with her ideal life. She does not make use of her spare time. She is inexperienced and all her ideas are based on fancy.

Austen uses irony in order to criticize Emma's self-deception and flaws. The irony lies in the contrast between what Emma believes she can do and what really happens. The whole account of Emma's plans and endeavors regarding the match between Harriet and Elton is prevailed by irony. Thus, irony arises from a contrast between what Emma thinks herself to be and what she really is.

Austen has a feminine style. She talks about marriage, match-making, social parties, and classes. She is considered a region writer. She writes about certain region that she knows very well. She talks about the middle class customs and way of thinking.

Austen uses the third person method of narration. This method allows the reader to be in contact with the character's inner feeling and thoughts.


The dialogue adds to the realistic atmosphere. It makes the novel vivid. For instance, the dialogue between Mrs. Weston and Emma in which Mrs. Weston tells Emma that Frank is going to get married to Jane. The repetition, the choice of words, and the punctuation makes the dialogue very logical, interesting and vivid.

It also gives information about the characters. First, we know the one who speaks through his words, e.g. Mr. Knightley is a good observer when he tells Emma that Elton loves her. Second, we know about other characters, e.g. we know a lot about Miss Fairfax through the other's dialogues.

It sheds light on the setting. It also pushes the events of the plot forward. It creates the logicality, and the it makes the novel more interesting.

The First Triangle:

The first chapters concern Emma's abortive scheme to marry Harriet to Mr Elton. With part of her mind, she despises both of them on personal grounds. She knows that the vicar is an empty and socially aspiring young man and that Harriet's only intrinsic merits are her prettiness and her artless sweetness of nature. But she represses this contempt by concentrating on their social relationship. She has decided that Harriet deserves a superior social status, and Mr Elton has one; this is enough for the game she is playing. When the vicar professes to be enraptured by her portrait of Harriet, which she knows to be mediocre, and rushes off to London to get it framed, she thinks the game is won. She is then outraged by his offering of marriage to herself. Her indignation is comic because she is unable to draw from it the obvious lesson that in encouraging Harriet's feeling for the vicar and despising him for herself. She is betraying arrogance, all the worse because she attributes to him the very motives which have operated on Harriet's behalf.

However, realising that she may have deeply injured Harriet by giving her false hopes, she learns at least the danger of trying to direct her affection. But she cannot undo the role she has invented for herself, the conception of herself as mentor which she has implanted in Harriet, nor can she cancel Harriet's elevated expectations. Of these, by poetic justice, Emma it to find herself the astonished victim. As bad is to be Emma's mortifying discovery that she, mistress of the game of intrigue, is to have been a pawn in Frank Churchill's intrigue at the expense of Jane Fairfax.