The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.
This quotation occurs early in the novel, shortly after Emma has been introduced as the protagonist. Throughout the text, the narrator presents a reliable analyses of characters and events. This discerning judgement also appears in Mr. Knightley, who serves as the character manifestation of the narrator. In this particular quotation, the narrator expresses the primary conflict of the novel: Emma's self-centered nature and the fact that she does not recognize it herself. By the end of the novel, Emma develops in maturity and self-awareness until she becomes the heroine that both the narrator and Mr. Knightley would like her to be.
I never thought of Miss Smith in the whole course of my existence--never paid her any attentions but as your friend: never cared whether she were dead or alive, but as your friend. If she has fancied otherwise, her own wishes have misled her, and I am very sorry--extremely sorry--But, Miss Smith, indeed!--Oh! Miss Woodhouse! who can think of Miss Smith, when MIss Woodhouse is near!
This quotation is spoken by Mr. Elton, immediately after he has professed her love for Emma in the carriage after the party on Christmas Eve. This is the first point in the novel that Emma realizes the extent of her poor judgement. While she was preoccupied with the idea of matching Mr. Elton and Harriet (and encouraging Harriet's expectations), she completely overlooked the truth of Mr. Elton's motives. This passage also serves as a reminder of the omnipresent class structure in the novel; despite Harriet's pleasing nature, she is socially inferior to Mr. Elton and could not be a suitable match. Ironically, Mr. Elton's proposal to Emma is equally inappropriate as he, himself, is her social inferior.
Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through--and very good lists they were--very well chosen, and very neatly arranged--sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule...But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding.
This quotation is spoken by Mr. Knightley and is the first time in the novel that any character expresses a negative view of Emma. Although he cares for her greatly, Mr. Knightley is still able to recognize Emma's bad qualities and make an effort to help her improve. All of the other influential figures in Emma's life--her father, her sister, even Mrs. Weston--indulge her to her own detriment. Mr. Knightley's critique of Emma reveals his discerning judgement (as the character manifestation of the narrator), as well as his understanding of Emma's nature. He is the only character who truly knows her, good qualities and bad.
A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress; she touched--she admitted--she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Although Emma is well-meaning in the novel, she is also surprisingly blind to her own desires and emotions. It is only after she faces the prospect of losing Mr. Knightley to Harriet that she realizes that she has feelings for him. After all of her mistakes with Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and Miss Bates, it is this error in judgement that is most unexpected for Emma: the realization that all of her vows against love and marriage have distracted her from the truth of her emotions. Significantly, just as Mr. Knightley guided Emma in her other mistakes, he serves as the catalyst for Emma's epiphany about herself.
This is not pleasant to you, Emma--and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,--I will tell you truths while I can, satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now.
This quotation is spoken by Mr. Knightley after the picnic at Box Hill when Emma publicly insulted Miss Bates. Here again, Mr. Knightley takes on the role of the critical guide who chastises Emma when no one else will. Mr. Knightley admits that he does not like assuming such a role, but he feels that it is duty as Emma's friend to be completely honest. While Emma is emotionally devastated by this interaction, she realizes that Mr. Knightley is correct in his assessment. This continues the theme of Mr. Knightley as the only character who truly knows Emma; it also foreshadows her later discovery of her feelings for him. Interestingly, this quotation also gives insight into Mr. Knightley's feelings for Emma, as his criticism is a direct result of Frank Churchill's negative influence on Emma.
With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of everybody's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing--for she had done mischief.
This quotation comes at the key moment of Emma's discovery of her own faults. In Quotation #1, the narrator made it clear that Emma's self-involved ignorance of her own faults was a major conflict of the novel, and here, she describes the violent of Emma's epiphany. Although she may have been well-meaning, Emma's conceit and arrogance informed her behavior toward those around her and ultimately caused more problems. With this moment of clarity, Emma is no longer a problematic heroine; she transforms into the compassionate and self-aware woman that Mr. Knightley has been striving to help her become.
He had misinterpreted the feelings which had kept her face averted, and her tongue motionless. They were combined only of anger against herself, mortification, and deep concern...Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of his representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates!--How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!
This quotation describes Emma's reaction to Mr. Knightley's criticism of her behavior to Miss Bates at the picnic at Box Hill. Although Mr. Knightley assumes that Emma is angry with him, the narrator reveals that Emma is actually angry with herself. She realizes the truth of what she has done, and, in addition to regretting her actions toward Miss Bates, seems most ashamed that she has lost Mr. Knightley's good opinion. Emma is also upset by her failure to thank Mr. Knightley for his criticism. While others in her life only coddle and indulge her, Mr. Knightley actually has higher expectations, a fact that Emma appreciates more than she has realized in the past.
I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have bourne it. --Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them.
This quotation is spoken by Mr. Knightley at the point of his proposal to Emma. As in the rest of the novel, Mr. Knightley maintains his emphasis on truth and honesty. Unlike the rest of Highbury, Mr. Knightley has always told Emma the truth, even when she did not want to hear it. This has been an expression of his great respect for Emma and his refusal to see her ruined by the indulgence of her family. Now that they have reached a point of mutual understanding, Mr. Knightley hopes to have a marriage of similar honesty and equality. The focus on equality is particularly important. Emma and Mr. Knightley are equal in social status and intelligence, but they are also equal in the way they interact with each other.
She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintances, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. It would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind undertaking; highly becoming her own station in life, her leisure, and powers.
This quotation describes Emma's thought process after first meeting Harriet Smith. Emma immediately perceives Harriet as a project, as raw material that can be shaped into an ideal upper class woman. Yet, Emma's seemingly "kind" plan also demonstrates her arrogance and lack of consideration for others. Emma assumes that Harriet must be "improved" and that she is the only member of Highbury society who is capable of creating such improvement. However, as it becomes clear later on, Emma only succeeds in making Harriet deny her feelings for Mr. Martin and assume an affected persona that is inappropriate for her actual social status. Emma makes the mistake of trying to improve someone else, instead of improving herself.
Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect...It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quick-sighted to every body's merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbors and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and a mine of felicity to herself.
This quotation describes Miss Bates, the novel's characterization of the poor, unmarried woman. Although Emma has money, intelligence, and security, she is unique among most of the women in Jane Austen's time period. Miss Bates represents a more typical scenario: a woman with little intellectual background who was unable to find a husband (and financial security) during her youth. With a diminishing annual income, Miss Bates has little to look forward to and relies primarily on the charity of the Woodhouse family, among others. Yet, in this case, the narrator assures the readers that Miss Bates is not wholly pitiable; despite her unstable situation, she is completely content with her life. Ironically, it is this overwhelming contentment that makes her so popular among the members of Highbury high society.
Emma Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Emma is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.