In Jane Austen’s Emma, the audience is introduced to a young lady of stature and grace, Emma Woodhouse. Emma’s character evolves as the novel progresses and we observe her as she develops into a mature and wise woman. She has a strong desire to see love conquer all, and in her innocence meddles relentlessly in the affairs of others. Emma is written in the neoclassical tradition by Austen. This is in opposition to the romantic tradition dominating literature during that period. For example, Bronte‘s Wuthering Heights, written in the romantic tradition..
Emma’s family, friends and acquaintances exist in the upper classes of society. This insulates them from the harsh realities of life. Austen adheres to the rules of ’art’ as far as her approach to literature is concerned, but she tends to skirt the boundaries on occasion in this novel. The extent of the author’s innovative approach is abundantly illustrated by her use of the marriage motif as the driving force in Emma.
The audience quickly forgives Emma’s meddlesome nature once her life circumstances become apparent. Emma’s mother has died and she is left in the care of her father. Mr. Woodhouse, her father, is a loveable character but he is often childlike in nature. Emma must care for him as though she were the parent, and he the child. Emma receives no motherly guidance and her father is unable to fill the shoes of a responsible parent. The girl is left almost completely on her own, and must rely on friends and acquaintances to guide her development.
Young ladies from the upper classes in the eighteenth-century were limited by societal norms and expectations about what roles proper women could fulfill. Their education was severely limited to music. teaching, and other lady-like pursuits. Emma is bored with her existence so meddling in romantic affairs of others became her passion. Emma feared her status as an old maid and has a discussion with Harriet. She wonders what Emma will do to support herself in her later years. Emma displays little concern for her future, and assures Harriet that many of the usual women’s occupations will be available to her when she grows old.
Emma is completely unaware of Mr. Knightley’s secret affection for her. Knightly and Emma are engaged in a battle of wits throughout most of the novel. Knightly seems to be the only character in the novel that refuses to allow Emma to have her way. She does not realize that he sees the truth and beauty in her that many of the other characters fail to recognize or acknowledge. As with many other novels of the period ‘marriage’ provides the ultimate resolution.
Austen’s characters in Emma serve to demonstrate how this girl develops into a mature and wise individual. Isabella, Jane Fairfax, Knightly and all of Emma’s close friends and acquaintances fit well into this level of society. Their interactions with the protagonist are crucial to the theme of the novel.
Austen created a masterpiece when she wrote Emma, an eighteenth-century story that is surprisingly exciting and interesting. The audience becomes exceedingly anxious to find out what the outcome will be for Emma and her friends. This is a psychological novel dealing with very mundane issues. Austen takes the mundane and converts this into an exciting tale of love and fulfillment. Emma deceives herself in a variety of ways but is able to overcome this self-deception completely before the end of the novel.. Austen provides her audience with a glimpse of a year in the life of Emma Woodhouse, and in so doing has created an eighteenth-century heroine.