Book Extracts #1: “Emma”– Jane Austen

emma-austen-gwyneth paltrowExcerpts from:

“Emma” by Jane Austen

“I shall not allow you to be a fair judge in this case.  You are so much used to live alone, that you do not know the value of a companion; and perhaps no man can be a good judge of the comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex, after being used to it all her life.”

Mrs Weston (nee Taylor) arguing with Mr Knightley

over the merits of an inferior female companion
for their mutual friend, Emma
(chapter 5)

My thoughts :
  • Really, Mrs Weston was comforted because after marrying away from Emma she felt that her friend was now lonely and since it was difficult to find suitable companionship then a ‘pretty’ but rather vacuous friend (in Harriet Smith) was better than no friend at all.


 “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 too – very well chosen, and very neatly arranged – sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule.  The list she drew up when only fourteen – I remember thinking it did her judgement so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now.  But I am 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…

You never could persuade her to read half so much as you wished – You know you could not…

Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family.  At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen.  She was always quick and assured: Isabella slow and diffident.  And ever since she was twelve, Emma has been mistress of the house and of you all.  In her mother she lost the only person able to cope with her.  She inherits her mother’s talents, and must have been under subjection to her…

She always declares she will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all.  But I have no idea that she has yet ever seen a man she cared for.  It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object.  I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good.  But there is nobody hereabouts to attach her; and she goes so seldom from home.”

Mr Knightley nit-picking to Mrs Weston (nee Taylor)

about what he believes to be Emma’s faults
(chapter 5)

My thoughts :
  • Through Austen’s covering narration, Emma’s good intentions for being well-read were likely thwarted by the lack of entertaining content within the books’ covers despite the promise of the books’ titles.  Emma’s character has dramatization, flair and charisma which she would need to be reciprocated with reading; but books of those days tended to be very dry affairs which did not manage to whet her voracious reading appetite, though it was not through her lack of trying nor lack of intelligence.
  • Emma has a streak of stubbornness, of knowing her own mind, needs and character.  When it isn’t so, it just isn’t so and cannot and should not be forced.
  • Her wit and intelligence seems precocious, but perhaps just mishandled or even ahead-of-her-day and thus deemed ‘a problem’ to have.
  • The decision of whether or not to marry appears to be outside the range of control of the woman, and for Mr Knightley to be so sure means he knows something the reader does not.  He believes that Emma’s self-esteem regarding love, admirers and relationships may be over-inflated due to her lack of experience, and perhaps even immaturity, and thus believes the solution is for her to experience unrequited love.
  • Emma’s rare excursions away from home are likely due to lack of external motivation and stimulation to do so, rather than due to little desire from her.

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