Jane Austen: Emma

[Readings] (02.10.09, 11:36 pm)

This analysis will be brief, in comparison to the many others discussing Pride and Prejudice.

Quick summary: The plot of the book is about Emma, as young, wealthy, socially secure, and somewhat clueless character. She becomes very interested in managing other people’s happiness through match making. However, her impressions of what other characters are interested in, or what is best for them, are generally incorrect. This leads to an effectual comedy of errors, where Emma’s agendas are put to work against the agendas of the other characters. When Emma acts on her incorrect interpretations, she meddles in the affairs of other characters, which interferes with their happiness more than anything else. Unlike Austen’s other novels, in Emma, there is no financial issue threatening the protagonist, and she is thus doing what she is doing for the pure pleasure of it. Emma is secure in both her social status as well as her finances, so the intrigue and goals that she faces are self generated.

At this cursory level, there are some important differences between Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Both novels share a central element which is the interpretation of other characters. However, the world of Emma resembles more of a sandbox without overt goals and objectives, while Pride and Prejudice imposes a problem that must be faced at the outset. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennett’s are in financial danger, because the house is entailed. Thus, the daughters of the family must marry otherwise suffer poverty. While this is a goal, it is not a rigid goal, and provides several routes to marriage, and suggests a balance of goals and motives. One can marry for happiness (love), wealth, or social status. Emma’s situation is different. The character of Emma sees her meddling as a way to improve the lives of others, and never has a pressing need to do what she does. Instead, like a player of The Sims, she encourages the other characters to be in certain situations, and then bears witness to the results. Unlike in The Sims, she herself is caught up in the events that she instigates. While it is Emma’s intention as a character to induce the happiness of others, a player in a game may not be so motivated, and would be able to cause some degree of mayhem.

That Emma has no financial or social incentive to meddle, she does stand to lose a great deal in terms of her social status or her happiness, and over the course of the novel does suffer in several cases as a result of her actions (being scorned by Knightley, and embarrassed by Frank Churchill). Emma’s meddling has effects which propagate through the underlying network of characters and turn back onto her, affecting her in ways that were not immediately evident by her actions alone. For instance, dissuading Harriet from marrying Mr. Martin leads her to be scolded by Knightley. Rejecting Elton leads him to marry Augusta, who becomes a significant source of irritation afterward. Like in Pride and Prejudice, each character has their own agenda. In Emma, these agendas are covert, and often include the protagonist in their machinations. In comparing Emma to The Sims, this is an interesting turn of involvement.

Some clear mechanics that leap out are elements of meddling and persuasion, which is manifested in matchmaking, and mentoring (in the case of Harriet). There is a dimension of predicting the actions, intentions, and desires of other characters, however this does not seem to be as much of a mechanic because the interesting results arise from Emma’s failures rather than her successes at prediction. The (1996 with Kate Beckinsale) film gives a few suggestions at how prediction might work, in that it uses flashes illustrating Emma’s imagination of her friends happy due to her matchmaking. There is a great deal of flirting, especially with Frank Churchill, though this is ultimately fruitless, the mechanics of flirting are intricate, in a similar way to the verbal repartee between Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Instead of status games involving lowering one another, Emma’s flirting seems to be much more about suggestions, deferences, and alluding to potential romantic states that may or may not be intended.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorAusten, Jane
Tagsspecials, media traditions, fiction, settings
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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