The Characters of Emma

Emma Woodhouse

Emma Woodhouse

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period.”

Emma lives with her rich widowed father and delights in being mistress of the house and of all in it. "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"

Since her mother’s death Emma’s friend and companion has been her governess, Miss Anna Taylor, who said of her charge, "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."

She is admired by all of Meryton for her beauty and generosity, and loves "helping" others toward matrimony. "Such an eye!--the true hazle eye--and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure! There is health, not merely in her bloom, but in her air, her head, her glance."

Mr. Woodhouse

Mr. Woodhouse

Emma’s father was "for having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time."

He has been babied by his daughters and friends. "He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying."

Everything is exaggerated, sickness, life, death, marriage, "and from his habits of gentle selfishness, and of being never able to suppose that other people could feel differently from himself."

Miss Taylor

Miss Taylor

"Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in Mr. Woodhouse’s family, less as a governess as a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long past away, they had been living together as friend and fried very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own."

She was an "intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle" woman, and just at the time that Emma no longer needed her, solicited by a respectable gentleman for the position of wife. "Sorrow came – a gentle sorrow – but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. – Miss Taylor married."

Mr. Weston

Mr. Weston

The neighbor of the Woodhouses and the new husband of Miss Taylor – Mrs. Weston. “The event that had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners."

He had a tragic beginning: "Captain Weston was a general favorite; and when the chances of his military life had introduced him to Miss Churchill, of a great Yorkshire family, and Miss Churchill fell in love with him."

So he married Miss Churchill but soon "was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died after a three years marriage, he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain."

After his wife's death he had quitted the military and gone into trade so "between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away."

His friend Mr. Woodhouse said of him, however, "Poor Miss Taylor! – I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!" Emma replied, "I cannot agree with you, papa; you know I cannot. Mr. Weston is such a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deserves a good wife;"

Mr. Knightley

Mr. Knightley

"Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it as the elder brother of Isabella’s husband. He lived about a mile from Highbury, was a frequent visitor and always welcome."

A welcomed friend of Mr. Woodhouse: "Mr. Knightley had a cheerful manner, which always did him good."

He and Emma have a peculiar relationship: "Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me you know – in a joke – it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another."

"Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them."

He is the perfect landlord, the perfect friend, the perfect brother, the perfect uncle, and the perfect gentleman. "Mr. Knightley's air is so remarkably good that it is not fair to compare Mr. Martin with him. You might not see one in a hundred with gentleman so plainly written as in Mr. Knightley."

Harriet Smith

Harriet Smith

With the marriage of Miss Taylor, Emma starts looking around for a new friend. "Miss Smith was a girl of seventeen, whom Emma knew very well by sight, and had long felt an interest in, on account of her beauty.

She was short, plump, and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness."

She "was the natural daughter of somebody." A student at Mrs. Goddard's school in Highbury. Emma " was not struck by any thing remarkably clever in Miss Smith's conversation, but she found her altogether very engaging."

"Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition, was totally free from conceit, and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to." So Emma determines to lead her along and improve her as far as she can. Harriet has a crush on a farmer friend of hers, Robert Martin. But Emma advises her not to accept his offer of marriage. The reason: Emma is looking for a wife for the clergyman Mr. Elton.

Mr. Knightley says: "What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all."

Mr. Elton

Mr. Elton

"Mr. Elton is good-humoured, cheerful, obliging, and gentle" he was "a gentlemanlike and pleasing young man".

Mr. John Knightley said of him: "I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please every feature works."

Emma said: "Mr. Elton's manners are not perfect, but where there is a wish to please, one ought to overlook, and one does overlook a great deal. Where a man does his best with only moderate powers, he will have the advantage over negligent superiority. There is such perfect good temper and good will in Mr. Elton as one cannot but value.'

Emma may change her mind of his character, however, when Mr. Elton goes after her and her pocket book.

Miss Bates

Miss Bates

Every small town is bound to have its share of gossip, most of Highbury's seems to spread by that social butterfly, Miss Hetty Bates, who "enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married."

She was an old friend of the Woodhouses, her father was the former clergyman in Highbury, but with his death Miss Bates and her mother moved to a spall house in town and lived on small means and the generosity of the foremost families.

Her "simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature," and her "contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself."

Emma's views of her are rather ungracious for she "was a great talker upon little matters" which Emma finds tedious though her gossip is often interesting.

Mrs. Bates

Mrs. Bates

Miss Bates mother, who she lives with and takes care of, she was "the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite."

Mr. Woodhouse likes to meet with her as it affords him the opportunity of discussing both his health and that of Mrs. Bates.

Jane Fairfax

Jane Fairfax

Jane Fairfax is "an orphan, the only child of Mrs. Bates's youngest daughter."

She was adopted and the age of seven by an army friend of her late father, Colonel Campbell. She was taken into his family and trained for the office of a governess because she had no fortune. So "at eighteen or nineteen she was, as far as such an early age can be, qualified for the care of children", but when it came to the point, Mrs. and Miss Campbell found she was too needed to be parted with. So, with them she stayed until after the marriage of Miss Campbell to an Irish gentleman, Mr. Dixon.

After the marriage of her friend, Jane must make her own way in the world and she comes to stay with her aunt and grandmother in Highbury.

Emma has little regard for her, mostly because she's jealous of Jane's superior talents in almost everything. When forced to comment on her Emma simply says that "she is very elegant."

Isabella wishes that Jane lived full time in Highbury because "She would be such a delightful companion for Emma. Jane Fairfax one knows to be so very accomplished and superior, and exactly Emma's age."

To Mr. Knightley, Emma complains that Miss Fairfax is "very reserved. One cannot attach oneself to a reserved person"

But there are rumors of her being in love with her friend's husband Mr. Dixon, which brings Emma some amusement. But it is not Mr. Dixon who Jane is in love with.

Robert Martin

Robert Martin

The Martins are friends of Harriet Smith and Mr. Martin was a farmer who rents Abbeymill Farm on Mr. Knightley's estate.

To Emma, Harriet speaks very highly of Mr. Martin and tells her of all the little things he has done for her. She believes he is "very clever, and understood every thing."

When Emma asks her what he looks like Harriet says: "Oh! not handsome -- not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now. One does not, you know, after a time"

And when Emma asks Harriet how old he is she says: "He was four-and-twenty the 8th of last June, and my birth-day is the 23d -- just a fortnight and a day's difference! which is very odd!"

Emma sees that Mr. Martin likes her friend and that Harriet likes him. This will not do at all! A lowly farmer is not at all a good match for her friend, though he may be kind, sensible, respectable, educated and in love with Harriet!

Frank Churchill

Frank Churchill

Mr. Weston's son by his first marriage was adopted by his mother's rich, childless brother and sister-in-law the Churchills. In gratitude of their generosity to him he took their last name for his own and secured the position of their heir.

He has not been in Highbury since a young child and Emma has a great desire to meet him. Mr. Weston, who sees him every year in London, speaks highly of his son.

After many false promises, Mr. Churchill finally makes his appearance in Highbury to the happiness of his parents and the joy of Emma.

She finds him "a very good looking young man;" his "height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father's; he looked quick and sensible." And Emma "felt immediately that she should like him."

He soon makes friends with all of Highbury and even renews his acquaintance with Jane Fairfax.

Mrs. Elton

Mrs. Elton

After being refused by Emma, Mr. Elton immediately goes to Bath and meets and marries the richest, most elegant and most stupid woman Emma has ever met with.

She was a Miss Augusta Hawkins and "her person was rather good; her face not unpretty; but neither feature, nor air, nor voice, nor manner, were elegant."

Emma quickly clashes with her and thinks she is "a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr. Elton no good."

Mrs. Elton quickly takes Jane Fairfax under her wing and determines to help her find a comfortable position with one or other of her rich friends. Miss Fairfax though, does not seem ready to quite Highbury, especially while Mr. Churchill is in it.

John Knightley

John Knightley

Mr. Knightley's younger brother, "Mr. John Knightley was a tall, gentleman-like, and very clever man; rising in his profession, domestic, and respectable in his private character; but with reserved manners which prevented his being generally pleasing; and capable of being sometimes out of humour."

But "he was not an ill-tempered man, not so often unreasonably cross as to deserve such a reproach; but his temper was not his great perfection; and, indeed, with such a worshipping wife, it was hardly possible that any natural defects in it should not be increased."

He is the husband of Emma's sister Isabella, but "he was not a great favourite with his fair sister-in-law. Nothing wrong in him escaped her. She was quick in feeling the little injuries to Isabella, which Isabella never felt herself. Perhaps she might have passed over more had his manners been flattering to Isabella's sister, but they were only those of a calmly kind brother and friend, without praise and without blindness;

Mr. John is not quite the gentleman that his brother is. He is a good father and not a bad husband or son-in-law though he does take delight in teasing his wife and father-in-law.

Isabella Knightley

Isabella Knightley

Emma's older sister Isabella is "a pretty, elegant little woman, of gentle, quiet manners, and a disposition remarkably amiable and affectionate; wrapt up in her family; a devoted wife, a doating mother, and so tenderly attached to her father and sister that, but for these higher ties, a warmer love might have seemed impossible. She could never see a fault in any of them."

She and Mr. John have five children, Henry, John, Bella, George, and Emma.

Dr. Perry

Dr. Perry

"He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse's life; and upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that weddingcake might certainly disagree with many -perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.

There was a strange rumor in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston's wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it."

Mrs. Goddard

Mrs. Goddard

She is "the mistress of a School" in Highbury which Harriet attends.

She is "a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit."

A bit of a gossip, but a kind and loving teacher to her students.


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