Frank Churchill or Mr Knightley. We are asked to consider whether Emma’s attitudes have changed all that much in the course of the novel.


Though Emma is only centred on the insular closed circle of Highbury and Donwell, and the characters’ lives are dominated by gossip and prying, all that becomes clear as the novel progresses is how little people know of their friends and acquaintances. Emma is intelligent and ‘clever’ but frequently stumbles in her attempts to interpret the behaviour of others. She wrongly believes Mr Elton and Frank Churchill to be in love with Harriet; when most convinced of her accurate perception, for example, when she thinks Jane Fairfax is involved with Mr Dixon, she is in fact completely deluded. She is ignorant of the true state of all the goings-on in Highbury, not least concerning herself.

Mr Knightley is held up as a model of good sense, and his perception can be trusted: he notices the intimacy between Jane and Frank and is not surprised to learn they were engaged all along. But he is fallible, allowing jealousy to colour his better judgement when he over-reacts and betrays his dislike of the young man. He is unable to see that Emma is in love with him, not Frank. The secret engagement between Frank and Jane highlights the theme of illusion in the novel. The reader’s superiority, induced by Austen’s irony, is undercut; we are put in the same astonished position as the other characters. Clues may be given throughout, but they are only understood once the secret is out.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.