Focusing primarily on the first five chapters of “Emma” discuss how Jane Austen gains and retains the readers interest
Jane Austen was born in a village in Hampshire on the 16th of December 1775. She was the sixth child of Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Jane Austen accompanied by her sister Cassandra her elder sister attended school in Oxford and the Reading, although her education was completed at home like many of the heroines in her books. A rich local family without children of their own adopted her third brother Edward like Frank Churchill in “Emma”. From the age of twelve she showed a keen interest in writing and produced a series of sketches and tales although her first book was not published until 1811, it was unheard of for a women novelist at this time so her literary works were signed by the author.
Many of the events in her own life are reflected in her books, when her father died her family was forced to leave their home and go to live her one of her brothers she used this idea in her first book “Sense and Sensibility”. In most of her books Jane Austen uses the third person narrative technique this shows that she was a skilled and prolific writer. She was not a professional writer and did not enjoy early success, however she did become a favourite of the Prince Regent and the first publication of “Emma” had its dedication page dutifully noted. Jane Austen wrote six novels, which have all become classics, her books give us an insight into social behaviour and lifestyle and the importance of social status. Jane Austen links the society in which she was living to the characters in her novels, she depicts her own family in her books Cassandra her sister and beloved friend could have given Harriet some of her qualities, her brother Edward had an impact on the snobby clergyman Mr Elton.
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The first chapters of the novel introduce us to the central characters with the memorable opening lines describing Emma’s attributes
“Handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition”.
The opening passages are always highly significant, throughout the fist five chapters the reader is given a great deal of information about the characters, themes and tones. All nearly all of the books main characters are introduced to the reader in the first chapters of the novel, this makes the reader want to read on to see how the characters grow as people and in society.
The narrator, gives an observation of Emma’s views throughout the novel, although the narrator is omniscient, this allows us to see the world from Emma’s perspective. When the narrative is lost there is a gap between Emma’s understanding and the readers, which creates a sense of irony this can be seen in chapter nine when Emma receives a note from Mr Elton that she thinks is for Harriet when it is meant for her,
“…Which a friend of his had addressed to a young lady..”
This quote also shows Emma’s naivety and confusion of Mr Elton feelings.
This opening section of the novel concentrates upon a detailed description of Emma’s character therefore giving her character centrality within the novel. The introductory chapters 1 – 5 focus the attention on the importance of the characters and themes that run throughout the novel, they also show that Emma’s arrogance will play a substantial role throughout. Mr Woodhouse is one of the first characters that we are introduced to in the opening pages, he is Emma’s father and is portrayed as an elderly gentleman who seems to be older than his years, and has a preoccupation with his health and well being. He is depicted as having a “gentle selfishness” and seems to be a hypochondriac; this is noted in chapter one,
“His constitution and habits for having been a valetudinarian all his life”.
Which could prove to be rather trying company for those around him. This creates humour and makes and keeps the reader entertained throughout the novel. In the first chapter, after the departure of Miss Taylor Emma’s governess she makes plans to keep herself preoccupied, she sets out to find a partner for the local vicar Mr Elton.
” … when he was joining their hands today he looked so very much like he would want the same office done for him!”
The preoccupation with the marital status in this chapter is a theme that is to occur throughout the novel. Emma is set upon finding Mr Elton a wife as a single life was seen as notably less desirable than marriage. With the arrival of Harriet Smith in chapter 3 Emma befriends her and swears to introduce Harriet into the social circle. In chapter six the matchmaking between Harriet and Mr Elton gathers pace as Emma offers to create a likeness of Harriet, Mr Elton is thrilled by this idea and dissuades any criticism of her painting when it is complete.
“Oh no certainly not to tall…”
Mr Elton provides endless flattery of the painting Emma thinks that it is towards Harriet, when ironically the complements are to flatter Emma’s talent.
“.. I cant take my eyes off it..”
When Mr Elton offers to take the painting to London to get it framed Emma confirms her suspicion that he will be taking the picture to his family and talking about Harriet’s true beauty. This is ironic as the reader can see that Mr Elton is taking the picture to be framed to boast about the craftsmanship of Emma’s work. This chapter shows another side to Emma’s character which shows her as very big headed, she puts her work down expecting compliments off her friends and family which are duly given. This interests the audience because Emma has grown not perhaps in a good way but we want to see how she will develop throughout the novel.
The second chapter provides an interesting background into the history of Mr Weston’s life, his marriage and son Mr Frank Churchill, who has never visited his father after he was sent to live with a more wealthy family when his mother died. Frank Churchill is introduced into the book after the marriage of his father to Miss Taylor Emma’s governess the importance of his presence in the novel is introduced early on with the arrival of his letter.
” I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr Frank Churchill had written to Mrs Weston.”
The letter was to congratulate his father on his recent marriage and to inform him of his coming to visit his new mother. Mr Weston’s choice to marry a governess seems to point out that a mature man can do as he pleases. This letter creates intrigue for the reader into who Frank Churchill is and his intentions when he comes to visit.
“Mr frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury and a lively curiosity to see him prevailed.”
The reader is left wondering why a man who none of the characters have met is being so highly praised the language used is this passages suggests that Frank is a rich, handsome and successful man “boasts of highbury”. This also suggests that there are numerous rumours about Frank and people are talking about his arrival. This makes the reader want to read on to see why he is being praised so highly. There is humour introduced at the end of this chapter as Mr Woodhouse declares that nobody can eat the cake as he cannot
“He had therefore, earnestly tried to dissuaded them from having any wedding cake”.
This quote is ironic as Mr Woodhouse suggests that the apothecary will tell them how unhygienic it is to eat the cake when he himself is eating a piece.
Mr Woodhouse is a source of humour and irony throughout the novel, this can be seen in chapter 6 when Emma has made a likeness of Harriet and Mr Woodhouse says she should be wearing a shawl in the summer to avoid catching a cold.
In chapter 3 another new character is introduced. Harriet Smith is a parlour boarder who studied at Mrs Goddard’s boarding school. She is introduced as “The natural daughter of somebody..” This is, as nobody knows who her natural parents are. Emma befriends her and vows to take her into society, another possible match for Emma to make. When Emma meets Harriet she assumes that she is of a noble birth but when she finds out about Harriet’s shady past she creates an elaborate aristocratic birthright for her new friend. Harriet’s illegitimacy has a great impact on her social standing which was predetermined at her birth; Emma refuses to accept these rules and constraights of society. Harriet has a very close connection with the Martin family who are farmers, but Emma immediately puts a stop to this friendship as she feels it could be damaging to Harriet’s social circle. This insight into social and historical background keeps the reader involved and retains their interest. In chapter 7 she receives a proposal of marriage of Mr Martin Emma uses emotional blackmail to stop Harriet from getting married to him
“Ought to refuse him..!”
Harriet is rather childlike when she receives the proposal she is very excited over Mr Martin, although her spirits become lower when Emma says that a man of Mr Martin’s intelligence couldn’t possible have written the letter. She uses emotional blackmail and a twisted guidance that a naï¿½ve Harriet follows. The reader is left in no doubt of the conceit of which Emma is capable. This can be seen in chapter 7 when Emma says
“You would be banished to Abbey Mill”
Emma makes Harriet feel guilty by saying that if she married Mr Martin she would never see her again this also shows Harriet’s gullible side. Jane Austen is very clever with the way she has sculpted Emma’s character she has made her very scheming and uses a narrative craft to make Emma say certain things for example in the above quote.
Emma is clever but also very naï¿½ve, this is a very different side to her character from the opening lines of the novel. The different sides of her character are revealed to the reader in every chapter that creates intrigue into what is going to happen next.
In chapter 4 Emma finally is honest with herself and Harriet that she needed a companion after Miss Taylor’s departure, although she realises that Harriet cannot repeat that kind of friendship, but she feels that she can improve Harriet in some aspects. Harriet’s close friendship with a local farmer by the name of Mr Martin causes Emma concern, she soon questions this and anticipates an attachment between Mr Martin and Harriet. Austen uses emotive language to persuade both the reader and characters that she is correct to feel a certain way. The Martins are an honest decent family and Emma’s objection to them is routed in her own snobbery. When she compares them to her own social circle she shows snobbery and conceit, this theme runs throughout the novel and raises issues of social hierarchy. Although Harriet is of a lower class than herself, Emma feels that her association with Harriet has raised her considerably higher in society than an alliance between a farming family. In chapter 25 Emma becomes even more of a snob when talking about the Coles
“Nothing should tempt her to go…. refusal less meaning than she could wish”
In chapter 5 Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston discuss the friendship between Harriet and Emma. Mr Knightley is one of the only characters in the novel that questions Emma’s ability and situation, he feels that the friendship she is framing between herself and Harriet is only going to do her harm and that nothing good will come form it. This makes the reader wonder if he has an ulterior motive, does he want to stop this friendship so that he can spend more time with Emma. This is also encountered as Mr Knightley is shown to have a great deal of regard for Emma. He says
“I love to look at her”
He saves things of hers like the list she made up years previous as he was so impressed by the content, he has a keen desire for her improvements and honest appraisal of her faults this shows not only his good sense but attachment to her. A theme in the novel seems to be that of finding fault if not in ur self within people around you creating moral issues that link with today’s society racism for example. This gives the reader something to relate to. The developments between Mr Knigthley and Emma makes the reader curious if there will finally get together, although his picking fault in Emma’s behaviour may make some readers think he is more of a brother or fatherly figure. He is aware of the fact that Emma said she would never marry and that Emma may see his rival Frank Churchill as a potential suitor at this stage. He might be seen to be trying to change her mind by letting her see how happy Harriet would be if she would let her get married to Mr Martin, this is shown in an argument in chapter 8.
“You have been no friend to Harriet Smith, Emma!”
He is trying to point out the happiness that Emma has taken form Harriet by not letting her accept Mr Martin’s proposal.
The social behaviour is very intriguing and helps the reader gather interest into when the book was set. The matchmaking of the central character Emma gathers pace throughout the book it shows her downfalls and good points, which the reader can relate to. Although the novel is set in a different era the issues raised of marriage and in some respects social class are still relevant in today’s society. This gains the reader’s interest there are various twist and turns in the novel, which help retain the reader’s interest. It shows how women’s rights were changing and how different lifestyles are now, the novel is very interesting as the events which are depicted in the book have happened in her own life. The suspense used at the end of the chapters creates intrigue making the reader want to find out what happens next the end of chapter 16
“..Such an evil hanging over her in the hour of explanation with Harriet..”
Austen’s use of archaic language and elongated sentences often make the themes hard to grasp although this is a good example of the language two hundred years ago. The book has many facts linked up to the fictional story, which keep it interesting it could almost be said that the novel is a historical document of the 18th century centred around moral issues like judgement of people from there appearance and the society in which people lived.