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Literature: Emma
"With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing for she had done mischief."

Written in 1815, Emma is a novel that takes a slightly different take on Jane Austen's typical novel of manners: instead of a plucky but poor heroine who must face off with a Rich Bitch, the heroine herself is the Rich Bitch.

Emma Woodhouse, who has been spoiled ever since she was a small child, had always had a penchant for ordering the world as she sees fit. So when she meets the sweet and pretty but slightly slow young Harriet, she decides that she will set her up with a husband worthy of her feminine charms. Hilarity Ensues, with zany schemes, terrible misunderstandings, gossip gone awry and, of course, since this is a Jane Austen novel, Emma needs to sort out her love life before it's too late.

Notably adapted as the film Clueless and, in the current trend of Literary Mash-Ups, as Emma and the Werewolves. There are also several straight adaptations worth watching. A musical with songs by Paul Gordon was also produced in the last 2000s. Marvel Illustrated produced a Comic Book Adaptation in 2011, script by Nancy Butler, art and covers by Janet Lee (Return of the Dapper Men). It is also receiving a Vlog Series Update in Emma Approved.

Not to be confused with the manga Victorian Romance Emma.

These tropes find their match in the novel:

  • An Aesop: Shipping is evil; don't do it.
  • Alliterative Name: Mrs Elton's sister, Selina Suckling.
  • Always Someone Better: Jane, to Emma. Emma is an accomplished young lady, but she could have achieved much more had she been more diligent in her reading, painting or playing the piano and singing. Jane Fairfax knows she's destined to be a governess, so she's more hard-working. Her performance in music is extraordinary.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mr Knightley and Emma. Emma loves crossing swords with Mr Knightley, though she honours his opinions and it pains her when he gets angry to the point of not wanting to speak with her.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Donwell Abbey is Mr Knightley's family estate. It's very old, traditional, with gardens and orchards, a lime avenue, with farms and tenants renting the land. The house itself is huge and some of the rooms are furnished exquisitely.
    • Hartfield, a house which belongs to the Woodhouses. It's smaller than Donwell, but it has a nice park, a farm attached to it, and it's modern and elegant, decorated and furnished with Emma's taste.
  • Break the Haughty: Happens to Emma. She is a very endearing character — open, sweet, generous, witty, energetic, a loyal friend and a devoted daughter; she is also what by modern standards might fairly be called a snob. Mr Knightley guides her and calls her on her bad behaviour sometimes.
  • Breakup Bonfire: After showing them to Emma, Harriet Smith throws her (pretty pathetic) mementos of Mr Elton into a fire.
  • Bumbling Dad: Emma's father. Mostly because he's a very old gentleman, though it's implied he has always been domestic. His wife was much stronger and more reasonable figure.
  • Cassandra Truth: Miss Bates has a tendency to provide valuable insight into what characters in the story are thinking, but most people don't care or notice because she rambles on and on and on. Even the readers usually ignore what she says.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Emma and Mr. Knightley. They have known each other Emma's entire life.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr Knightley, his brother John and Emma.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Emma takes care of her father and is the mistress of Hartfield, but ... And this purpose becomes shipping, among other things.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Sisters Isabella and Emma Woodhouse to brothers John and George Knightley.
  • Doting Parent:
    • Mr Woodhouse adores his daughters, and is vastly troubled by the idea that anyone would think Emma less than perfect.
    • Mrs Weston (formerly Miss Taylor) is Emma's childhood governess, and not much less inclined than Mr Woodhouse to think her anything but flawless
    • Isabella is shown to be a doting mother to her five children.
    • Miss Bates is a doting aunt to Jane Fairfax, always praising her and admiring her. She supposes her Jane is a favourite with everybody..
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Both Emma and Jane Fairfax play the piano and people find it attractive. It helps that they are also great beauties.
    • Emma is very talented, but she never bothered to practice regularly as a child. She's still more than just a decent pianist and she plays and sings very well, but whenever Jane visits her relatives in Highbury, Emma is vexed that she's no longer the best musician.
    • Jane Fairfax was brought up in London and had lessons with the best masters, reaching her top performance. Everybody admires her dedication to music and everybody urges her to play for them.
  • Empathic Environment: The weather sometimes matches Emma's moods. It's especially obvious near the climax of the novel when the storm corresponds to Emma's emotional crisis.
  • Generation Xerox: In personality, at least, the narrative indicates that Isabella is exactly like the girls' father and Emma is just like their mother. (No hint is given as to how much of a physical resemblance there is.)
  • The Ghost: We read a lot about a few characters we never get to meet, most particularly Frank's aunt and uncle and Mrs Elton's sister and brother-in-law.
  • Gold Digger: Mr Elton. He wanted to marry well and knew he could, being a man with a respectable position and good income as a parson.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Mrs Elton, who uses what was then a tired old Italian catchphrase to refer to her husband. She even gets the phrase wrong, showing her to be not just small-minded and behind the times but also badly educated. Though the mispronunciation of the Italian phrase may be a mistake on the publisher's part rather than the character's. The argument is that Mr Elton would have corrected his wife at the first opportunity after her misusing the phrase and that she would have been too embarrassed to use the correct pronunciation.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Spurs Emma's Love Epiphany.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • When Emma actually attempts to be friendly to Jane Fairfax, she finds herself soundly rebuffed, and honestly doesn't know why. It turns out that Jane, who was secretly engaged to Frank Churchill all along, was deeply jealous of the attention he was paying to Emma as part of the cover-up. Jane later acknowledges that she was unreasonable about it, given that Emma had no idea.
    • Mr Knightley takes a severe dislike to Frank Churchill for similar reasons.
    • When Harriet confides to Emma that she is in love with Mr Knightley, it causes Emma to realise her own feelings for him.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Sure, every Jane Austen novel has characters engaging in "intercourse" but the scene everyone remembers is Mr Elton "making violent love" to Emma in a carriage.
    • Emma is impressed with the Knightley brothers: "Those brothers had penetration". She means they are extremely perceptive, but...
  • Hypocritical Humor: Mrs Elton says she much prefers old-fashioned politeness to "modern ease", even though her own manners go far beyond ease and well into over-familiarity.
  • I Have This Friend: Mr Elton shows Emma a poem that he claims a friend of his wrote for a girl he was in love with. Emma isn't fooled (at least not about who really wrote it, although she is wrong about who it was written for).
  • Ill Girl: Jane Fairfax's health is not robust. Word of God says that she died of tuberculosis a few years after the end of the book.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Emma towards Mr Knightley
  • Ironic Name: Frank Churchill. This guy is nothing but frank, honest and sincere with everybody.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • For all her faults, Emma has more than once shown kindness and sympathy to people under her on the social tree, as well as feeling guilty for her mistreatment of Miss Bates. The biggest proof is her routine visits with the poor, giving not just food/money but time and attention to them, trying to entertain the children, etc. She also deserves credit for being so patient and considerate to her father. He's a good person, but he can, inadvertently, be very trying.
    • John Knightley can be snarky and short-tempered with Mr Woodhouse, but, well, Mr Woodhouse IS annoying and John's very obvious love for his family (and his big-brotherly care of Emma) makes up for a lot.
  • Last Name Basis: Everyone, pretty much, but particularly Mr Knightley to Emma she even says that after they get married, she won't ever be able to call him anything but Mr Knightley.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Emma says that she and Mr Knightley are not close enough to being brother and sister to make it improper for them to dance, and he agrees wholeheartedly. His heartache over Emma's suggestion can be easily perceived.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Emma ships Harriet and Mr Elton, even though Mr Elton wants her and there is mutual attraction between Harriet and Robert Martin. Mr Elton ends up marrying Augusta Hawkins. Emma finds herself attracted to Frank Churchill, even though he is secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax, and she is totally oblivious of the fact that Mr. Knightley is in love with her but painfully aware that Harriet is in love with Mr Knightley, despite earlier thinking Harriet was in love with Frank Churchill. Mrs Weston, Mr Cole and others also suspect something between Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax, while Emma suspects something between Jane Fairfax and her foster sister's current husband, Mr Dixon. Nothing gets a Love Dodecahedron going like the out-of-control imaginations of matchmakers.
  • Love Epiphany: Emma has one as the trigger of her quest to become a better person.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Love riddle lunacy.
  • Love You and Everybody: Not romantically, but Mr Weston has so many "close friends" that being his "close friend" doesn't seem to mean much, as Emma realises with some annoyance.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Emma. Seriously, derailing a relationship by filling the poor girl's head with distractions because she doesn't like the man? Because he isn't genteel enough for Miss Woodhouse?
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: John and Isabella's five children. And the couple is still very young, so they might have more.
  • The Matchmaker:
    • Emma, obviously, though her only known success story is the Westons.
    • Mrs Weston also tries her hand with no more success.
  • Matchmaker Crush: The result of Emma's matchmaking of Mr Elton and Harriet is Mr Elton falling for Emma. He was more after her money and position than her as a person, though she's very intelligent and very beautiful.
  • Meaningful Look:
    • During the dinner party at the Coles, Frank Churchill casts a long look at Miss Fairfax. When Emma notices, he says Miss Fairfax has a strange hairdo and that he couldn't help himself and had to stare. However, it was a loving and longing look. They are secretly engaged.
    • Mr Knightley noticed significant glances which Frank Churchill directed at Miss Fairfax while he dined with them and Emma was not present. He thought the looks were inappropriate because Frank Churchill seemed to court Emma. Mr Knightley is the only one who correctly suspected that Franck Churchill and Jane Fairfax share a relationship.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Well, he's not called Mr. Knightley for nothing.
    • The name Woodhouse suggests that the family is very wealthy.
    • Everything is done well in Donwell Abbey.
    • Hartfield is a place where affairs of the heart are being formed.
    • Jane Fairfax is a Jane with a fair face.
  • Missing Mom: Mrs Woodhouse died when Emma was very little. Luckily, Emma and Isabella had a wonderful mother figure in their governess, Miss Taylor.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Emma, close to the end of the book, realises she was basically wrong about everything and other people had paid for it (see page quote). Moreover, her Green-Eyed Epiphany is stimulated by a girl whom she has encouraged in the first place, making this a "Oh God! that I had never seen her" case.
  • Mystery Literature: Several readers, including BBC producer Sue Birtwistle and mystery novelist P D James, have argued that Emma is one of the first of these to exist, given the way Austen plants clues about relationships and plot resolution all throughout.
  • No Antagonist
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: The hottest scene in the book occurs when Mr Knightley almost kisses Emma's hand.
  • Non-Idle Rich:
    • Surprisingly, Emma. We are not three chapters into the story until we are told that she assists the poor, has managed her Big Fancy House (since she was twelve), supports her hypochondriac father and sends provisions and pays visits to her less well-off neighbours.
    • Mr Knightley fits the trope perfectly. He's a magistrate and takes care of legal issues of the parish, he manages his estate exceptionally well and is extremely respected by everybody.
  • Oblivious to Love: Emma is oblivious to Mr Knightley's feelings for her and her own feelings for him until (she believes) it might be too late.
  • Odd Friendship: Emma and Harriet.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Mr Knightley. He's a sharp observer and can analyse the relationships most accurately.
    • Mrs Weston is very intelligent, useful and gentle, and she sees things as a reasonable woman. However, she's sometimes blinded by her affection to Emma or Frank.
  • Person as Verb: Jane Fairfax-ing. Mrs Elton thinks she's the only person who can judge Miss Fairfax's talents properly, and protect her and assist her. Mrs Elton's constantly repeating her name and the vulgarity of the situation disgust Emma so that she imagines this to be person-ing:
    Emma:: 'Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.' Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!
  • Picnic Episode: Or more like Picnic Chapters:
    • The strawberry picking party at Donwell.
    • The summer trip to explore Box Hill. The day is too hot and Emma is at her worst when she carelessly insults Miss Bates.
  • Playing Cyrano:
    • Emma. She writes a reply to Robert Martin's letter for Harriet.
    • It's implied that Mr Knightley is trying to do the same for Robert Martin.
  • Playing Sick:
    • Many characters presume that Frank's aunt is doing this to keep him at home as much as possible. Of course, then she dies...
    • Emma's father. It's hinted that the majority of the neighbourhood thinks he's a hypochondriac, but he's so kind-hearted and generous that they humour him. Word of God says that he died two years after Emma married Mr Knightley.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Especially in the riddle poem fiasco. Had the writer indicated clearly for whom and by whom it was written, much embarrassment could have been avoided.
    • Emma misunderstands Harriet's feelings when she talks about the man she is in love with (see Rescue Romance).
  • Rescue Romance: Emma believes Harriet has fallen for Frank Churchill after he had rescued her from the gypsies, but instead she falls for Mr Knightley after he "rescues" her by asking her to dance when she is snubbed by Mr Elton.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • The main character, sort of; some actresses play her as being as much, or more, of a Spoiled Sweet type (see the Jerk with a Heart of Gold entry above). She's still a very good person and uses her wealth and power reasonably.
    • Mrs Elton, who ratchets the trope right Up to Eleven. She constantly boasts with her gowns, house, carriage, wealthy relatives and so on.
  • Secret Relationship: Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are engaged the entire time, and nobody knows about it until his aunt dies.
  • Serious Business: Matchmaking is serious business. But you should know this already.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: Jane Fairfax, who is nothing more than a Shrinking Violet dealing with her lack of resources and her issues with Parental Abandonment. Untill she meets a Spoiled Sweet friend... who becomes more than a friend... but she can't say it because his family isn't supportive... and he must cover it up so that no one can ever guess it. Oh, wait, another Spoiled Sweet girl who isn't interested in him too deeply and resents Jane for being the person everyone wants her to be : great and harmless cover, right ? Untill he starts being too flirty, using mean leads and Jane, instead of going Clingy Jealous Girl and snaping... elegantly steps back and politely asks him to give her every artefact of their romance back so she can burn it and move on.
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • Emma — first for Captain Weston and Miss Taylor, then for Harriet and Mr Elton, then for Harriet and Frank. Only the first one works out.
    • People in town ship Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax. Mrs Weston mentioned it first, and Mr Knightley, very much annoyed, heard the gossip from Mr Cole.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Mr Woodhouse is really fond of gruel, and his daughter Isabella as well. He recommends it to everyone and it's his Comfort Food.
  • Two First Names: Anyone in the Martin family: Robert Martin and Elizabeth Martin.
  • Walls of Text: A lot of Miss Bates' dialogue. What is interesting is that her gossip is harmless and often provides valuable insight.
  • What Beautiful Eyes:
    • Harriet's blue ones. Emma finds them particularly intriguing.
    • Mrs Weston gushed about Emma's loveliness and her sparkling bright hazel eyes.
    • Jane Fairfax's deep grey eyes with dark eyelashes are acknowledged as very beautiful.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Mr Knightley to Emma, especially after her manipulation of Harriet and her rudeness to Miss Bates.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Subtly done with Emma. She encourages Harriet in her reading of The Romance of the Forest, a Gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe which stars a girl of obscure origins who is ultimately revealed to be Nobly Born. Emma clearly thinks Harriet belongs in a similar story, when in actuality Harriet is the bastard of a tradesman, who leaves her quite comfortably off economically but does nothing to raise her social status.

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alternative title(s): Emma
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