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Literature / Emma

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"With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody'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 Idle Rich girl who means well, but ends up making life harder for the people around her.

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. What follows are 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.

There are quite a few adaptations:

Comic Books

  • Emma: A Comic-Book Adaptation by Marvel Illustrated, released in 2011. Script by Nancy Butler, art and covers by Janet Lee (Return of the Dapper Men).



  • Emma and the Werewolves, a literary mash-up released in 2009.

Live-Action TV

  • Emma: A 1972 miniseries by BBC, starring Doran Godwin as Emma.
  • Emma: A 1996 telefilm starring Kate Beckinsale.
  • Emma: A 2009 BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai.

Web Video

These tropes find their match in the novel:

  • An Aesop: There’s a line between being a helpful friend and well-meaning but hurtful interloper on someone else’s life. All of Emma's attempts to match-make lead to a variety of evils, dangers, and follies that ruin the lives of the women around her.
  • Age-Gap Romance: When Mrs Weston incorrectly suspects that Mr Knightley is in love and might marry Jane Fairfax, she says there is "a little disparity of age" between them. Mr Knightley is 37 and Jane Fairfax is 21. When they decide to marry, Emma is 22 and Mr Knightley about 38. The match is so well approved that nobody bats an eye.
  • 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 works harder and accordingly, her performance in music is extraordinary.
  • Appetite Equals Health: Miss Jane Fairfax has been down with cold and hasn't completely recovered. She's also revealed later to be depressed and emotionally drained. Her doting aunt Miss Bates is worried constantly about small amounts of food she eats.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Miss Bates. Her long monologues, apparently about nothing, often reveal secrets that no one realises because they don't pay her proper attention.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Donwell Abbey is Mr Knightley's family estate. It's very old and 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 Abbey — just a "notch" in the estate — but it has a nice park and an attached farm, and it's modern and elegant, decorated and furnished with Emma's taste.
    • Enscombe, a large and rather secluded estate in the north of England, the seat of the snobby Churchills. Never seen first hand.
    • Maple Grove is a house with land bought by Mr Suckling, brother-in-law of Mrs Elton. She keeps gushing about the house, its parks, its gardens, servants, carriages... Must be lavish.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mr Elton. He seems like a polite, gentlemanly (if slightly empty-headed) young man up until he declares his love for Emma, after which he is increasingly shown to be a callous jerk and a thorough snob. His character isn't improved by his Rich Bitch wife.
  • 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 and by the end of the novel she's much better.
  • Breakup Bonfire: After showing them to Emma, Harriet Smith throws her (pretty pathetic) mementos of Mr Elton into a fire. They were not a couple officially, but Emma was convinced that he was in love with Harriet and courting her.
  • British Stuffiness: When John and Isabella Knightley visit, the brothers shake hands and exchange a simple "how d'ye do" which, according to the narrator, is the classic English mode of almost entirely concealing brotherly affection that would have them drop everything the instant the other needed help.
  • Bumbling Dad: Emma's father. It's mostly because he's a very old gentleman, though it's implied he has always been domestic. His wife was a 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 because of their Walls of Text nature.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Emma and Mr Knightley. They have known each other Emma's entire life and they have been always close.
  • Close-Knit Community: Highbury. Although it's largely a pleasant and good-natured one, it's also shown that it can be rather stifling — keeping up polite expectations means Emma is often forced into the company of people she finds odious, like the Eltons, and gossip races around the village like wildfire. The society is so lacking in variance that the question of whether or not Frank Churchill will visit his father is treated almost with the same apprehension and excitement as if someone from the royal family was going to stop in.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Emma really resents Mrs Elton. Her close friends know about her opinion and they quite agree because Mrs Elton is really obnoxious. However, Emma doesn't want other people in Highbury to know about it, so she might occasionally mention that Mrs Elton is "very pleasant and very elegantly dressed".
  • Delicate and Sickly: Jane Fairfax's health is not robust, but she's still considered a great beauty. Jane Austen told her family that she died of either tuberculosis or childbirth a few years after the end of the book.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Emma takes care of her father and is the mistress of Hartfield, but gets bored. Her purpose in life becomes attempting to make matches in the village among her acquaintances, which (nearly always) ends disastrously.
  • Discretion Shot: The Georgian novel version. In the scene where Mr Knightley confesses his love to Emma, Austen uses her narrative technique to tell us what Emma thinks of what he's saying, but without actually reporting the words. When it's time for Emma to speak in turn, we get this gem:
    What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: By the end of the book, Sisters Isabella and Emma Woodhouse are married to brothers John and George Knightley.
  • Doting Parent:
    • Mr Woodhouse adores his daughters, and would be 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 very loving mother to her five small children. She's particularly anxious about their health.
    • Miss Bates is a doting aunt to Jane Fairfax, always praising her and admiring her. She supposes her Jane is a favorite with everybody. Emma find her praises quite tiresome.
  • 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, fulfilling her potential. Everybody admires her dedication to music and urges her to play for them. Of course, unlike Emma, she expected to have to depend on her talents to ensure her survival as a governess in the future.
  • 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.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Once you know exactly who feels what for whom, much of the earlier dialogue in the novel takes on a very different tone.
  • Exact Words: Harriet, convinced of Mr. Knightley's regard towards her, confides several instances to Emma as example, who replies in this way. “Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does.”
  • Facepalm: Emma is ashamed of her meddling and her tricks when Harriet brings and shows her a keepsake from her infatuation with Mr Elton. Emma puts her hand before her face.
  • First-Name Basis: The fact that Mr Knightley calls Emma by her first name alone is, in Regency England, a giant, flashing neon sign announcing just how close they are even before they get engaged. For a man to address a woman he isn't related to this way, they either have to be a relative, practically engaged, or the closest of longtime family friends. (Mr Knightley probably gets away with this for two reasons; one, the families have been on intimatenote  terms for years and absolutely everybody knows it, and two, he is Emma's brother-in-law as well as her longtime friend.)
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Mr. Elton marries Augusta Hawkins in the course of a four-week trip to Bath, making four dates a rather generous assumption about the length of their courtship.
  • Friendship as Courtship: Emma and Knightley have known each other so long and so well that when the inevitable Love Epiphany strikes, they skip the courting and go straight to the marriage proposal.
  • Garden of Love: Emma and Mr Knightley declare their feelings to each other in the Hartfield shrubbery. The following day, they "steal" half an hour to go over the same ground, literally and figuratively, to spend some time alone. They tell others about their love and intention to get married after some time.
  • 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.)
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Non-sexual version. Mrs. Elton is pointedly described as being the daughter of a "Bristol — merchant, of course, he must be called". This was an implication that her £10,000 fortune was dirty money because Bristol was an infamous slave port. (It's also why Mrs. Elton is keen to point out her in-laws' abolitionist views later.) To contemporary readers, it was another indication of how Mr. Elton cared about money and nothing else in his marriage.
  • The Ghost: We read a lot about a few characters we never get to meet firsthand.
    • Frank's aunt and uncle, the very rich and snobby Churchills. Mr Churchill is supposed to be rather meek, but he's influenced by his wife. She's said to be domineering and unreasonable. For some time they stay in London and Richmond, which allows Frank to be close enough to Highbury to visit there quite often, but his aunt and uncle never come to Highbury themselves.
    • Jane Fairfax's foster family, the Campbells. Colonel and Mrs Campbell and their daughter Mrs Dixon and son-in-law Mr Dixon are talked about often enough, but never seen in person. They live in London and later go on an extended visit to Mr and Mrs Dixon in Ireland. Emma correctly suspects Jane has some ulterior motive to stay in Highbury instead, but she's mistaken about what the motive actually is. Jane is in Highbury because that way, she might occasionally be in company of Frank who is secretly her fiancé.
    • Mrs Elton's sister and brother-in-law, the Sucklings. She keeps talking about them and they promised to visit her, but they never actually show up.
  • Gold Digger: Mr Elton. He wants to marry well and knows he can, being a man with a respectable position and good income as a parson, and also quite good-looking. He sets his eyes on Emma, the richest young lady of the neighbourhood, who puts a spanner in his plans as soon as she realizes what he's doing. She even thinks to herself that her money is what he really wanted, and that he'd find someone else with a decent fortune soon enough. She's right.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Mrs Elton, who uses what was then a tired old Italian catchphrase to refer to her husband: caro sposo, meaning dear husband. note 
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany:
    • Emma realizes she loves none but Mr Knightley when she hears that Harriet is in love with him and thinks he returns her affection.
    • Mr Knightley seems to have realized he really loves Emma after Frank Churchill's arrival and after his observation of their assumed flirtation, courtship and progressing relationship. The narration later confirms this.
  • 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. Everybody likes him except Mr Knightley. It turns out he loves Emma himself and thinks Frank doesn't deserve her.
    • When Harriet confides to Emma that she is in love with Mr Knightley, it causes Emma to realise she's jealous and suddenly knows her own strong feelings for him.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: 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. It means confessing his love passionately.
  • Hired Help as Family: Miss Taylor was hired as a governess to work for the Woodhouse family after Emma and Isabella's mother died. The narrator says she has fallen 'little short of a mother in affection' and that she was less a governess than a friend. She's like another beloved daughter to Mr Woodhouse and something between a sister, mother and close friend to Emma.
  • 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. She's not exactly the most self-aware character, though.
  • Ignored Epiphany: After realising how disastrously wrong she was about Mr Elton and Harriet, Emma sees how foolish she was to try and bring them together based on little more than her own assumptions and acknowledges that her well-intentioned meddling only worsened the situation; however this doesn't stop her from later making assumptions about Jane Fairfax and later Harriet and Frank Churchill. It's a while — and several more romantic misunderstandings later — before she really understands that she's not nearly as skilled at reading people's hearts as she believes herself to be.
    Emma: That I had been satisfied with persuading her not to accept young Martin! There I was quite right. That was well done of me; but there I should have stopped, and left the rest to time and chance.
  • 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).
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Emma towards Mr Knightley and Mr Knightley towards Emma. Mr Knightley likes giving Emma advice, but ultimately enjoys the fact that she has her own mind and opinions. Mr Knightley is the only person who can properly challenge Emma, too.
  • Ironic Name: Frank Churchill. This guy is anything but frank. He's dishonest and insincere with everybody about his intentions.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Jane and Frank are secretly engaged, and she has to watch him flirt with Emma (who is clueless about the truth). Finally she refuses to believe that flirting is just to keep the cover and wants to break he engagement. Meanwhile, Mr. Knightley decides to go away and stay with his brother for a while rather than continue to watch Emma, whom he has loved for several years, continue flirting with Frank Churchill. (When the truth about his engagement to Jane Fairfax becomes known, he comes flying back to make sure she's all right.)
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mr Elton is a Gold Digger, an egotist and everything bad — but he's right, Emma did lead him on. Unintentionally, to be sure, but her willful blindness just makes it worse. If she'd been paying attention, she would have realized that to everyone not working from the first principle of "Mr. Elton and Harriet should totally get hitched!" (ie, everyone who isn't Emma Woodhouse), inviting him over all the time and paying him extra attention doesn't look like trying to matchmake, it looks like flirting.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: John Knightley can be snarky and short-tempered with Mr Woodhouse, but 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. The narrative even notes that John's honestly very fond of his father-in-law, but there's only so long he can put up with some of Mr Woodhouse's more irritating dialogue.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr. Elton is already infinitely more shallow than he's first perceived to be, but deliberately standing up the lower-class Harriet Smith is low—lower still when he begins all but rubbing it in her face. It makes Mr. Knightly taking Harriet for a dance and making a fool of Mr. Elton all the more satisfying.
  • Last-Name Basis: Nearly everyone calls everyone else by their surname, with few exceptions among family and intimate friends, but even there there are some exceptions and the relationship is uneven. Also, it's important whether people use only the last name or with a title that comes before it.
    • Emma calls Miss Smith "Harriet", while Harriet always calls her "Miss Woodhouse".
    • Mrs Elton keeps calling Jane Fairfax "Jane" even though they know each other very briefly and are not intimate. Many people find this vulgar, and everyone else calls her "Miss Fairfax". In his letter to Mrs Weston after the truth is revealed, Frank is downright pissed that she takes such a liberty.
    • Mr Knightley calls Emma "Emma" while she calls him Mr Knightley. She's offended when Mrs Elton keeps calling him only "Knightley". Emma 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, especially on a second reading, while she — as ever — remains oblivious.
  • Liquid Courage: Mr Elton has been drinking wine (probably more than he should have) at the Westons' Christmas party before he proposes to Emma. Emma is not pleased.
    "She believed he had been drinking too much of Mr Weston's good wine, and felt sure that he would want to be talking nonsense."
  • Love Before First Sight: Miss Emma Woodhouse feels attraction and curiosity before first sight towards Mr Frank Churchill. He's a son of her close family friend, but he has been adopted by his wealthier childless relatives, so they have never met in person. Emma thinks (not without reason) that their match is considered "proper" by others in Highbury, as they are socially equal and close in age, and both are intelligent, charming and good-looking.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Emma ships Harriet and Mr Elton, even though Mr Elton wants to marry Emma 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 to the fact that Mr Knightley is in love with her. She believes that Harriet also has feelings for Frank Churchill, but then realises that Harriet instead believes herself in love with Mr Knightley, prompting her own epiphany. Mrs Weston, Mr Cole, and others also suspect something is going on between Mr Knightley and Miss 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 — although everything ends up fine in the end (remarkably).
  • Love Epiphany: Emma realizes she has loved none but Mr Knightley, who has been her close family friend for her entire life. She knows he considers her a dear friend, too, but thinks he might love someone else. This epiphany triggers Emma's quest to become a better person.
  • Love Hurts:
    • Robert Martin suffers a lot after the girl he loves refuses his marriage offer. Mr Knightley is right to be very angry at Emma for persuading Harriet to refuse him. What is worse that Harriet actually likes Robert as well and was a close friend to his two sisters. The whole family feel very much Robert's pain and whenever Harriet meets them, she is uneasy and suffers too.
    • Harriet suffers because Emma talks her out of accepting Mr Martin's offer. She then talks her into falling in love with Mr Elton, and then she suffers because of this unrequited love because Mr Elton doesn't care for her.
    • Jane Fairfax becomes literally ill from all her love troubles. She's secretly engaged to a man she loves, but he doesn't understand that it's mentally draining to be dishonest to everyone. And he also decides to openly court and flirt with another lady to cover their relationship. Naturally, Jane grows jealous and resentful.
  • Love Letter: Robert Martin writes a letter with a marriage proposal to Harriet Smith. The actual letter is not shown on paper, but it's said to be a short but lovely and very good letter, and even Emma admits it's very well-written, especially for a young farmer (as Emma snobbishly assumes he can't be educated and intelligent enough).
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Love riddle lunacy. Mr Elton writes a love riddle for Harriet's collection and claims it was written by a friend, but he means it as a way of courting Emma, who correctly identifies the true author but thinks it was meant for Harriet.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Emma derails a relationship between Harriet Smith and Robert Martin by filling the poor girl's head with distractions because she thinks the young farmer isn't genteel enough for Miss Woodhouse's friend. At least she realises this late in the novel.
    • Frank Churchill. Flirting with Emma in front of his fiancée, who has to keep their relationship hidden and play off the offers of a position of a Governess while waiting for him. He has no way of knowing how seriously — or not — Emma takes his flirting, but knows perfectly well how much it must be hurting Jane. Unlike Emma (likely in part because we never see inside his head), he doesn't redeem himself much by the end of the novel, though his letter to Mrs Weston does show some of his thoughts and his regret.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: John and Isabella's five children, in stark contrast to the two Woodhouse sisters and two Knightley brothers. And the couple is still very young, so they might have more. They're shown to be happy children who are adored by their aunt, uncle, and grandpapa, as well as their parents.
  • The Matchmaker: Emma thinks of herself as a matchmaker, though not one who would openly try to find wives and husbands for others. To her, it's trying to perceive other people's hearts, and she thinks she knows what's best for everybody else. Her only known success story is bringing together the Westons, and it's never really confirmed just how much she was really responsible for that.
  • Matchmaker Crush: The result of Emma's matchmaking of Mr Elton and Harriet is Mr Elton falling for Emma; he took her continual invitations and attention as attention from her towards him. He was more after her money and position than her as a person, though she's very intelligent and beautiful.
  • Matchmaker Failure: Emma loves matchmaking, spending a good deal of the novel trying to set up the people around her with each other. Yet, the only time she's successful is when she sets up Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. Her attempt to match Harriet and Mr. Elton is a disaster, and even her later musings and gossip (Jane and Mr. Dixon, Harriet and Frank) turn out to be nothing.
  • 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 hairstyle and that he couldn't help himself and had to stare. However, it was a loving and longing look. They are secretly engaged.
    • Emma manages to catch Mr Knightley's eyes at the ball and it makes him smile at her, even though he dislikes balls and would prefer to be at home.
    • 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 appeared to be courting Emma. Mr Knightley is the only one who correctly suspected that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax were in a relationship.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mr Knightley is not called Mr Knightley for nothing. He's a gentleman through and through and behaves like a knight to everybody — his family, friends and tenants. For example, he's very concerned for Mrs and Miss Bates, and Miss Fairfax, who are genteel but impoverished.
    • The name Woodhouse suggests that the family is very wealthy. Additionally, it was also the surname of a Royalist general, Sir Michael Woodhouse, signifying her as the prime example of the British aristocracy.
    • Jane Fairfax is a Jane with a fair face. In contrast to Emma, her surname is the same as a famous English Civil War general — adding another dimension to their tense relationship. Like Emma however, it places her as an ideal English woman.
    • Harriet's surname is "Smith" — like Emma and Jane she is very English, but in contrast to them, almost anonymous (Smith being the most common surname in England). This makes a lot of sense near the end of the book, when it's revealed that she's the illegitimate daughter of a tradesman who wanted to basically remain anonymous in her life.
    • Everything is done well in Donwell Abbey, Mr Knightley's estate.
    • Hartfield is a place where affairs of the heart are being formed. It's the seat of Miss Woodhouse, the resident matchmaker.
  • Missing Mom: Mrs Woodhouse died when Emma was very little. Luckily, Emma and Isabella had a wonderful mother figure in their governess, Miss Taylor.
  • Mrs. Hypothetical:
    • When Mrs Weston imagines Mr Knightley loves Jane Fairfax, she talks about it with Emma. Emma immediately dislikes this potential Mrs Knightley.
      She could not at all endure the idea of Jane Fairfax at Donwell Abbey. A Mrs Knightley for them all to give way to! — No — Mr Knightley must never marry.
    • A hypothetical Mrs Knightley appears in conversation between single Mr Knightley and Mrs Elton who fancies herself 'Lady Patroness' of the neighbourhood. He uses it merely as a reminder that no woman can behave like the mistress of his house except his wife, and she's amused by his assertions and doesn't take offense. However, the ending of the book reveals he already had a certain lady in mind.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Emma, repeatedly:
      • First, she is horrified and very sorry when she realizes Mr Elton was after her instead of Harriet (as she had been encouraging Harriet to think).
      • Later, she repents deeply after she carelessly insults Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic.
      • Finally, close to the end of the book, she 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, and in her own words, "Oh God! that I had never seen her!"
    • Frank Churchill has this reaction off-stage when he realizes that Jane intends to break off their engagement over his behavior.
  • 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.
  • Nice to the Waiter:
    • Emma and her father evince real fondness for and interest in their servants; Mr Woodhouse is particularly attached to his driver, James, and his cook, Serle. He also helped James's daughter Hannah get a good job with the Westons prior to the beginning of the book, and remarks that she's "a pretty, well-spoken girl". It's also mentioned that Emma has invited the girl to her sewing parties. At one point, Emma even goes to visit a former servant who has retired. By contrast, Mrs Elton can't even remember her (presumably far fewer) servants' names.
    • Mr Knightley is very much respected by his servants and tenants, and he knows them well enough that they talk to him about personal matters as well. People mention quite often that his employee William Larkins cares for him and "thinks more of his master's profit than any thing".
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing the book has to a character that initiates the conflict is Emma herself, but she doesn't even qualify as a Villain Protagonist, due to being ultimately well-intentioned. She has a good heart and means perfectly well; it's just that she has no idea how much she's messed things up until close to the end of the story.
  • Non-Idle Rich:
    • Surprisingly, Emma. We are not three chapters into the story until we are told that she assists the poor, manages her Big Fancy House (and has since she was twelve), takes care of her elderly hypochondriac father, and sends provisions and pays visits to her less well-off neighbours. However, it turns out that her active mind needs more stimuli and this domestic Idle Rich life bores her, so she meddles in other people's affairs.
    • Mr Knightley. He's a magistrate and takes care of legal issues of the parish, he manages his estate exceptionally well, and he's extremely respected by everybody.
  • Nouveau Riche: As in Austen's other novels, there's a distinction made between the respectable Self-Made Man and then this irritating sort. Mrs Elton's continual boasting about her wealth and her sister's very wealthy marriage never ends. Contrast with Mr Weston, who has no inherited wealth but is only concerned with making himself and his family comfortable and doesn't flaunt his money.
  • Oblivious to Love:
    • Emma is so laser-focused on matchmaking Harriet and Mr. Elton that she misinterprets every sign of his attraction to her as being about Harriet. (Mr. Elton repeatedly and effusively compliments Emma's drawing of Harriet? Must be that he thinks Harriet is really pretty! Mr. Elton calls Harriet witty when she's obviously not? Well, people in love always attribute extra virtues to their crushes!)
    • 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. Emma is a gentleman's daughter and the first lady of the neighbourhood. She befriends Harriet, who was born out of wedlock so her position in society is questionable. Emma eventually realizes that her friendship with Harriet has only made Harriet's life more complicated and difficult than it needed to be, and by the end she resolves to draw back slightly and allow Harriet to make her own decisions.
  • Offending the Fool: When Emma very insensitively states that sweet, ditzy Miss Bates will have difficulty limiting herself to saying only three very dull things at once, but this remark really hurts her. She's too kind to make an issue of it — and is poor enough that she can't afford to alienate her better off neighbors — but it takes much of the rest of the book for Emma to manage to mend things with her.
  • Old Maid:
    • Miss Bates never married, and there's no indication that there was ever anyone she might have married.
    • Discussed when Emma talks about her intention of never getting married. Harriet thinks it is a dreadful thing to be an old maid like Miss Bates, but Emma argues that a rich single woman of consequence can command as much respect as anybody, and be as pleasant and sensible as anybody else. She thinks she has an active mind and will always have something to occupy herself with, and her sister has five children, so she will have people to love later in her life as well without having to get married.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Mr Knightley. He's a sharp observer and can analyse the relationships most accurately. He's also the most sensible and not as obsessed with class status.
    • Mrs Weston is very intelligent, useful and gentle, and she sees things as a reasonable woman. However, she's sometimes blinded by her affection for Emma or Frank.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations:
    • At the end of Frank's first visit to Hartfield, he winds up alone with Emma and hesitantly begins to speak of the suspicions he's sure she has formed of his behavior. She ends the conversation rather than allow him to betray whatever secret he's ready to spill, so she never finds out what he was really going to say. She thinks he was going to confess that he's love with her; what he was really preparing to do was tell her about his secret engagement.
    • Emma and Harriet discuss the man with whom Harriet has fallen in love after he gallantly came to her rescue, but each is thinking of a different man. Harriet is talking of Mr Knightley, who asked her to dance after she was snubbed at the ball by the Eltons, but Emma thinks they are talking of Frank Churchill, who rescued Harriet from a band of gypsies.
  • 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: The book has two Picnic Chapters:
    • The strawberry picking party at Donwell gardens. They eat fruit outside, but Mr Knightley specifically arranges for proper meal to be eaten inside the house.
    • The summer trip to explore Box Hill. The day is too hot and Emma is at her worst when influenced by Frank; she carelessly insults Miss Bates.
  • Playing Sick:
    • Many characters presume that Frank's aunt is pretending to be ill to manipulate her husband and nephew (basically her adopted son). One of her manipulations is to keep Frank at home as much as possible. Frank later says she is really ill but plays up her symptoms. 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. It's known 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 with whom she is in love. Emma is resolved not to actively meddle, so they agree not to say his name. Trouble is, she was "rescued" twice and two gentlemen rendered her service.
  • Practically Different Generations: Frank Churchill is Mr Weston's son from his first marriage. Anna, Mr Weston's baby daughter from his second marriage, is born in the latter third of the novel, at which point Frank is stated to be 23 years old.
  • Preppy Name: The early 19th century equivalent. "Augusta" Elton is named after the mother and daughter of King George III, and her sister "Selina" is named after after Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. As the daughters of a Bristol merchant, these are pretentious names which demonstrate their own snobbish natures.
  • Previously Overlooked Paramour: Near the end of the novel, Emma realizes that she is in love with Mr. Knightley, her father's best friend, who had been like an uncle to her when she was growing up.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal:
    • Emma persuades her friend Harriet to reject a marriage proposal from Robert Martin, a gentleman farmer, even though Harriet is clearly fond of him. It's because Emma is convinced Harriet should marry someone with better social standing and that she's a better match with Mr Elton, a local clergyman.
    • Mr Elton then proposes marriage to Emma, believing her to be in love with him; Emma is offended and declines, explaining she thought he was interested in Harriet. Mr Elton dismisses Harriet as being beneath him, upsetting Harriet and leaving Emma ashamed at her misjudgment of the situation.
  • 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 at the ball by asking her to dance when she is snubbed by Mr Elton.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Reread Bonus. It's a lot easier to pick up on the clues regarding Frank and Jane's secret engagement on a second reading. It's also easier to see through the entire riddle poem mess the second time around, as well as catch the hints that Mr Knightley is in love with Emma. Paying attention to Miss Bates and her Wall of Text clues is also easier.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • The main character is a subversion in that she is in the position to behave like one, but is actually a really good person who uses her wealth and power reasonably. Moments when she does come across badly generally aren't a result of her upbringing or wealth, but rather her thoughtlessness and naivety. She is very aware of her class relative to other people, but due to the social mores of the time, this is not portrayed as her being rude or mean, but simply as how the world is. Some actresses play her as being much more snobby than she ever was in the book.
    • Mrs Elton, on the other hand, plays it straight and ratchets the trope right up to eleven. She constantly boasts about her gowns, house, carriage, wealthy relatives, and so on. And she snubs people who are of the same, if not higher, position in the society, but to whom she fancies herself superior. For example, she remarks to Emma how surprised she was to find Mrs Weston ladylike — Mrs Weston, who is married to one of the most respectable men in Highbury and who was Miss Woodhouse's governess and is her close friend.
  • Roguish Romani: Frank rescues Harriet from a band of gypsies.
  • Romantic Rain:
    • Poked fun at the beginning of the novel. Emma recollects that when Miss Taylor and she met Mr Weston in Broadway Lane, it began to drizzle, and he went away to borrow two umbrellas for them from Farmer Mitchell’s, and she began to plan a match between them from that moment. Some illustrations have Mr Weston and Miss Taylor sharing an Umbrella of Togetherness. Moreover, it's raining on their wedding day.
    • Combined with Love Hurts when Mr Martin, still hopelessly in love with Harriet who refused him, accidentally meets her at Ford's while it's raining. He advises her to take a better road that is less floated with water.
    • Mr Knightley rides on horseback from London to Highbury in the rain because he has been informed of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax's engagement, and he fears that the news is distressing to Emma. He rides rain or no rain in order to soothe and counsel her. Downplayed because when Emma and Mr Knightley meet, the rain is gone, and despite his deep love, Mr Knightley is reasonable enough to go to his own estate first, have dinner and change to dry clothes.
      He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery.
  • Relationship Sabotage: Emma actively meddles in Harriet and Robert Martin's relationship. Robert Martin asks Harriet to marry him, and it's clear that Harriet feels some affection for him as well, but Emma thinks Harriet should marry someone more genteel and persuades her to refuse him (and in such a way that Harriet doesn't realize that she's being manipulated). Mr Knightley tells Emma off for this.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Mr and Mrs Elton could never get away with being openly rude to Emma Woodhouse. Instead, they insult and snub Harriet Smith at every opportunity.
  • 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 is nothing more than a Shrinking Violet dealing with her lack of resources and her issues with Parental Abandonment. Her polite reserve when discussing her life with the Campbells irritates Emma, who takes it into her head that there must be an inappropriate love between Jane and the Campbell daughter's husband, but in reality Jane has nothing to conceal from anyone. Until she meets a friend... who becomes more than a friend... but she can't say anything because his family isn't supportive... and he must cover it up so that no one ever guesses. A girl is on the scene who isn't interested in him too deeply and resents Jane for being the person everyone wants her to be; harmless cover, right? Until he starts being too flirty, using mean leads and Jane, instead of going Clingy Jealous Girl and snapping... elegantly steps back and politely asks him to give back every artifact of their romance so she can burn it and move on.
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • Emma — first for Mr Weston and Miss Taylor, then for Harriet and Mr Elton, then for Harriet and Frank. Only the first one works out. (In the 2009 adaptation, Emma also ships John and Isabella and claims credit for their match.)
    • People in town ship Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax. Mrs Weston mentions it first to Emma, and Mr Knightley, very much annoyed, hears the gossip from Mr Cole. Of course, he's desperately in love with Emma.
    • Many people — most notably Mr and Mrs Weston — seem to ship Emma and Frank, who are both of nearly the same age, both are handsome and rich. Emma is like a daughter to Mrs Weston and Frank Churchill is Mr Weston's son.
  • Shipping Torpedo:
    • Emma is displeased when she finds out that her protegée Harriet considers marrying Mr Martin, a young farmer. She talks Harriet out of accepting his offer.
    • Most people think that Emma and Frank Churchill belong together. The only one who thinks that Frank doesn't deserve her is Mr Knightley.
    • People in town start shipping Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax. Emma is very much against their marriage and thinks it's only because her small nephew might not stay Mr Knightley's heir. (She realizes she actually loves Mr Knightley herself later.) Mr Knightley is also displeased when he hears the gossip and torpedoes it himself.
  • Small Town Boredom:
    • Downplayed with Emma's feeling about Highbury, her home village in Surry. She enjoys being the first lady in the Highbury society, but considers others to be rather inferior (with the exception of Mr and Mrs Weston and Mr Knightley). When Emma meets Frank Churchill, he speaks of Highbury so handsomely that Emma begins "to feel she has been used to despise the place rather too much". Emma's desire to travel is hinted at, e.g. when she jokingly complains that she's the only one who has never seen the sea.
      Emma: I must beg you not to talk of the sea. It makes me envious and miserable;—I who have never seen it!
    • Frank Churchill grew up in a secluded Big Fancy House and once he's adult, he's travelling in England (e.g. he visits Weymouth, a popular spa town) and he has a great desire to travel abroad.
      Frank: As soon as my aunt gets well, I shall go abroad. I shall never be easy till I have seen some of these places. You will have my sketches, some time or other, to look at—or my tour to read—or my poem. I shall do something to expose myself.
      Emma: That may be—but not by sketches in Swisserland. You will never go to Swisserland. Your uncle and aunt will never allow you to leave England.
  • Technician vs. Performer: This novel presents a realistic view on this trope. Emma Woodhouse plays the piano rather well, but she hasn't practised enough to reach true mastery. Jane Fairfax is as old as Emma, and just as talented in music as she is, but Jane has a deeper love for music and she has been a diligent student and plays just about perfectly. Emma is a skilled performer, but Jane is both a technician and a performer. Of course, not everybody recognizes it.
    Harriet: Oh! if I could but play as well as you and Miss Fairfax!
    Emma: Don't class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like hers, than a lamp is like sunshine.
    Harriet: Oh! dear — I think you play the best of the two. I think you play quite as well as she does. I am sure I had much rather hear you. Every body last night said how well you played.
    Emma: Those who knew any thing about it, must have felt the difference. The truth is, Harriet, that my playing is just good enough to be praised, but Jane Fairfax’s is much beyond it.
    Harriet: Well, I always shall think that you play quite as well as she does, or that if there is any difference nobody would ever find it out. Mr Cole said how much taste you had; and Mr Frank Churchill talked a great deal about your taste, and that he valued taste much more than execution.
    Emma: Ah! but Jane Fairfax has them both, Harriet.
    Harriet: Are you sure? I saw she had execution, but I did not know she had any taste. Nobody talked about it. And I hate Italian singing. There is no understanding a word of it. Besides, if she does play so very well, you know, it is no more than she is obliged to do, because she will have to teach.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Mr Woodhouse is really fond of thin water gruel, as is his daughter Isabella. He recommends it to everyone and it's his Comfort Food.
  • Two First Names: Anyone in the Martin family, including Robert Martin and Elizabeth Martin. By the end of the novel, this includes Harriet Martin.
  • Unknowingly in Love: Emma enjoys playing matchmaker for others, but doesn't realize that she loves Mr. Knightley until Harriet expresses an interest in him.
  • Walls of Text: A lot of Miss Bates' dialogue. What is interesting is that her gossip is harmless and often provides valuable insight, which other characters miss because they think she's just a batty old woman and they're used to tuning her out.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!:
    • Harriet's soft blue eyes. Emma finds them particularly intriguing.
    • Mrs Weston gushes 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 likes finding mistakes in Emma and he's not above teasing her and scolding her. Two instances when it gets serious stand out:
      • He instantly recognizes Emma's manipulation of Harriet when she talked her out of marrying Robert Martin. He tells her she's unreasonable and foolish, and that both Robert and Harriet will suffer because of her.
      • He tells Emma off when she carelessly insults Miss Bates. Jane Austen's fandom loves to use his "it was badly done" as his catchphrase, though he says it only once.
        Mr Knightley: Emma, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?
    • Implied with Jane's reaction to Frank when she sees him openly flirting with Emma right in front of her. It was a part of their plan (or rather just Frank's) to keep their relationship secret, but he takes it too far. It almost leads to the end of their engagement.
  • 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 natural daughter of a tradesman, who leaves her quite comfortably off economically but does nothing to raise her social status.
  • Wrong Guy First: Emma thinks she's in love with Frank Churchill, but when she discovers her true feelings for another, she realises she never really loved Frank. Meanwhile, she persuades Harriet that her first love wasn't good enough for her, so Harriet sets her sights on various unattainable men before gratefully accepting her first love's proposal again.