Essay on Jane Austen's Emma

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Jane Austen's Emma

Beautiful dresses, passionate romances, elegant parties, a general state of leisure and happiness – these are only a few of the idealistic views of the nineteenth century. In her novel, Emma, Jane Austen paints a much more realistic picture of the ins and outs of high society in England of the 1800’s. Through the presumptions and pride of the characters of heroine, Emma Woodhouse, and secondary character, Mrs. Elton, Austen presents a stark critique of the social assumptions and diplomatic maneuvering so common of the society of her time, however, by the end of the novel, Austen’s critique is made clear by a subtle foil of these two characters – Emma having been the only one of the two to learn her lesson.
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This concept of Harriet being Emma’s toy is made even clearer when Emma paints a likeness of Harriet. Austen tells that Emma embellishes the painting “as she meant to throw in a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height and considerably more elegance” (55). In doing this, Emma completes her re-creation, for now she has formed Harriet’s demeanor and given her a new physical image as well. As if this were not enough, Emma also reigns over Harriet’s love life. After Harriet is proposed to by Mr. Martin, whom the reader is left to assume that she actually does love, Emma talks her into refusing the proposal and denying her feelings for him. It may be said that Harriet is too submissive in all matters with Emma, but certainly Emma’s class superiority to Harriet’s demanded respect. But this is the very thing that Emma takes advantage of as she tells Harriet that in marrying Mr. Martin, she would be forfeiting Hartfield, Emma’s home, because Emma could not stoop so low as to be in acquaintance with a farmer and his wife. This near dictatorship over Harriet is a constant theme of their relationship for the majority of the novel.

The relationship between Emma and Harriet is in many ways paralleled in that of Mrs. Elton and Jane Fairfax, who, like Harriet, has no roots to claim, and is viewed by Mrs. Elton as being in great need of a superior lady to guide her. Of Jane’s
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