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protagonist of the novel. In the well-known first sentence of the
novel, the narrator describes Emma as “handsome, clever, and rich,
with a comfortable home and happy disposition.” In some ways, the
twenty-year-old Emma is mature for her age. Because her mother is
dead and her older sister married, she is already the head of her
father’s household. She cares for her father and oversees the social
goings-on in the village of Highbury. Emma’s misplaced confidence
in her abilities as a matchmaker and her prudish fear of love constitute
the central focus of the novel, which traces Emma’s mistakes and growing
Read an in-depth analysis of Emma Woodhouse
Emma’s brother-in-law and the Woodhouses’ trusted
friend and advisor. Knightley is a respected landowner in his late
thirties. He lives at Donwell Abbey and leases property to the Martins,
a family of wealthy farmers whom he likes and counsels. Knightley
is the only character who is openly critical of Emma, pointing out
her flaws and foibles with frankness, out of genuine concern and
care for her. In this respect, he acts as a stand-in for Austen’s
and the reader’s judgments of Emma.
father and the patriarch of Hartfield, the Woodhouse estate. Though
Mr. Woodhouse is nervous, frail, and prone to hypochondria, he is
also known for his friendliness and his attachment to his daughter.
He is very resistant to change, to the point that he is unhappy
to see his daughters or Emma’s governess marry. In this sense, he
impedes Emma’s growth and acceptance of her adult destiny. He is
often foolish and clearly not Emma’s intellectual equal, but she
comforts and entertains him with insight and affection.
pretty but unremarkable seventeen-year-old woman of uncertain parentage,
who lives at the local boarding school. Harriet becomes Emma’s protégé
and the object of her matchmaking schemes.
Mr. Weston’s son and Mrs. Weston’s stepson. Frank
Churchill lives at Enscombe with his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs.
Churchill. He is considered a potential suitor for Emma, but she
learns that though Frank is attractive, charming, and clever, he
is also irresponsible, deceitful, rash, and ultimately unsuited to
Read an in-depth analysis of Frank Churchill
Bates’s niece, whose arrival in Highbury irritates Emma. Jane rivals
Emma in accomplishment and beauty; she possesses a kind heart and
a reserved temperament. Because Jane lacks Emma’s fortune, she must
consider employment as a governess, but her marriage to Frank Churchill
saves her from that fate.
Read an in-depth analysis of Jane Fairfax
Miss Taylor, Emma’s beloved governess and companion. Known for her
kind temperament and her devotion to Emma, Mrs. Weston lives at
Randalls with her husband, Frank Churchill’s father.
widower and proprietor of Randalls, who has just married Miss Taylor
when the novel begins. Mr. Weston has a son, Frank, from his first
marriage to Miss Churchill (Frank was raised by Miss Churchill’s sister
and brother-in-law). Mr. Weston is warm, sociable, and perpetually
village vicar, a handsome and agreeable man considered a welcome
addition to any social gathering. When he reveals his indifference
to Harriet and his desire to marry Emma, only to take a bride at
Bath shortly thereafter, he comes to seem proud, conceited, and
A twenty-four-year-old farmer. Mr. Martin is industrious
and good-hearted, though he lacks the refinements of a gentleman.
He lives at Abbey-Mill Farm, a property owned by Knightley, with
his mother and sisters.
of Mr. Woodhouse and aunt of Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates is a middle-aged
spinster without beauty or cleverness but with universal goodwill
and a gentle temperament. Emma’s impatient treatment of her reveals
the less attractive parts of Emma’s character.
Emma’s older sister, who lives in London with her
husband, Mr. John Knightley, and their five children. Isabella is
pretty, amiable, and completely devoted to her family, but slow
and diffident compared to Emma. Her domesticity provides a contrast
to the independent celibacy Emma imagines for herself.
Emma’s brother-in-law, and Mr. George Knightley’s
brother. As a lawyer, John Knightley is clear-minded but somewhat
sharp in temper, and Emma and her father are sometimes displeased
with his severity.
Augusta Hawkins, Mrs. Elton hails from Bristol and meets Mr. Elton
in Bath. She is somewhat attractive and accomplished; she has some
fortune and a well-married sister, but her vanity, superficiality,
and vulgar overfamiliarity offset her admirable qualities.
Mr. Weston’s ailing former sister-in-law and Frank Churchill’s aunt
and guardian. She is known to be capricious, ill-tempered, and extremely
possessive of Frank. Frank is able to marry Jane Fairfax, as he desires,
only after Mrs. Churchill’s death.
A friend of Jane Fairfax’s father who lives in London
and who takes charge of orphaned Jane when she is eight years old.
Colonel Campbell feels great affection for Jane but is unable to
provide her with an inheritance.
Campbells’ daughter and Jane’s friend. Mrs. Dixon lacks beauty and
lives with her husband in Ireland.
to the Campbells’ daughter. Emma suspects that Mr. Dixon had a romance
with Jane Fairfax before his marriage.
of the local boarding school. Mrs. Goddard introduces Harriet Smith
to the Woodhouses.
to Miss Bates and friend of Mr. Woodhouse. An elderly woman, Mrs.
Bates is quiet, amiable, and somewhat deaf.
apothecary and associate of Emma’s father. Mr. Perry is highly esteemed
by Mr. Woodhouse for his medical advice even though he is not a
proper physician, and Mr. Woodhouse argues with his daughter Isabella
over Perry’s recommendations.
Mr. Martin’s kind sister, with whom Harriet was
good friends before meeting Emma and turning down Mr. Martin’s marriage
proposal. Harriet’s feelings of guilt and her desire to rekindle
her relationship with Elizabeth pose a dilemma for Emma, who finds
the Martins pleasant, worthy people, but worries that Harriet may
be tempted to accept Mr. Martin’s offer if she again grows close
with the family.
Tradespeople and longtime residents of Highbury
whose good fortune of the past several years has led them to adopt
a luxurious lifestyle that is only a notch below that of the Woodhouses.
Offended by their attempt to transcend their “only moderately genteel”
social status, Emma has long been preparing to turn down any dinner
invitation from the Coles in order to teach them their folly in
thinking they can interact socially with the likes of her family.
Like the Martins, the Coles are the means through which Emma demonstrates
Read an in-depth analysis of Jane Fairfax