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Emma is Stephen's "beloved," the young girl to whom he is intensely attracted over the course of many years. Stephen does not know Emma particularly well, and is generally too embarrassed or afraid to talk to her, but feels a powerful response stirring within him whenever he sees her. Stephen's first poem, "To E— C—," is written to Emma. She is a shadowy figure throughout the novel, and we know almost nothing about her even at the novel's end. For Stephen, Emma symbolizes one end of a spectrum of femininity. Stephen seems able to perceive only the extremes of this spectrum: for him, women are either pure, distant, and unapproachable, like Emma, or impure, sexual, and common, like the prostitutes he visits during his time at Belvedere.
Read more about Emma as a symbol of pure love to Stephen.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man!