Main Characters: #
We must remember that character creation is a construct; an artefact and central ones do not necessarily represent the author. Characters are either portrayed sympathetically or unsympathetically. The former are called protagonists, heroes or good guys while the latter are antagonists, villains or bad guys. Sometimes main characters are picaresque – likeable but harmless rogues, larrikins or scoundrels –“loveable rogues”.
Martin Amis points out that over two millennia humans first told stories of Gods, then Kings, then Epic Heroes, then ordinary people , then anti-heroes, then villains, then demons and finally themselves.
According to Angus Fletcher Jane Austen’s novels don’t invite us to embrace other people as versions of ourselves. Her stylistic fusion of intimate disclosure, counterpointed by ironic detachment inspires us to embrace their distinctive needs and desires even though we fail to identify with them.
Austen’s subtle satire is easy to miss.
Sorrow came - a gentle sorrow - but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciouness - Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor’s loss which first brought grief.
We are reading Emma’s mind, but critically, rather than empatheically. The mere suggestion arouses our suspicions that perhaps we should not trust the voice.
Emma: Woodhouse – indulged, vain, conceited, manipulative, an unrepentant snob, - the only Austen character to get a book named after her. …
When Mrs Elton climbs the social ladder largely because of her marriage with Mr Elton, Emma disapproves: “She brought no name, no blood, no alliance.”
“*A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. *
“A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other…”.
Emma appears to extend her charity generously to most of the villagers, acting as a match maker for her governess Miss Taylor and then sets her sights on her lower class friend Harriet Smith. Her condescension is revealed in a faux pas at the Box Hill picnic where she flippantly insults the spinster Miss Bates, a compulsive chin wager. Attempting to liven up a dull party, each party goer is asked to make three interesting things. When Miss Bates self deprecatingly hers might be boring, Emma sarcastically suggests “she wasn’t just limited to three things”. Mr Knightley soundly confronts Emma for this breach of social grace.
Mr Woodhouse: #
Mr Woodhouse – invalid – valetudinarian – opinionated and traditional.
Isabella – sister to Emma, married to Mr John Knightley
Miss Taylor – governess who has just married widower, Mr Weston.
Serle - cook
James – coachman
Mr George Knightley – magistrate and local gentleman farmer – who
may not lack passion so much, as keep it under severe control. While he
seems right for Emma – Austen says: “they make an unexceptional*
marriage”, imagining a passionate relationship is difficult.
*(Unexceptional likely meant respectable or unashamed).
“In Emma, Mr Knightley has been in love with Emma Woodhouse ever since she was 13 and he was 30. For seven years he has blamed her and lectured her and she has “borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it”, so her reward is consummation with him.” Germaine Greer * *
Harriet Smith – “natural child” of unknown origin – (illegitimate) boarding at Miss Goddard’s school.
Emma’s object to assist an “ugly duckling” to become a “swan”.* Mr Knightley believes “ugly ducklings” tend to turn into ugly “ducks”.
- Harriet has a mind that never opposes an argument, but is never swayed from its own opinion.*
Mrs Bates – poor widow of former vicar and her spinster daughter, Miss Bates
Mr Elton – local vicar – Groomed for Harriet but falls for Emma – later marries. Despite the fact that her father was a vicar, Jane Austen is particularly harsh on clergymen as they frequently become the target of her most derisive mockery – Collins in P.& P.
Mrs Elton – a lady of small fortune, Elton discovers on the rebound after he is rejected by Emma. She becomes guilty of a number of minor faux passes
Mr Frank Churchill – 23 year old son of Mr Weston but adopted by the Churchills. An enigmatic and ambiguous character, not good, yet not villainous. He delays meeting Mrs Weston, yet when he arrives is attentive and charming, he flirts with Emma, yet he is confident she won’t be offended.
One of the reasons why Mr Knightley is quick to dislike Frank Churchill is because he rarely visits his father and he leaves town for frivolous reasons such as a haircut. For the privileged and high status community, this does not constitute “proper behaviour.”
Jane Fairfax – niece of Mrs Bates – secretly engaged to Frank Churchill. Prone to social gaffes. Though she and Frank quarrel, and deceive everyone, they do make up and appear to have a genuine and passionate relationship.
All Austen’s heroines are sharp; some are of quicker wit than others, but all see through the pretence and pretension around them, even when it involves members of their own immediate family. Only Emma is unusually beautiful but even she is loved not for her looks but for her nature: her wit, her good humour and her readiness to learn. The Austen hero’s intelligence is not simply quickness; it is grounded in moral insight and emotional truth. Even within the family, only where the Austen heroine esteems does she allow herself to love and her love is unshakeable.
Though the Austen heroine may endure the most abject misery and hopelessness, she does so in private; with other people she is always mistress of her feelings. Other people are not to be distressed or incommoded by any awareness of what the heroine is going through.” Germaine Greer