Last updated:
October 17, 2017

Back to Home

Laura L. Runge
Office: CPR 360D
Phone: 813-974-9496

Contact Me
with questions,

Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes

Material Realities and Contexts

Oct 24 Class 10

    Austen: Emma
    Critical Reading: Liz Ricketts' and Urshela Atkins' annotations
    Digital Project: What Jane Saw

DUE Post #8


    Introduce Emma
    Discuss portraiture in the eighteenth century
    Analyze digital project What Jane Saw
    Analyze two critical articles on Emma


Evaluate the position of Emma in Austen's ouevre. What do you expect in terms of narrative? In terms of story? Are there any suprises?

Sir Walter Scott famously said in a review of Austen's works that plot is the least important element in her novels, and "Emma has even less story than either of the preceding novels." To what extent do you agree? Is this a problem?

Published in 1816, the novel took the author fourteen months to write, about the same amount of time covered in the novel. It is worthwhile noting that in 1815 the Battle of Waterloo ended Napoleon's reign, wars abroad ended and instituted the first major economic depression, leading to major economic unrest and civil strife in England. Comment?

"I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," Jane Austen confided in one of her letters about Emma. Evaluate the character of Emma from the beginning of the novel. How does the narrator feel about the heroine? Why does Austen fear nobody will much like her?

Portraiture becomes in the first part of the novel an important motif (see chapter VI). How does the portrait reveal the character of the sitter? Of the painter? Of the prospective viewers? What does Emma's portraiture tell us about her character?

Compare portraiture in Emma to the "portrait-taking" done by Elizabeth Bennet and her revelation of Darcy in front of his portrait at Pemberley.

Critics early on saw a parallel between Austen's art of narrative and portraiture: Sir Walter Scott, again: "The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader."

George Henry Lewes (remember he is referenced in Moe's article): "Strong lights are unnecessary, true light being at command. The incidents, the characters, the dialogue -- all are of every day life, and so truthfully presented, that to appreciate the art we must try to imitate it, or carefully compare it with that of others."

To learn more about art and Austen's appreciation of art, see the digital project: What Jane Saw.

As Samuel Johnson says, all judgment is comparative, and Austen facilitates the judgment of the reader by providing specific points of comparison between characters. Likewise, the characters in the novel frequently learn to appreciate the other characters through comparison -- for example, Emma learns to understand Mr. Elton better by comparison with Mr. John Knightley in the carriage ride to the Weston's Christmas party (Chapter XIV).

Evaluate the character of Emma against the two main foils that Austen offers us. First half of the novel: Emma's foil is Harriet.
Sir Walter Scott writes: "Amongst all these personages, Miss Woodhouse walks forth, the princess paramount, superior to all her companions in wit, beauty, fortune, and accomplishments, doated upon by her father and the Westons, admired, and almost worshipped by the more humble companions of the whist table."

In the second half of the novel, Emma's foil is Mrs. Elton. Into this complacent village where Emma is the uncontested superior, comes the "vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance." What characteristics does Mrs. Elton exhibit?

Walton Litz writes: "The basic movement of Emma is from delusion to self-recognition, from illusion to reality. The three major stages in the drama, corresponding roughly to the novel's three volumes, concern Emma's 'blindness' to the real natures of Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and finally Mr. Knightley." Discuss how the "movement" of the novel also constructs an ideal of masculinity through these successive revelations of character. What do each of the male characters contribute to Emma's understanding (our understanding?) of proper male behavior?

What is the role of gallantry in the relations between men and women? If we understand gallantry as a mode of civil communication that is notoriously ambiguous, and as such can be abused, how does the novel illustrate the dangers and complexities of gallantry? Compare the two main figures of gallantry in the novel: Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill. How are we to understand the lack of gallantry in Mr. Knightley?

Back to Top of Page