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Emma Woodhouse-Ditz or Deep?

By: Nicole Del Rio


" I'm going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

These were Jane Austen's famous words about Emma Woodhouse, protagonist of her fourth novel Emma. She is spoiled gossip that can be a bit clueless (hence the title of the modern adaptation), therefore readers often get annoyed with her. Despite her less than stellar reputation Emma is still one of Austen's most popular works and has been adapted to screen six times. With the most recent being Autumn de Wilde's 2020 movie starring Anya Taylor Joy. So what is it about Emma that has kept her in the public eye since 1815?

Emma's introduction is very blunt, with the first sentence stating, "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." The novel is written in third person, but Austen brilliantly only writes from Emma's perceptive. This helps engross readers not only in her world, but her mind as well, something very radical given the era's preference for third person narratives.

Emma may have a penchant for tea and gossip, but make no mistake- Emma is wiser than she lets on. She likes to play matchmaker and has had some success with this practice because she is good at analyzing people. Emma's shortcomings are her lack of patience and stubborn nature. She is smart enough to be the lady of her house, a role she assumed at a young age due to her mother's death, and Mr. Knightley says that Emma would have been more accomplished if she were more patient. Her intense focus on being a perfect friend and lady causes her to make mistakes, but really who doesn't make mistakes?

Emma is a perfectionist that eventually learns that not everything in life can be planned out. That things like love need to develop naturally and cannot be manipulated. As someone that needed to grow up fast, Emma needed to learn to let go and just take it easy. Though her picnics and tea parties might seem insignificant in the eyes of a modern woman, to her those were methods to prove herself. Emma Woodhouse is more than a heroine, she's human. She's a young girl that is finding herself, that stumbles, but deep down has a good heart. Perhaps that is why people have been in love with her since 1815, and why Mr. Knightley loved her more than he could talk about.

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