Male Characters in the Novel Emma

Artlessly, Emma draws us into intrigues that are partly a manifestation of her own active imagination. We don't mind because, like Mrs. Weston, we want to believe that, "[w]here Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times," and if Emma is manipulative, "she will never lead any one really wrong." Austen's narrator confirms Mrs. Weston's good opinion of Emma. If Emma possesses "a mind delighted with its own ideas" she is also full of "real good-will." If she is spoiled by always having been "first" with her father, she is also extraordinarily patient with his tiresome eccentricity. And if she is an intriguer, she is capable of self-criticism and compassion, qualities illustrated in self-reflection when her hopes for Harriet and Mr. Elton are dashed. By the time Emma has "taught" Harriet to be smitten with Mr. Elton, we have been given clues enough that Emma is the real object of Mr. Elton's desire. Of course we relish the situational irony of Emma's self-congratulatory pronouncement that her efforts for Harriet have paid off: "There does seem to be a something in the air of Hartfield which gives love exactly the right direction, and sends it into the very channel where it ought to flow." But by the same token, when the full horror of Mr. Elton's real intentions are revealed as he attempts to "make love" to Emma in the coach scene, her misery and admission of culpability redeem her in our eyes: "Every part of it brought pain and humiliation . . . but, compared with the evil to Harriet, all was light; and she would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken . . . more disgraced by mis-judgment
... could the effects of her blunders have been confined to herself."
Lest Emma's journey toward true gentility become too didactic or moralistic, Austen introduces a romantic and mysterious subplot involving Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, which offers the theme of Emma's education more opportunities for wit and satire. Austen's humor expresses delight with the...