Now when Jane Austen wrote Emma she created a character that was completely different from any of the other heroines.
Yep, Emma is truly unique and here are the reasons why.
1) No Worries About Money
Unlike the other heroines, Emma has no worries at all about money. While Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, are from an okay family, their estate is entailed so their family are constantly worrying about how they will marry the girls off. Elinor and Marianne, Sense & Sensibility, were raised wealthy, but too fall victim to the dreaded entailment
and ended up schlepped to a cottage, their mother worrying if she will be able to get any man interested as their dowry is so small. Fanny, Mansfield Park, mother was rich but married down, living in poverty. Fanny managed to escape this as her wealthy aunt and uncle brought her into their home, but she wasn’t treated nice but constantly reminded that she was a poor relation. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Moreland comes from a financially ok family, but as we see when James announces his engagement they don’t have gobs of cash. This is a moment of strife for Henry Tilney, as he has been trained to marry wealthy, rather than for love. Anne Elliot, Persuasion, was also born wealthy, but finds herself heading toward poverty as her father is whittling it away on the stupidest things.
Out of all of them, Emma is the only one who is finacially stable throughout the whole book. She also doesn’t have to worry about entailment, as her father has no restrictions. In fact, she is the favorite of her father’s children, so in fact she’s the one who will be getting all the money.
And she nows this. However, unlike the other Austen heroines, this security of life does cause her to become bored, which leads her to meddling in others lives.
2) Doesn’t Want to Get Married
Unlike the other heroines of Jane Austen’s world, Emma doesn’t want to get married. I wrote a whole post on it, The Real Revolutionary, so I’m only going to touch base on it here.
Emma doesn’t feel the need to marry as she doesn’t need money (her father is rich and she will inherit it all), she has never met a man who she felt was her equal, she is independent enough in her own home as she is mistress of the house, etc. For her, she’s believes she can have a thrilling and fulfilling life as an independent woman.
Elizabeth (P&P) isn’t mooning over any guy in particular, at least not at first, but she dreams of a time that she will be married, and to someone she is intensely in love with. That’s why she turns down Mr. Collins, and is shocked that Charlotte would choose the security of Mr. Collins instead of love. Elinor and Marianne both have their own romantic fantasies. Elinor wishes and hopes for the love of Edward, while Marianne has this huge romantic vision of her dream man. Fanny has been mooing over Edmund ever since she was a young girl, and while she doesn’t presume they will marry, that doesn’t stop her from dreaming. Catherine loves romantic novels, so she has all kinds of dreams and views on what type of man she will marry one day. And Anne, well she wanted marry Fredrick, until she was convinced not to, and afterwards dreamed of him coming back and the two reuniting.
3) Does Whatever She Wants
Unlike the other characters, Emma is a bit selfish. After all, she was raised wealthy, with whatever she wants at the tip of her fingers. So she just does whatever she wants to. This causes some big problems as she doesn’t always think about how her actions affect others, or the repercussions. Thank goodness for Mr. Knightly to keeping her straight.
Elizabeth never does what she wants as she is always worried about her sisters and keeping the younger ones straight, while protecting kind-hearted. After her father’s death, Elinor takes all responsibilities of the household and has to live her life taking care of everyone else. Fanny is too busy pleasing everyone as she doesn’t want to be kicked out of her house, and was raised to be subservient. Catherine doesn’t have the means or the personality to do whatever she wants as she has a large family, and is the daughter of a minister. Anne, is another one who is always trying to please everyone else, turning down the love of her life because of that.
4) Doesn’t Like to Read
Unlike any other Austen herione, Emma hates reading.
She strives to improve it, but finds herself bored and turning to other amusements, such as meddling.
This is strange as almost every other main character has a crucial scene that involves their thoughts on literature. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is an avid reader, bringing about the scene in the library were she and Mr. Darcy compare their views on the subject. And of course Mr. Darcy saying that a truly accomplished woman must love reading. Marianne is a huge fan of poetry, romance, and Shakespeare. She rejects Edward as a potential suitor for Elinor as he doesn’t read that much, (implying that Elinor also enjoys reading). She believes that a man who doesn’t share her views on reading isn’t worthy enough, causing her to fall head over heels when Willoughby mentions his equal love of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In Mansfield Park, Fanny loves reading but not plays or the theater as she sees it as immoral. In fact she tries to stay out of the whole family putting on a show. In Northanger Abbey,the whole plot revolves around a girl reading so many novels, she ends up with an overactive imagination. In Persuasion, Anne loves reading poetry books, something that becomes a crucial part in the book. She starts showing a brokenhearted sailor more uplifting poems, bringing everyone to speculate whether or not there will be a future match there, along with causing Fredrick to realize that he loves Anne.
5) Best Friend is a Man of no Relation
Emma doesn’t have any girlfriends, just a governess until Harriet comes along who is more of a project than a friend. The only one she has to converse with and discuss her opinions on subjects is Mr. Knightly. This is very radical from the time period as unmarried women were not often hanging out and spending time with men who were not related to them. Emma gets around this as Mr. Knightley is considered her “father’s friend” by the community, even though in fact Mr. Knightley is her best friend.
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth had her sister Jane and her best friend Charlotte. In Sense & Sensibility, the sisters are best friends. In Mansfield Park, Fanny’s best friend is a male, but it is her brother William. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine has Mrs. Allen, her sisters, and the fair-weather friend Isabella. In Persuasion, Anne has her mentor and old teacher.
As you can see none of these other characters would have ever thought to befriend a man who wasn’t related as it would have been scandalous, and only Emma is daring enough to go past society’s rules in a number of ways and do her own thing.
When Jane Austen wrote Emma she set out to create a character very unlike anything we had seen from her before, and from the society of the times. Her differences may make her unlikeable to some, but I think it just makes her a more likable and entertaining character.
For more on the book Emma, go to 200 Years of Glorious Emma
For more on Emma Woodhouse, go to Fashionably Postworthy