full title Emma
author Jane Austen
type of work Novel
genre Comedy of manners
time and place written 1814–1815, Chawton, England
date of first publication 1816
publisher John Murray
narrator The narrator is anonymous and narrates some time after the events of the novel take place. The novel is narrated using free indirect discourse, which means that the narrator steps into and out of Emma’s thoughts, sometimes using language we would imagine Emma to use without placing it in quotation marks.
point of view The novel is narrated in the third person by a narrator who tells us what individual characters think and feel, and who also provides insight and commentary. For the most part, the narrator relates events from Emma’s perspective, but at times she enters into the thoughts of other characters. Chapter 41, for example, is narrated from Mr. Knightley’s perspective.
tone Ironic, satirical, sympathetic
tense Immediate past
setting (time) Early nineteenth century
setting (place) Highbury, England
protagonist Emma Woodhouse
major conflict Emma struggles to shed her vanity and her fear of confronting her own feelings, both of which cause her to misunderstand those around her and to meddle harmfully in the lives of others.
rising action Emma realizes that she was horribly wrong to think she could make a match between Mr. Elton and Harriet, because not only are the two ill-suited to one another, but Mr. Elton has had feelings for her all along that she intentionally or unintentionally failed to acknowledge. She decides to be in love with Frank and flirts aggressively with him, though she recognizes that her feelings are not, in fact, very strong. When she cruelly insults Miss Bates at the Box Hill party, Mr. Knightley reprimands her, and Emma feels extreme remorse about the cruelty of her actions.
climax Emma realizes that she is in love with Mr. Knightley after Harriet discloses the same to Emma.
falling action Emma and Mr. Knightley confess their feelings for one another. Knightley proposes to Emma; the happiness of Harriet, Frank, and Jane, which Emma’s intrusion had endangered, is secured as Harriet accepts Mr. Martin’s proposal and Jane and Frank prepare to marry.
themes Marriage and social status, the confined nature of women’s existence, the blinding power of imagination, the obstacles to open expression
motifs Visits, parties, conversational subtexts
symbols The riddle, the word game, tokens of affection
foreshadowing Almost every chapter includes foreshadowing. For example, in Chapter 27, we are told that Emma “felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.”