by Jane Austen
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, the daughter of the rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, England, and received her education from her father, a former Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. Her life was spent in the country or in country towns, chiefly at the village of Chawton, near Winchester. She died, unmarried, at Winchester on July 18, 1817, and was buried in the cathedral. Her realism, irony and social commentary in tales of the minor gentry has made her one of the most widely read writers in English literature.
For more works by Jane Austen, see The Index
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, was the younger of the two daughters of a most affectionate and indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by Miss Taylor, who for sixteen years had been in Mr. Woodhouse's family, less as governess than friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. For years the two ladies had been living together, mutely attached, Emma doing just what she liked, highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but chiefly directed by her own.
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself. The danger, however, was at present unperceived, and did not by any means rank as a misfortune with her.
Sorrow came - a gentle sorrow. Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend, with the wedding over and the bride-people gone, that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age, and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match. But it was a black morning's work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day. She had been a friend and companion such as few possessed: intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle; knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, every scheme of hers - one to whom she could speak every thought, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault.
How was Emma to bear the change? She was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful. The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (as Mr. Woodhouse had not married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits; for, having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time.
Emma's sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyond her daily reach; and it was quite three months before Christmas, that would bring the next visit from Isabella, her husband, and children.
Highbury, the large and populous village to which her house, Hartfield, really belonged, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses were first in consequence there. All looked up to them; but there was not one of her acquaintances among them who could be accepted in lieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day. It was a melancholy change; and Emma could not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things, till her father awoke from his usual after-dinner sleep, and made it necessary to be cheerful. His spirits required support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of everybody he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable to him; and he was not yet reconciled to his own daughter marrying, nor could ever speak of her but with compassion, though it had been entirely a match of affection, when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor, too.
He was pitying "poor Miss Taylor," and magnifying the half-mile's distance that separated Hartfield from Mr. Weston's place, Randalls, when a visitor walked in. This was Mr. George Knightley, the elder brother of Isabella's husband, and the owner of Donwell Abbey, the large estate of the district. He was a sensible man, about seven or eight and thirty, a very old and intimate friend of the family, and a frequent and always welcome visitor. He had returned to a late dinner after some days' absence in London, and had walked up to Hartfield to say that all was well with their relatives in Brunswick Square. They talked of the wedding. Emma congratulated herself on having made the match. Mr. Knightley demurred to this, remarking: "A straightforward, open-hearted man, like Weston, and a rational, unaffected woman, like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage their own concerns." And when Emma, in reply to entreaties from her father to make no more matches, answered, "Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton - you like Mr. Elton, papa; I must look about for a wife for him" - her old friend gave her the salutary advice: "Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken; but leave him to choose his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven and twenty can take care of himself."
Emma lost no time in developing her schemes for the happiness of Mr. Elton. Through Mrs. Goddard, the mistress of the local boarding-school for girls, she struck up an acquaintance, which she contrived rapidly to develop into intimacy, with a Miss Harriet Smith - a plump, fair-haired, blue-eyed little beauty of seventeen, whose prettiness, docility, good-temper and simplicity might be allowed to balance her lack of intelligence and information.
Harriet was the natural daughter of somebody. Somebody had placed her several years back at Mrs. Goddard's school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder. This was all that was generally known of her history. She had no visible friends but what had been acquired at Highbury, and was now just returned from a long visit in the country to some young ladies - the Misses Martin - who had been at school there with her.
The first step which Emma took in the education of Harriet was to cool her interest in the Martins. She pointed out that Mr. Robert Martin, who held a large farm from Mr. Knightley in Donwell parish, was too young to marry at twenty-four, that he had, besides, an awkward look, an abrupt manner, and an uncouth voice; and that, moreover, he was quite plain-looking and wholly ungenteel; whereas Mr. Elton, who was good-humoured, cheerful, obliging and gentle, was a pattern of good manners and good looks, and seemed to be taking quite an interest in Harriet. So indeed it appeared. Mr. Elton seemed delighted with being in the society of Emma and Harriet. He praised Harriet as a beautiful girl, congratulated Emma on the improvement she had wrought in her, contributed a charade to Harriet's riddle-book, and took a most animated interest in a portrait which Emma began to paint of her.
But Mr. Knightley was not so complacent. "I think Harriet," he said to Mrs. Weston, "the very worst sort of a companion that Emma could possibly have. She knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing everything. Her ignorance is hourly flattery. How can Emma imagine she has anything to learn herself while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority? And as for Harriet, Hartfield will only put her out of conceit with all the other places she belongs to. She will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstances have placed her."
This was in the early stages of the intimacy. Later in the day, when he learned that Emma had taken so decided a hand in the affairs of Harriet as to persuade her to decline a formal offer of marriage from Mr. Martin, he told her plainly:
"I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy, though I have kept my thoughts to myself; but now I perceive that it will be a very unfortunate one for Harriet. You will puff her up with such ideas of her own beauty, and what she has claim to, that, in a little while, nobody within her reach will be good enough for her. Robert Martin has no great loss if he can but think so; and I hope it will not be long before he does. Your views for Harriet are best known to yourself; but, as you make no secret of your love of match-making, I shall just hint to you as a friend that, if Elton is the man, I think it will be all labour in vain."
Emma laughed and disclaimed. "Depend upon it," he continued, "Elton will not do. Elton is a very good sort of a man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He is as well acquainted with his own claims as you can be with Harriet's; and I am convinced that he does not mean to throw himself away."
But despite this warning from Mr. George Knightley, despite a hint dropped by Mr. John Knightley, when he and his wife and children came to stop with the Woodhouses for Christmas - a hint to the effect that his sister-in-law would do well to consider whether Mr. Elton was not in love with her - Emma continued quite as ardent in her new friendship and in her hopes.
As to herself, she told Harriet that she was not going to be married at present, and had very little intention of ever marrying at all; though when Harriet reminded her of Miss Bates, who was the daughter of a former vicar of Highbury and lived in a very small way with her mother, a very old lady almost past everything but tea and quadrille, she confessed that if she thought she would ever be like Miss Bates, "so silly, so satisfied, so smiling, so prosing, so undistinguishing, so unfastidious, and so garrulous," she would marry to-morrow.
But Mr. Elton was unaware of Emma having thought of making such a self-denying ordinance; and so one night when the Woodhouses and the Knightleys were returning home from a party at Randalls he took advantage of his being alone in a carriage with her to propose to her, seeming never to doubt his being accepted. When he learned, however, for whom his hand had been destined, he became very indignant and contemptuous.
"Never, madam!" cried he. "Never, I assure you! I think seriously of Miss Smith! Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I should be happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well; and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to - Everybody has their level; but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance as to be addressing myself to Miss Smith! No, madam; my visits to Hatfield have been for yourself only."
Needless to say, Emma refused him, and they parted on terms of mutually deep mortification. Fortunately, the task of enlightening Harriet as to the state of Mr. Elton's feelings proved less troublesome than Emma had expected it to be. Harriet's tears fell abundantly, but otherwise she bore the intelligence very meekly and well.
As if to make up for the absence of Mr. Elton, who went to spend a few weeks in Bath, in an endeavour to cure his wounded affections. Highbury society was shortly enlarged by the arrival of two such welcome additions as Miss Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill.
Miss Fairfax, who was the orphan daughter of Lieutenant Fairfax, and Miss Janes Bates had for many years been living with her father's brother-officer, Colonel Campbell, and his wife and daughter. A beautiful girl of nineteen, with only a few hundred pounds of her own, and no monetary expectations from her adoptive father, she had received such an education as qualified her to become a governess; and though as long as Colonel and Mrs. Campbell lived their home might always be hers, she had all along resolved to start earning her own living at one-and-twenty. Her friend, Miss Campbell, had recently married a rich and agreeable young man called Dixon; and though the Dixons had urgently invited her to join Colonel and Mrs. Campbell in a visit to them in Ireland, Jane preferred to spend three months' holiday with her aunt and grandmother at Highbury, with some vague intention of starting her scholastic career at the end of this period. Emma did not like Jane Fairfax, partly because Jane's aunt was always boring people by talking of her; partly, perhaps, because - as Mr. Knightley once told her - she saw in her the really accomplished young woman which she wanted to be thought herself. At any rate, she still found her as reserved as ever. Jane had been a little acquainted with Mr. Frank Churchill at Weymouth, but she either could not, or would not, tell Emma anything about him.
That gentleman, however, soon presented himself in person. He was the son of Mr. Weston by his first wife. At the age of three he had been adopted by his maternal uncle, Mr. Churchill; and so avowedly had he been brought up as their heir by Mr. and Mrs. Churchill - who had no children of their own - that on his coming of age he had assumed the name of Churchill. For some months he had been promising to pay a visit to his father and stepmother to compliment them on their marriage; but on the pretext of his not being able to leave Enscombe, his uncle's place, it had been repeatedly postponed.
Emma was inclined to make allowances for him as a young man dependent on the caprices of relations. But Mr. Knightley condemned his conduct roundly. "He cannot want money, he cannot want leisure," he said. "We know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both that he is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom." Notwithstanding, when he did arrive, Frank Churchill carried all before him by reason of his good looks, sprightliness, and amiability. Emma and he soon became great friends. He favoured an idea of hers, that Jane's refusal to go to the Dixons' in Ireland was due either to Mr. Dixon's attachment to her, or to her attachment to Mr. Dixon. When a Broadwood pianoforte arrived for Jane - which was generally taken to be a gift from Colonel Campbell - he agreed with her in thinking that this was another occurrence for which Mr. Dixon's love was responsible; and he was busily engaged in planning out the details of a projected ball at the Crown Inn when a letter from Mr. Churchill urging his instant departure compelled him to make a hurried return to Enscombe.
Meanwhile, while Emma was entertaining no doubt of her being in love with Frank, and only wondering how deep her feeling was, while she was content to think that Frank was very much in love with her, and was concluding every imaginary declaration on his side with a refusal of his proposals, Mr. Elton returned to Highbury with his bride. Miss Augusta Hawkins - to give Mrs. Elton her maiden name - was the younger of the two daughters of a Bristol tradesman, and was credited with having ten thousand pounds of her own. A self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred woman, with a little beauty and a little accomplishment, who was always expatiating on the charms of Mr. Suckling's - her brother-in-law's - place, Maple Grove, she soon excited disgust in Emma, who offended her by the scanty encouragement with which she received her proposals of intimacy, and was herself offended by the great fancy which Mrs. Elton took to Jane Fairfax. Long before Emma had forfeited her confidence, she was not satisfied with expressing a natural and reasonable admiration of Jane, but, without solicitation, or plea, or privilege, she must be wanting to assist and befriend her. The ill-feeling thus aroused found significant expression on the occasion of the long-talked-of ball at the Crown, which Mr. Weston was able to give one evening in May, thanks to the settlement of the Churchills at Richmond, and the consequent reappearance of Frank Churchill at Highbury. Indeed, Emma met with two annoyances on that famous evening. Mr. Weston had entreated her to come early, before any other person came, for the purpose of taking her opinion as to the propriety and comfort of the rooms; and when she got there, she found that quite half the company had come, by particular desire, to help Mr. Weston's judgment. She felt that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates was not the first distinction in the scale of vanity.
The other vexing circumstance was due to the conduct of Mr. Elton, who, asked by Mrs. Weston to dance with Harriet Smith, declined on the ground that he was an old married man, and that his dancing days were over. Fortunately, Mr. Knightley, who has recently disappointed Mrs. Weston, and pleased Emma by disclaiming any idea of being attached to Jane Fairfax, was able in some measure to redeem the situation by leading Harriet to the set himself. Emma had no opportunity of speaking to him till after supper; and then he said to her: "They aimed at wounding more than Harriet. Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?" He looked with smiling penetration, and, on receiving no answer, added: "She ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. To that surmise you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Harriet." "I did," replied Emma, "and they cannot forgive me."
A day or two afterwards, Harriet figured as the heroine of another little scene. She was rescued by Frank Churchill from an encounter with some gipsies; and after telling Emma, in a very serious tone, a few days later, that she should never marry, confessed that she had come to this resolution because the person she might prefer to marry was one so greatly her superior in situation.
His own attentions, his father's hints, his stepmother's guarded silence, all seemed to declare that Emma was Frank Churchill's object. But while so many were devoting him to Emma, and Emma herself was making him over to Harriet, Mr. Knightley began to suspect him of some inclination to trifle with Jane Fairfax. When Mr. Knightley mentioned these suspicions to Emma, she declared them sheer imagination, and said that she could answer for there being no attachment on the side of the gentleman; while he himself, as if to ridicule the whole idea, flirted outrageously with Emma on an excursion to Box Hill at which Jane was present, and even asked the former lady to choose a wife for him. The next day Emma, calling on Miss Bates, learned that Jane, who, was at present too unwell to see her, had just accepted a post as governess, obtained for her by Mrs. Elton, and that Frank Churchill had been summoned to return immediately to Richmond in consequence of Mrs. Churchill's state of health. On the following day an express arrived at Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill.
Emma, seeing in this latter event a circumstance favourable to the union of Frank and Harriet (for Mr. Churchill, independent of his wife, was feared by nobody), now only wished for some proof of the former's attachment to her friend. She could, however, for the moment do nothing for Harriet, whereas she could show some attention to Jane, whose prospects were closing, while Harriet's were opening. But here she proved to be mistaken; all her endeavours were to no purpose. The invalid refused everything that was offered, no matter what its character; and Emma had to console herself with the thought that her intentions were good, and would have satisfied even so strict an investigator of motives as Mr. Knightley.
One morning, about ten days after Mrs. Churchill's death, Emma was called downstairs to Mr. Weston, who asked her to come to Randalls as Mrs. Weston wanted to see her alone. Relieved to find that the matter was not one of illness, either there or at Brunswick Square, Emma resolved to wait patiently till she could see her old friend. But what was her surprise, on Mr. Weston leaving them together, when his wife revealed the fact that Frank and Jane had been secretly engaged since October of the previous year! It was almost greater than Mrs. Weston's relief when she learned, to her joy, that Emma now cared nothing at all for Frank, and so had been in no wise injured by this clandestine understanding, the divulgence of which was due, it seemed, to the fact that, immediately on hearing of Jane's agreement to take up the post of governess, Frank had gone to his uncle, told him of the engagement, and with little difficulty obtained his consent to it.
It was with a heavy heart that Emma went home to give Harriet the news that must blast her hopes of happiness once more. But, again, a surprise was in store for her. Harriet had already been told by Mr. Weston, and seemed to bear her misfortune quite stoically, the reason being that the person of "superior situation" whom she despaired of securing was not Mr. Frank Churchill, but Mr. George Knightley.
Emma was not prepared for this development. It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! Which desirable consummation was brought about at their next interview; for, after trying to console her for the abominable conduct of Frank Churchill, under the mistaken impression that that young gentleman had succeeded in engaging her affections, Mr. Knightley proposed marriage to her, and was accepted. As for Harriet, she was invited, at Emma's suggestion, to spend a fortnight with Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley in Brunswick Square, and there, meeting Mr. Robert Martin, through Mr. George Knightley's contrivance, was easily persuaded to become his wife.
About this same time, too, Mrs. Weston's husband and friends were all made happy by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl; while Emma and Mrs. Weston were enabled to take a more lenient view of Frank Churchill's conduct, thanks to a long letter which he wrote to the latter lady in which he apologised for his equivocal conduct to Emma, and expressed his regret that those attentions should have caused such poignant distress to the lady whom he was shortly to make his wife. The much discussed pianoforte had been his gift.
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