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Free Study Guide-Emma by Jane Austen-Free Online Chapter Summary Notes
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Highbury, a prosperous village, almost a small town, sixteen miles away from London provides the physical setting. Nevertheless, Jane Austen is interested in the human setting more than the physical setting. She, therefore, highlights the social world of Highbury, which is hierarchical. Property determines rank in Highbury society; therefore, the estates of the country gentry provide the social setting.

The Churchills of Enscombe in Yorkshire are at the top of this social hierarchy. Among the country gentry of Highbury, the Woodhouses of Hartfield are the most important, followed by the Knightleys of Donwell Abbey and the Westons of Randalls. The merchants, also called the newly rich, are represented by the Coles in Highbury. Next on the social scale are persons of different professions, like Mr. Elton, the clergyman, Mr. Perry, the apothecary, Mrs. Goddard, the owner and school mistress of the boarding school, and Miss Taylor, the governess.

Though Highbury is the center of activity, in reality the homes of the landowners are where the action takes place. Only a few incidents occur in the outdoors, and only a few other places, such as London and Bath, are mentioned in the course of the novel.


Major Characters

Emma Woodhouse

The pretty second daughter of Mr. Henry Woodhouse, is the protagonist of the novel. She is twenty-one years old and presides as the mistress of the Hartfield estate. Because of her beauty, intelligence, and wealth, she acts conceited and domineering. Strongly attached to her old and hypochondriac father, Emma has decided not to marry. She satisfies her romantic desires by trying to be a matchmaker; she even fantasizes a perfect match for herself.

Mr. George Knightley

A perfect English gentleman. He is thirty- eight years old and is the owner of Donwell Abbey. He believes in the social hierarchy, but is mature enough not to let it rule his life. He helps Emma to free herself of delusions.

Frank Churchill

The twenty-three year old son of Mr. Weston. His manners expose him as a selfish man, deficient in elegance in thought and deed. Heir to his father's property, he is anxious not to forfeit his claims to the Enscombe estate of the Churchills, who have adopted him as their son. In a wanton and frivolous manner, he exploits Emma's self-love and self-conceit to serve his own interests and does not hesitate to hurt the feelings of Jane Fairfax to whom he is secretly engaged. Given to indecisiveness and deceit, Frank Churchill undeservedly wins Jane Fairfax's true and selfless love.

Jane Fairfax

A charming young lady of Emma's age who serves as a foil to her. Jane has been educated in London and has acquired an elegance in manners and mind under the considerate and parent- like care of the Campbells. Jane, who is poor and orphaned, is faced with the prospect of earning a living by working as a governess, which she considers a lowly job. She, therefore, gets secretly engaged to Frank Churchill, hoping to free herself from the hard luck of working as a governess.

Mr. Philip Elton

A twenty-seven year old bachelor clergyman in Highbury. He hopes to elevate himself socially by marrying a young girl of fortune and social rank.

Harriet Smith

The daughter of an unknown rich man who is not a resident of Highbury. Pretty and sweet-tempered, she is a student in the boarding school run by Mrs. Goddard in Highbury. She looks up to Emma with awe for her wealth, social status, and intelligence.

Minor Characters

Mr. Henry Woodhouse

Emma's father. He is a wealthy, landed gentleman and owner of Hartfield. He is a comic character who provokes laughter by his constant references to food and health.

Miss Henry Bates

The daughter of a clergyman and the aunt of Jane Fairfax. She is a poor middle-aged spinster who looks after her old mother. Her comic, rambling talk, which reveals the stream of her thoughts, is a chief source of laughter in the book.

Mrs. Augusta Elton

The wife of the vicar of Highbury. As the daughter of a wealthy Bath tradesman, Mr. Hawkins, she brought a dowry of ten thousand pounds to her marriage. She is a woman of affected manners, who patronizes Jane Fairfax and boasts about her sister Selina and brother-in-law, Mr. Suckling. She serves as a comic character in the book.

Mr. Weston

The middle-aged owner of Randalls. Although the son of a respectable businessman in Highbury, he left to become a captain in the army. He married a woman of fortune, Miss Churchill of Yorkshire, left the army after his her death, allowed his small son to be adopted by his brother-in-law, became a tradesman, earned a lot of money, and returned to Highbury and bought a small estate. He then married Miss Taylor, Emma's governess. He is extremely sociable, amiable, and proud of his son Frank Churchill.

Isabella Knightley

The pretty, gentle, and affectionate elder sister of Emma. She is married to John Knightley and lives at Brunswick Square in London. She has five children, three sons and two daughters. She is a devoted wife and a doting mother.

Mr. John Knightley

The husband of Isabella and a popular lawyer in London. Intelligent and short-tempered, he is very frank and has no patience for the peculiarities in the character of old Woodhouse.

Mr. Perry

The doctor in Highbury. He is much patronized by Mr. Woodhouse.

The Coles

A merchant family who has bought a country house in Highbury. They hope to interact with the landed gentry in Highbury and be socially elevated.

Mrs. Goddard

The owner and mistress of a boarding school where the young girls of good families are taught social graces and proper etiquette.

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