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Free Study Guide-Emma by Jane Austen-Free Online Chapter Summary Notes
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When Emma was published in 1815, it had three volumes. Each volume had chapters starting from number one. Volumes one and two had eighteen chapters, and the third volume had nineteen chapters. Modern editions of Emma are published as a single volume with chapters numbered straight from 1 to 55.



Emma Woodhouse, Henry's younger daughter, lives in the small town of Highbury, sixteen miles away from London. She lives with her old, valetudinarian father at Hartfield. His elder daughter, Isabella, is married to the younger brother of George Knightley, the gentleman landlord and owner of Donwell Abbey Estate, a mile away from Hartfield. Isabella's husband is a lawyer; she lives with him and their five children in London.

Emma lost her mother when she was five years old. Since then she has had the companionship of her governess, Miss Anne Taylor. After Isabella's marriage seven years earlier, Miss Taylor has been Emma's only companion and confidante. Emma is now twenty-one years old, beautiful and intelligent, but conceited and willful. Miss Taylor has just recently married Mr. Weston, a middle-aged widower. Even though she is very attached to her father, Emma feels depressed since she now has no companion except her this old, sickly man, who is against the thought of Emma marrying because he does not want to undergo any change.

On the day following Miss Taylor's wedding, Mr. Woodhouse expresses his regrets over her marriage. Although he thinks Mr. Weston is a thorough gentleman, he disapproves of Miss Taylor desiring to marry in order to have a home of her own; Hartfield, where she has lived with the Woodhouses, is three times larger than Mr. Weston's Randalls. Emma tries to convince her father that their governess is happily married and tells him that they will frequently visit Randalls. As Emma is about to arrange the card table to play a game with her father, Mr. George Knightley comes for a visit; he is the elder brother of John Knightley and lives at Donwell Abbey, not far away. A bachelor of thirty-seven, Knightley is a frequent visitor at Hartfield. When he enters he offers his congratulations over the marriage of their governess. Emma tells Knightley that she had herself arranged the match. It is obvious that the gentleman disapproves of Emma's vanity, and Mr. Woodhouse advises Emma not to make any more matches, especially not her own. Emma assures her father that she would never marry; but she does plan to continue playing the matchmaker. Knightley advises Emma not to interfere in the lives of others. Emma, however, openly admits that she wants to arrange a marriage for Mr. Elton, the twenty-seven year old clergyman of Highbury who deserves a good wife. Mr. Knightley does not approve of Emma finding a match for Elton.


The opening chapter introduces and begins the development of several of the main characters of the novel, including Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Mr. Woodhouse. Emma is pictured as a pretty twenty-one year old girl who is devoted to her father. Mr. Knightley, a thirty-seven year old bachelor and neighbor is shown to be the voice of reason. The sickly Mr. Woodhouse is the doting father who is worred about losing his daughter from Hartfield. Mr. Elton is also introduced through conversation.

The chapter does much to set up the major conflict of the plot. Emma reveals that she is a conceited and willful young lady, who fancies herself a real matchmaker. Others judge her harshly for her conceit, as seen in Mr. Knightley's attitude about her bragging and meddling. He advises Emma not to interfere in the lives of others, stating that Elton is mature enough to choose his own wife. Throughout the book, the reader will see Knightley correcting Emma's self-delusion and poor behavior.

The interchange between Emma and Knightley introduces two of the major Themes of the novel: the folly of self-delusion and the theme of marriage. The light-hearted mood of the story is also set. Mr. Woodhouse's dislike of marriage and his concern about health and food provokes laughter.

The chapter also begins to develop the setting of the novel. The Woodhouses live outside of Highbury, a small town located sixteen miles from London. The Highbury society has a limited field of activity and interests. People visit each other and talk about local events, just as Knightley does in this chapter. The countryside surrounding Highbury is still ruled by the landed gentry. Three important country houses are mentioned in the chapter; Emma and her father live at Hartfield, Mr. Knightley at Donwell Abbey, and Mr. Weston and his bride at Randalls. The size of the estate is obviously important in this highly structured society, for Mr. Woodhouse cannot imagine why Miss Taylor has chosen to marry and leave Hartfield, which is larger and more prestigious than Randalls.

In summary, this largely expository chapter serves as an introduction to the characters, plot, theme, mood, and setting of the entire novel. The shortcomings in Emma's character are clearly noted, as she allows imagination to overcome reason and as she and her father display the snobbery of the upper class. Mr. Knightley clearly establishes himself as the voice of reason that will guide Emma away from her shortcomings.

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