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Emma - Success and EthicsEmma - Success and Ethics


Emma (1816)


Written by the English novelist, Jane Austen (1775-1815), pictured right.


Fun factsEmma - Success and Ethics

  • A 1996 movie version starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma (pictured right).
  • Movie star Kate Beckinsdale played Emma in a 1996 BBC production.


Key characters

Emma Woodhouse, clever and pretty.

George Knightley, her friend and brother-in-law.

Frank Churchill, another friend.Emma - Success and Ethics


The story

Emma Woodhouse  lives with her father in a Surrey village, south of London.

Emma (Romola Galai, pictured right in the 2009 BBC adaptation) is a spoilt 20-year-old who delights in matchmaking.

She persuades her friend, Harriet Smith, not to marry Robert Martin, a wealthy farmer (even though Harriet likes him) but to pursue Mr. Elton, the local vicar. Emma is insulted when he proposes to her instead. 

George Knightley, a frequent visitor to Emma’s house and her brother-in-law, criticizes her for this marriage meddling, saying that Mr Martin is a worthy husband. But she kindly comforts Harriet after Elton’s rejection and marriage to the self-centred, Augusta Hawkins.

Emma falls for the charming but irresponsible, Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s old governess, Mrs. Weston.

But she is jealous of the beautiful Jane Fairfax. Knightley criticizes her for this and her hurtful insults to Jane Fairfax and her kind aunt, Miss Bates. To cheer Harriet up, Knightley dances with her at a village ball, and the next day Frank saves her from some gypsy beggars.Emma - Success and Ethics

Emma (Doran Godwin, pictured right in the !972 BBC adaptation) is shocked by the news of Frank and Jane's secret engagement.They then marry.

Emma realizes she loves Knightley when Harriet tells her that she loves him as well. He tells Emma that he loves her too, and Harriet accepts another proposal from Robert Martin.

The novel ends with their two marriages.


Lessons for success and ethics


1. Be kind

Knightley is excellent with people because he is kind, humble and truthful. He rates these values much more highly than cleverness.

His example finally convinces Emma that her insults (for example to Miss Bates) and constant meddling in other people’s lives (particularly Harriet’s) are wrong.Emma - Success and Ethics

 Kate Beckinsdale is pictured right as Emma in the 1996 BBC production.


2. Listen to others

Knightley is a great conversationalist, because he

  • listens to people.
  • takes an interest in what they say.


3. Marry for love

Emma marries Knightley for love, although it also helps that he is rich as well.

“Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection”Jane Austen once wrote.

So she turned down a loveless proposal when she was 27 and never married.

 Emma - Success and Ethics

4. Love makes you happy

Emma learns from Knightley (pictured right together in the 1996 film) how satisfying generosity is when she feeds and encourages the poor and sick in her village.


5. Don’t be a snob

Emma snobbily looks down on the nice Mr. and Mrs. Cole, simply because they got their money from business.


6. Slavery is evil

The slave trade in Britain was only abolished in 1807, and Jane Austen hated it.

So she makes Mrs. Elton a villain because her wealth comes from slavery.

 Emma - Success and Ethics

7. Be honest

If Emma had been in love with Frank Churchill, his engagement to Jane Fairfax would have broken her heart.

He deceives Emma and leads her on, only because he’s afraid that her aunt will stop giving him money because of Jane’s social inferiority.

Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans) is pictured right in the 2009 BBC production 


Key quote on men and women

One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other, Emma.


Key quote on happiness

Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!, Frank Churchill


Key quote on influencing people

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart, Emma


Key quote on money

Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does, George Knightley


Key quote on ethics

Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief, George Knightley


Key quote on relationships

There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com


A big thank you to...

The BBC for the pictures. 

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