How Jane Austen's "Emma" misread the signs regarding Mr. Elton, Harriet and herself?

Essay by CEP_123High School, 12th gradeA-, April 2006

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Emma Woodhouse, from Jane Austen's novel "Emma," is a conceited and wilful young woman, who fancies herself a real matchmaker. However, as Emma attempts to match-make Mr. Elton and her new companion Miss Harriet Smith, she misreads the intentions of the people involved. By being unable to correctly read the signs regarding Mr. Elton, Harriet and herself, she finds herself in a tangled web of deceit and misconception.

Miss Emma Woodhouse is twenty-one years old, beautiful and intelligent, but conceited and wilful. Emma lives in the small town of Highbury, sixteen miles away from London. Emma lost her mother when she was five years old. Since then she has had the companionship of her governess, Miss Anne Taylor. The two of them have "the intimacy of sisters" and "the shadow of authority being now long passed away." Miss Taylor has just recently married Mr. Weston, a middle-aged widower.

This was a match that Emma claims to have brought together. After creating one successful match, Emma is keen on continuing matchmaking, wants to arrange a marriage for Mr. Elton, the twenty-seven year old vicar of Highbury who deserves a good wife.

When Miss Harriet Smith steps into Highbury, Harriet's pretty looks, blue eyes, and fair hair impress Emma. On learning that Harriet is the "natural daughter of somebody", Emma decides to take Harriet under her care and help her acquire the social graces of the upper class. Emma encourages Harriet to visit Hartfield often and makes the girl her companion for her morning walks. Emma finds that Harriet has a sweet temper, though she is not clever; she is, however, willing to be guided by Emma.

Emma learns that Harriet has spent two months with the Martins of Abbey Mill Farm and that Robert Martin, the twenty-four year old...