Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 1

[+] | [-] | reset

"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma, "and a very considerable one—that I made the match myselfd. I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston would never marry againd, may comfort me for any thing."

Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied, "Ah! my dear, I wish you would not make matches and foretell things, for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not make any more matches."

"I promise you to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed, for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world! And after such success,d you know!—Every body said that Mr. Weston would never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Weston, who had been a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among his friends here, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful—Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did not like it. Oh no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her deathbed, and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none of it.

"Ever since the day—about four years ago—that Miss Taylor and I met with him in Broadway Lane, when, because it began to drizzle, he darted away with so much gallantry, and borrowed two umbrellas for us from Farmer Mitchell's, I made up my mind on the subject. I planned the match from that hour; and when such success has blessed me in this instance, dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave off match-making."

"I do not understand what you mean by 'success,'" said Mr. Knightley. "Success supposes endeavour. Your time has been properly and delicately spent, if you have been endeavouring for the last four years to bring about this marriage. A worthy employment for a young lady's mind! But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself one idle day, 'I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to marry her,' and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards, why do you talk of success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said."

"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess?—I pity youd.—I thought you cleverer—for, depend upon it a lucky guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word 'success,' which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn two pretty pictures; but I think there may be a third—a something between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not promoted Mr. Weston's visits here, and given many little encouragements, and smoothed many little matters, it might not have come to any thing after all. I think you must know Hartfield enough to comprehend that."

"A straightforward, open-hearted mand like Weston, and a rational, unaffected woman like Miss Taylor, may be safely left to manage their own concerns. You are more likely to have done harm to yourself, than good to them, by interference."

"Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others," rejoined Mr. Woodhouse, understanding but in part.d "But, my dear, pray do not make any more matches; they are silly things, and break up one's family circle grievously."

"Only one more, papa; only for Mr. Elton. Poor Mr. Elton! You like Mr. Elton, papa,—I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highburyd who deserves him—and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his house so comfortably, that it would be a shame to have him single any longer—and I thought when he was joining their hands to-day, he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kind office done for him! I think very well of Mr. Elton, and this is the only way I have of doing him a service."

"Mr. Elton is a very pretty young mand, to be sure, and a very good young man, and I have a great regard for him. But if you want to shew him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and dine with us some day. That will be a much better thing. I dare say Mr. Knightley will be so kind as to meet him."

"With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time," said Mr. Knightley, laughing, "and I agree with you entirely, that it will be a much better thing. Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of six or seven-and-twenty can take care of himself."

X [d] I made the match myself

A blithe egotist, Emma believes she controls most events and that her world would be far better off if she controlled all of them.

X [d] would never marry again

Love & Marriage

She repeats "would never marry again" to underscore her imagined triumph. This is a long speech full of clear observation dulled by self-congratulation.

X [d] success,

Writing & Reading

Knightley treats words literally to the point of being pedantic. By contrast Emma, perhaps a reflection of her erratic education, can be flip with them. Knightley takes a tutorial interest in her.

X [d] I pity you

While playful, Emma's rejoinder is condescending, given the differences in age and station.

X [d] straightforward, open-hearted man


In thinking of women as "rational," he's more enlightened than his class, gender, and time. Knightley is a mix of old values and modern ideas, and in that Austen's model of an enlightened conservatism that cherishes the finest in the past as it readily greets the the best in the present, such as an increased egalitiarianism. 

X [d] understanding but in part.

Indeed. And we may conclude that Emma is as selfless as he is.

X [d] There is nobody in Highbury


She believes that Elton's background and wealth are unworthy of her. His character, which should be her primary consideration, goes unmentioned.

Although the word "snob" did not come into common use until Thackeray's Book of Snobs (1848), snobbery became commonplace as soon as the gentry and aristocracy became porous enough to allow people to gain entry through money and/or marriage. Emma measures others chiefly by rank, family, and wealth, thus eliminating all contenders for pre-eminence in Highbury.

X [d] pretty young man


Mr. Elton is a newly-minted Anglican clergyman in therefore his early twenties. Emma is "handsome," which Samuel Johnson* defines as "beautiful, graceful," and Mr. Elton is pretty ("neat, elegant, handsome"), which suggests a delicacy and perhaps vanity and foppishness that are the antithesis of Mr. Knightley.…

(read more)