Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 5

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Chapter V

"I do not knowd what your opinion may be, Mrs. Weston," said Mr. Knightley, "of this great intimacy between Emma and Harriet Smith, but I think it a bad thing."

"A bad thing! Do you really think it a bad thing?—why so?"

"I think they will neither of them do the other any good."

"You surprize me! Emma must do Harriet good: and by supplying her with a new object of interest, Harriet may be said to do Emma good. I have been seeing their intimacy with the greatest pleasure. How very differently we feel!—Not think they will do each other any good! This will certainly be the beginning of one of our quarrels about Emma, Mr. Knightley."

"Perhaps you think I am come on purpose to quarrel with you, knowing Weston to be out, and that you must still fight your own battle."

"Mr. Weston would undoubtedly support me, if he were here, for he thinks exactly as I do on the subject. We were speaking of it only yesterday, and agreeing how fortunate it was for Emma, that there should be such a girl in Highbury for her to associate with. Mr. Knightley, I shall not allow you to be a fair judge in this case. You are so much used to live alone, that you do not know the value of a companion; and, perhaps no man can be a good judge of the comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex, after being used to it all her life. I can imagine your objection to Harriet Smith. She is not the superior young woman which Emma's friend ought to be. But on the other hand, as Emma wants to see her better informed, it will be an inducementw to her to read moreh herself. They will read together. She means it, I know."

"Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industryw and patience, and a subjection of the fancyw to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing.—You never could persuade her to read half so much as you wished.—You know you could not."

"I dare say," replied Mrs. Weston, smiling, "that I thought so then;—but since we have parted, I can never remember Emma's omitting to do any thing I wished."

"There is hardly any desiring to refresh such a memory as that,"—said Mr. Knightley, feelingly; and for a moment or two he had done. "But I," he soon added, "who have had no such charmd thrown over my senses, must still see, hear, and remember. Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family. At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen. She was always quick and assured: Isabella slow and diffidentw. And ever since she was twelve, Emma has been mistress of the house and of you all. In her mother she lost the only person able to cope with her. She inherits her mother's talents, and must have been under subjection to her."

"I should have been sorry, Mr. Knightley, to be dependent on your recommendation, had I quitted Mr. Woodhouse's family and wanted another situation; I do not think you would have spoken a good word for me to any body. I am sure you always thought me unfit for the office I held."

X [d] I do not know

Writing & Reading

This chapter begins with a direct quotation. That it comes from Knightley underscores his vigor and straightforwardness, as if he's imposed himself upon the novel.

X [w] inducement


X [h] read more


Lists born of good intentions. Emma has not read much, has been educated at home, where she dominated Miss Taylor, and can learn little from her father, who we've been told doesn't read. That leaves her only with experience itself and inevitable blunders. 

Whether or not Emma is diligent, the question remains as to just how effective reading can be in "improving" us morally. (Austen explains her own position with respect to fiction in Northanger Abbey.)

X [w] industry

The word began as a moral attribute. Johnson defines "industry" as "diligence, assiduity," moral virtues that the new factories wished to inculcate in workers as they made the painful transition from the looser and more seasonal farm work to the factory's lock-step. See Raymond Williams' Keywords.

X [w] fancy


For Johnson "fancy" and "imagination" are synonymous; he includes as synonyms caprice, frolic, and inclination. By the later 18th c. fancy and imagination will shed their trivial meanings, divide into two quite different functions, and the imagination become for many, especially the Romantic poets, the mind's supreme faculty.

X [d] no such charm

Knightley, a persistent realist, suggests that Mrs. Weston has been beguiled by nostalgia into an exaggerated estimate of Emma's abilities and character. From this account we can assume that Emma's mother dominated her husband. Emma takes after her, and her sister, Isabella, after Mr. Woodhouse.

X [w] diffident