Emma’s unadmitted feelings

Hi everyone, I chose to focus about Emma’s difficultly to know herself and her own feelings through her difficulty to understand the others’ feelings. The two excerpts I’m going to introduce highlight the fact that, regardless of her intelligence, Emma is unable to penetrate the other people’s feelings.

I am going to bear comparison between two passages of Emma. The first excerpt is chapter X, volume 1, during Emma, Harriet and Mr. Elton stroll. Emma is persuaded she should let Mr. Elton and Harriet on their own, and pretends she broke her shoe lace. Mr. Elton’s reaction is clearly understandable, he is really happy that Emma has to stop by his house: “Mr. Elton looked all happiness at this proposition…” (p.65). But she doesn’t pay attention to that, and still tries to leave her friends together for a little while. Then, when she realizes no progress has been made, she thinks: “Cautious, very cautious […] he advances inch by inch and will hazard nothing till he believes himself secure” (p.66).

The second passage that is an echo to the aforementioned one occurs on chapter XIII, volume 1, when Harriet caught a throat ache. Mr. Elton is clearly alarmed for Emma’s possible contamination, whereas he never mentions any complain towards Harriet’s state of health. He starts by a sentence one could think devoid of ambiguousness, when he speaks to Emma: “Indeed you should take care of yourself as well as of your friend” (p.79). But then he doesn’t seem to be very worried about Harriet, and when it’s time for him to leave Emma, we can read this sentence: “Mr. Elton was to go, and never had his broad handsome face expressed more pleasure than at this moment; never had his smile be stronger, nor his eyes more exulting than when he next looked at her” (p.79).

Actually, I think Emma might understand his feelings but doesn’t want to admit to the idea of someone being in love with her. The narrator hinted to the readers throughout the book that we can understand Emma’s situation.  Whereas Emma is either naïve or blinding herself. I hope my hypotheses will be confirmed in the 3rd volume.



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7 thoughts on “Emma’s unadmitted feelings

  1. Kevin Frazelis

    I really agree with your assertion about Emma’s inability to notice other people feelings around her. In that specific passage it’s so clear that Mr.Elton and even other characters in the novel view Harriet as a appetizer to Emma. The public clearly does not find her remotely interesting as much Emma thinks she can make her into. I feel this also speaks to Emma’s sort of god complex in the manner that she tries to mold Harriet into the possible version which is really strange in my opinion.


  2. Malorie Philitas

    “Unable to penetrate other peoples feelings” is a perfect description of Emma’s character. I feel that she doesn’t want to see people for who they truly are she only wants to see them for who she wants them to be. Which is probably why she doesn’t or refuses to see Mr. Elton’s obvious love for her. She has it in her mind that he is perfect for Harriet so that’s all she’s ever going to see him as even if he came out and told her right away that he had feelings for her she would some how find away to push him towards Harriet.

  3. Katryna

    I am glad that you pointed this out. As I was reading, I did not even realize this for trying to understand everything else at the same time. In the instances that are pointed out here I get that Mr.Elton is specially concerned for Emma and I do agree with you that she notices this but just does not focus on it. Maybe she just expects to be treated a certain way? Although she is mature she may also not want to deal with the fact that Mr. Elton interested in her. -katryna jimenez

  4. kelsey214

    I like where you’re going with this idea you have of Emma not having the ability to enter or see others feelings. I think that because she is aware of her beauty she automatically assumes that everybody thinks she’s magnificent. However, I feel that she only thinks of it as superficial. She has yet to understand that people may like her for the real her as well; looks being just a bonus. I really enjoy having seen the movie “Clueless” a million and one times, because now as I read, i pick up on things that will happen in the future of the novel. – Kelsey Fiala

  5. davidginsberg

    I agree with Clemence’s observation that Emma is “unable to penetrate other people’s feelings.”
    Aside from the 2 occurrences that Clemence cites, several others come to mind.

    Despite Harriet’s kind words about Mr. Martin, Emma continually degrades him and convinces Harriet not to accept his proposal.

    Emma also fails to understand why Mr. Knightley gets so upset after their spate about Mr. Martin and Harriet Smith.

    Although I agree that Emma means well, she is completely oblivious to other people’s feelings.

    To answer Professor Tougaw’s question, I believe Austen often chastises Emma by making Mr. Knightley, who often disagrees with Emma, the voice of reason. Austen wants her readers to be better at penetrating other people’s minds but at the same time she doesn’t completely vilify Emma. It’s clear that Emma means well and cares about Harriet. Even though Emma hasn’t done anything to help, her heart is in the right place.

  6. Jason Tougaw

    Your point about Emma’s inability to “penetrate” other people’s feelings reminds me of literary critic Lisa Zunshine. She writes about “theory of mind” in the work of Austen and other writers. “Theory of mind” is a psychological term of people’s capacity to imagine each other’s mental experience. Zunshine argues that various authors test, tease, and challenge our “mind reading” abilities. We’ll read about this next week. For now, a question: Has Austen written Emma as a lesson in what not to do? In other words, does she want her readers to be better than her heroine at penetrating others’ minds?

    1. Ali Troiano

      I think you make a really good point about Emma’s blindness and inability to see the truth. As I read, I noticed this theme of seeming versus being. As we discussed in class, Austen immediately addresses this distinction in the first few lines of the text with the use of the word “seem.” This similar idea repeats throughout the text. For example, as you point out, Emma commonly misinterprets situations and motives. In a way, your point that Emma cannot see or “understand” the truth highlights this idea of what seems to be and what actually is. Austen also highlights this theme of seeming versus being through Emma’s actions. For example, the narrator states, “Emma was obliged in common honesty to stop and admit that her own behavior to him had been so complaisant and obliging […] (supposing her real motive unperceived)” (97). The use of the word “real” highlights a distinction between “real” and “fake.” Here, Emma’s actions betray her “real” motives and merely work to achieve a specific goal. The narrator even directly states, “Emma could look perfectly unconscious and innocent, and answer in a manner that appropriated nothing” (131). Once again, the narrator highlights Emma’s ability to act in a way that hides or covers some truth. The fact that Emma can “look” one way implies a sense that this “look” deceives the truth.

      -Alexandra Troiano

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