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Saturday, 31 December 2016

THE INTRODUCTION OF CHARACTERS IN JANE AUSTEN'S 'EMMA'

Characters in Emma are introduced with subtlety. The central trio of Emma, Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley are firmly established at the start. The introduction of Frank Churchill is postponed, deliberately allowing speculation about him. Mrs. Elton is withheld until surprisingly late (Chapter 32), preventing her from dominating earlier scenes. Jane Austen also deftly provides at appropriate moments succinct biographies. An example is a story in itself at the beginning of Chapter 2. A typical sentence states:

He had received a good education, but on succeeding in life to a small independence, had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged; and had satisfied an active, cheerful mind and social temper by entering into the militia of his county then embodied. 

There are many such sentences, and very little dialogue, in the first three chapters of the novel: such precise, sure-footed presentation and understanding of her characters leaves us feeling that we know what they have been saying (for example when Harriet pays her first visit to Hartfield), even though no spoken word is recorded. 

Mr. Weston is one of those warm-hearted characters who prefer company (not necessarily the best company) to solitude. Jane Austen found them useful (remember Bingley in Pride and Prejudice and Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility).