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The Cruciverbalist


Emma (EH-muh)

Common clue: Austen novel

Emma is a novel by Jane Austen, generally regarded as the most perfectly constructed of all her works.

Jane Austen

Spoiler warning: Plot or ending details follow.

The main character, Emma Woodhouse, is described in the opening paragraph as "rich, beautiful and clever," but is also rather spoiled. As a result of the recent marriage of her former governess, Emma prides herself on her ability to matchmake, and proceeds to take under her wing an illegitimate orphan, Harriet Smith, whom she hopes to marry off to the vicar, Mr Elton. So confident is she that she persuades Harriet to reject a proposal from a young farmer, Robert Martin, who is a much more suitable partner for the girl. This creates friction between Emma and her friend and neighbour, Mr Knightley (whose brother is married to Emma's sister).

An exciting development for Emma is the arrival in the neighbourhood of Frank Churchill, the stepson of her ex-governess, whom she has never met but in whom she has a long-standing interest. Meanwhile, she is forced to reject a proposal of marriage from Mr Elton, who proves more interested in Emma's fortune than in Harriet's gentle character. Mr Elton proceeds to marry a vulgar woman who becomes part of Emma's social circle and is one of Austen's greatest comic creations. Another newcomer to the circle is Jane Fairfax, the reserved but beautiful niece of Emma's impoverished neighbour, Miss Bates.

The plot becomes quite complex as Emma fancies herself in love with Frank Churchill, then decides that he would suit Harriet better. Having fallen out with Mr Knightley over an unintended insult to Miss Bates, she recognises serious failings in herself and sets out to heal the rift.

Several of the characters in this novel resemble those in other Austen books. In particular, Frank Churchill is a less villainous version of Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. As a heroine, Emma herself is less likeable but more believable than those of the other novels, and contrary to Austen's expectations (she wrote prior to starting the novel, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like"), Emma is one of her best-loved characters, precisely for her faults.

Film adaptations

Besides being adapted several times for television and radio, Emma became a successful film, first in 1932, starring Marie Dressler and Richard Cromwell, and Emma then again in 1996, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. An updated version of the story was used as the basis of another film, Clueless.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Emma".