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'Harriet Smith has no family and no money. Robert Martin was a good match for her, Emma. Until she met you, she thought of nothing better for herself, but you have filled her head with ideas of high society and of how beautiful she is.'
Emma Woodhouse is beautiful, clever and rich. She has never thought of getting married herself. Instead, she amuses herself by trying to arrange marriages between her friends and neighbours. But Emma makes a lot of mistakes and causes more problems than happy marriages. Because she is so busy trying to arrange other people's lives, will she lose her own chance of happiness?
Jane Austen was born in 1775, the daughter of a vicar. She had six brothers and one sister, Cassandra, who was her greatest friend. Her home was in Hampshire in the south of England and she lived there for most of her life.
She began writing short stories when she was sixteen but she did not write her first book, ^ until 1811. There were five more books. Emma came out in 1816 and many people think it her best work. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Persuasion (1817) are three of her books on the list of Penguin Readers. Her books have always been popular and recently many people have been introduced to her stories for the first time through films for the cinema and television.
Although she wrote a lot about falling in love, Jane Austen never married. She died in Cassandra's arms in 1817, when she was forty-one years old.
Emma Woodhouse was beautiful, clever and rich. She lived sixteen miles from London in the village of Highbury and at nearly twenty-one years old she thought her life was perfect. But nothing stays the same for ever and even the most perfect life must sometimes change.
Emma was the younger of two daughters but only she lived with her father at the family home. Her sister Isabella lived in London with her husband and five children.
Emma's mother died when she was only five, and so her father found Miss Taylor to five with them at Hartfield and look after his two daughters. Miss Taylor became their teacher and friend and, even after Emma had grown up and didn't need Miss Taylor as a teacher any longer, she continued to live with them and was part of the family.
But Emma's comfortable life changed when Miss Taylor decided to get married to Mr Weston. Although his house — called 'Randalls' — was very near Emma's, she soon realised there would be a great difference between a Miss Taylor at Hartfield and a Mrs Weston half a mile from Hartfield. And so Emma and her father were left alone together, both wishing that Miss Taylor was still there too.
'What a pity Mr Weston ever thought of Miss Taylor,' said Mr Woodhouse, sadly.
'I cannot agree, Papa. They are very happy together, and I am happy for them. And we shall see them often. They will come here to Hartfield and we shall visit them at Mr Weston's house. We shall always be meeting.'
But although Emma tried to make her father feel happier, she was just as sad as him.
As they sat together playing cards on the evening after Miss Taylor's wedding, their friend Mr Knightley came to visit them. His brother John was Isabella's husband and he had just returned from their home in London.
'How was the wedding? Who cried the most?'
'Everybody was on time and looked their best,' said Emma, 'And there were no tears.'
'But I know how sad you must feel, Emma,' said Mr Knightley.
'Yes, but I am happy that I made the match myself, four years ago. People said Mr Weston would never marry again, but I saw the possibility of love,' said Emma.
'And now Miss Taylor has left us,' said Mr Woodhouse. 'So please do not make any more matches that might break up our circle of friends and family, Emma.'
Mr Knightley did not agree with Emma.
'I cannot see why you think you succeeded. It was no more than a lucky guess,' he said.
But Emma would not listen. She was sure it was because of her help that Miss Taylor had married Mr Weston, and now she had the idea of making another match.
'Mr Elton, the vicar — he is such a good and handsome man, everybody says so. And today, in the church, I could see that he would like it very much if it was his wedding. I wish I could help to find him a wife.'
'Leave him to choose his own wife,' laughed Mr Knightley. 'He is twenty-seven and can take care of himself.'
Mr Woodhouse often invited his neighbours to Hartfield for an evening spent playing cards. Emma was happy to entertain their friends, although many of them were closer in age to her father than to her. But on one of these evenings Emma was luckier because one of their neighbours a young friend with her. Seventeen-year-old Harriet Smith had been a pupil at the school in Highbury and was still living there with the head teacher because she had no living family. Harriet was very pretty and she and Emma immediately became friends. Harriet was very impressed. She thought Emma was wonderful and the surroundings of Hartfield were much better than she was used to. Emma liked Harriet a lot and wanted to introduce her into good society, but first she would have to help by teaching Harriet a few things. She decided this was a very kind and thoughtful plan.
After that evening, Harriet spent a lot of time at Hartfield and she and Emma were often together. Harriet told Emma about her schoolfriend Elizabeth Martin and her family, who she had stayed with in the summer. Emma heard about the Martins' farm and as she listened she began to realise that Mr Robert Martin was not the father of the family, but the son. And he was single.
'Tell me about Mr Robert Martin,' Emma said and Harriet did tell her. He was kind and clever, she said, and she liked him a lot. Emma thought a farmer was a most unsuitable friend for Harriet and knew Mr Elton, the vicar, would be a much better husband. She turned their conversation away from Robert Martin.
'If you compare him to other young men you will certainly see a difference. For example, Mr Elton is a perfect gentleman. Did I tell you what he said about you the other day?' she asked, and told Harriet how beautiful he thought she was. Harriet was very pleased and suddenly seemed to want to talk less about Mr Martin.
'I think Mr Elton likes you a lot. Remember how he wanted me to paint a picture of you? And how he sighed over it when I had finished?'
The painting had been Emma's idea at first but when he heard about it, Mr Elton was immediately enthusiastic and thought it a very good suggestion. Emma painted Harriet in the garden and Mr Elton wanted to watch. But he walked about so much and asked so many questions that it became difficult for Emma to think about painting and for Harriet to think about standing still. Finally, Emma asked him to sit down and read something to them.
When the picture was finished Mr Elton thought it looked exactly like Harriet, but not everyone agreed.
'The picture is a little too beautiful around the eyes,' said Mrs Weston.
'Not at all!' replied Mr Elton. 'Miss Smith is just as beautiful as Miss Woodhouse has painted her.'
Mr Knightley knew Emma very well and was always honest with her. He said, 'You've made her too tall, Emma.'
'Oh, no,' said Mr Elton. 'Not too tall. Exactly right in my opinion.'
That was when Emma first began to see the possibility of a match between them and had great hopes that it would happen. Then Harriet had started talking about Robert Martin and Emma worried that he might spoil her match-making plans.
The next day she met Harriet in Highbury village and heard some unwelcome news.
'Miss Woodhouse,' said a very excited Harriet, 'Mr Martin has written to ask me to marry him!'
She showed Emma the letter and she agreed it was certainly a very good letter.
'So good that I wonder whether his sister helped him to write it,' she said.
'How shall I reply?' Harriet asked.
' I cannot tell you — it must be your own letter,' Emma replied. 'But I am sure you will write it so that he will not be too unhappy.'
'So you think I should refuse him,' said Harriet sadly, looking down.
'I shall not advise you. This is something you must decide yourself
Harriet was silent. She looked at the letter again.'I had no idea he liked me so much,' she said.
Emma decided she must speak to save Harriet from an unsuitable marriage.
'Harriet, if you doubt your answer, of course you should refuse him. If you cannot say "yes" immediately you must say "no".'
'Then I will refuse. Do you think I am right?'
'Perfectly, dearest Harriet. And remember, Mr Martin is only a farmer — he is not your equal or mine. If you married him, I could never visit you,' said Emma.
Harriet's letter was written and sent. She was a little quiet all evening and once she said she hoped Mr Martin and his sisters were not too sad. Emma tried to help her and started talking about Mr Elton again.
'We shall see him tomorrow, Harriet. He will come into this room and look at your picture again, and sigh as he always does when he sees it.'
Harriet smiled and became happier.
When Mr Knightley and Emma were in the gardens at Hartfield the next day he spoke to her about Harriet.
'I congratulate you, Emma. She was always a pretty girl but you have taught her a lot. I think your friend may get some news today that will make her happy.'
Emma thought at first that Mr Elton might have said something to Mr Knightley but then he continued.
'Robert Martin asked my opinion of her, was she too young to marry? Was it too soon to ask her? I advised him to ask. He's very much in love with her.'
'He has already asked,' said Emma,'and she has refused him.'
'What? She is a very foolish girl. Are you sure?'
' Of course, I saw her answer.'
Mr Knightley became angry with her.
'Saw it! You mean you wrote it! I think this was your idea, Emma.'
'It was not, but I believe that, although he is a very pleasant young man, he is not Harriet's equal.'
'Harriet Smith has no family and no money.This was a good match for her. Until she met you, she thought of nothing better for herself, but you have filled her head with ideas of high society and of how beautiful she is. She was happy enough with the Martins in the summer.'
Emma was unhappy because he was so angry with her, but she would not agree that she had been wrong.
'Now she knows what gentlemen are, she sees him differently. Now she is looking for something better.'
'Remember, Emma, sensible men do not want silly wives. Harriet may not have another chance to marry,' he replied. He started to walk away from her.
'And if you were thinking of Mr Elton for Harriet, it will not work. He is a good vicar and a good man but he will look for money and good family in a wife.'
Emma laughed. 'I am not trying to make a match for Harriet with Mr Elton,' she said, hoping that Mr Knightley would stop being angry and stay.
'Believe me, Emma, Mr Elton will choose sensibly,' he said over his shoulder. 'Good morning to you.'
Mr Knightley was so angry that it was some time before he went to Hartfield again. When Emma saw him again she could see that he had not forgiven her and she was sorry about that.
But she thought her plan was succeeding. Every time Mr Elton met Harriet and Emma he sighed a little more and Emma was certain he really did love Harriet.
Harriet was making herself a little book of poems, and some of the people she knew had suggested their favourites for the book. One day Emma told Mr Elton about it and then she said, 'Perhaps you could write something for Harriet's book? You are so clever it will be easy for you,'
'I'm sure I couldn't do it,' he replied, but the next day he called at Hartfield and left a paper with a short poem written on it. It was addressed to Miss —.
'He means it for you of course,' said Emma.
They read the poem together and saw that it was a very pretty love poem. Harriet was delighted with it.
'Mr Elton! He really is in love with me!' she sighed.
The poem was read to Mr Woodhouse and he said it was probably the best they had found. Then he started talking about Isabella.
'She is coming next week, and they will all be here for Christmas.'
'We must ask Mr and Mrs Weston to dinner while they are here, Papa. And Harriet must come as often as she can,' said Emma. 'You will love my nieces and nephews,' Emma said to Harriet,' and it will be a Christmas to remember.'
The next day, Emma had to visit a poor sick family in the village and Harriet went with her. The road to their little house passed the church and then later Mr Elton's house and for a moment they stopped to look at it. It was the first time Harriet had seen where Mr Elton lived.
'What a sweet house!' said Harriet.
'And there you and your book of poems will go one day. Then I shall often walk this way,' replied Emma.
They continued their walk and visited the family. Emma was a very kind young lady and she took them food and clothes for the children and tried to help as much as she could.
As they started their walk back to Hartfield, they met Mr Elton just as he was coming out of his house and he asked if he could walk with them.
Emma wanted to let Harriet and Mr Elton walk together without her and so she stopped and bent down to check her boot. They walked on and seemed to be having an interesting conversation. Emma tried to keep a long way behind but soon they stopped, turned and waited for her to catch up with them. She had hoped Mr Elton might take the opportunity to tell Harriet he loved her, but he didn't.
'He is very careful,' she thought. 'He will not tell her until he is sure she loves him.'-
But although she did not succeed with that plan, she was certain they had moved a little closer to the great day of their marriage.
Isabella, John Knightley and their children arrived at Hartfield the week before Christmas. Mr Woodhouse was delighted to see them all again and the family were happy to be together. They talked about their friends in Highbury and of course they talked about Mr and Mrs Weston.
'Do you see Mrs Weston often?' asked Isabella. Not as often as I would like, and she always goes away again,' said Mr Woodhouse sadly.
'But remember poor Mr Weston! She must go now that she is married, Papa,' laughed Emma.
'And what about the young man, Mr Weston's son? Has he been to see his father since the wedding?' asked John Knightley.
Everyone in Highbury knew about Mr Weston's son, Frank, but nobody had seen him. Several times he had said he was coming but each time something had happened to stop the visit.
Frank's aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Churchill, had adopted him when his mother died. He was only a baby and it seemed to Mr Weston at the time that it was the best thing to do. The Churchills had no children of their own and Frank took their family name. But Mrs Churchill was very jealous and wanted to keep Frank for herself. Although Frank saw his father once a year in London, he had not yet met his new wife.
If Frank Churchill finally did come to Highbury it would be very exciting for Mr and Mrs Weston, and for the whole village. Everybody looked forward to meeting him, especially Emma.
Mr Woodhouse told Isabella,'I have seen a letter he wrote to Mrs Weston and he seems a very pleasant young man. I am only sorry he is not here now, so that you could meet him, my dear.'
Mrs Weston invited all the family to Randalls for dinner on Christmas Eve* and Harriet, Mr Knightley and Mr Elton were asked to join them.Two carriages were going from Hartfield and Mr Woodhouse arranged to meet Mr Elton at his house and take him to Randalls with them.
The day before, Harriet became ill with a cough and a bad throat and so she could not go. Emma explained to Mr Elton and he said he was very sorry that Harriet was ill. Emma thought he might be so unhappy that he would not go to Randalls without Harriet but he surprised her.
'It is a pity our friend cannot join our little party but I am looking forward to the evening,' he told her. 'We must hope she will soon feel better.'
Emma thought it strange that he was not more worried but she said nothing. During the journey, he was quite happy and even joked a little. He seemed to have forgotten poor Harriet and was obviously enjoying himself.
When they arrived at Randalls, Emma was surprised to find Mr Elton at her side most of the time. She heard Mr Weston telling the others something about Frank, but because Mr Elton was talking to her she could not hear everything.
Emma had an interest in Frank Churchill, although she had never met him. They were about the same age and because their two families were now joined in marriage it seemed to her that he was the man she should marry. She thought Mr and Mrs Weston had probably had the same idea, perhaps her father also.
At dinner she was sitting next to Mr Weston, and far from Mr Elton, so she ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Christmas Eve: The day before Christmas Day - December 24th had a chance to ask about Frank.
'I should like to see two more people here tonight — your friend Miss Smith and my son,' he said. 'Did you know we had another letter from him this morning?
He will be with us in a fortnight. Mrs Weston doubts it, but I am sure he will come this time.'
'If you think he will come, I shall think so too,' said Emma. She hoped he was right because she wanted to meet Frank very much.
The evening at Randalls was a very pleasant one and, as they left for home, it started to snow.
Mr Woodhouse, Isabella and John all rode in the first carriage, and so Emma and Mr Elton were alone in the second. They had just driven through the gates and reached the road when suddenly Mr Elton jumped up from his seat to sit next to Emma and took her hand in his. She immediately moved across the carriage.
'Mr Elton! What are you thinking of? Please stop this minute!' cried Emma, afraid that he had drunk too much of Mr Weston's excellent wine. But Mr Elton would not stop. He said he loved her and he would die if she refused to marry him. Again he moved next to Emma and again she moved away.
'I cannot understand this,' said Emma.'Surely it is Miss Smith you love, not me!'
'Miss Smith? How can you think that?' he asked.
'But the painting — and the poem. Explain yourself, Mr Elton.'
'Miss Smith means nothing to me. I thought the artist was wonderful, not the subject. And the poem was for you.' Mr Elton tried to take Emma's hand again. 'Miss Smith is a pretty, pleasant girl and I wish her well, but my visits to Hartfield have been for you only.'
Emma was so surprised that she did not know what to say Mr Elton tried to take her hand again.
'Your silence makes me think that you always understood me,' he said.
'Then I see we have both made a mistake. I do not wish you to have any interest in me, Mr Elton, and I do not intend to marry anyone at present.'
After that they sat silently until the carriage stopped outside Mr Elton's house and he got out. They both said a cold 'good night' and the carriage drove Emma home to Hartfield, where the family were waiting for her.
That night it was difficult for Emma to sleep. For herself, she did not worry about what had happened in the carriage with Mr Elton, but she felt very sad for Harriet.
'Harriet has grown to like this man and then to love him,' she thought,'and it was because of me.'
She remembered what Mr Knightley had said to her about him, that day in the garden. 'Mr Elton will choose sensibly,' he had said, and now it seemed he.was right. He had not wanted Harriet, had never thought about her as a wife. All the time it had been Emma he wanted. But she knew the first and worst mistake had been hers. It was wrong and foolish to try to bring two people together and she was ashamed of herself.
'It was enough that I talked her out of love with Mr Martin. There, at least, I was right,' she thought.
The next day, Emma was pleased to see a lot of snow outside. This was a good thing because it meant she could not go to church and see Mr Elton, or go to visit Harriet, and none of them could meet. The snow stayed for several days after Christmas and the only visitor to Hartfield was Mr Knightley.
As soon as the snow disappeared, Isabella, John and the children went back to London. The same evening, a letter arrived for Mr Woodhouse from Mr Elton. It said he was leaving Highbury the next day and going to Bath to spend a few weeks with friends. There was no message in the letter for Emma and she was a little angry about that, but also pleased he was going away. She knew the next thing she must do was to speak to Harriet and tell her everything.
Harriet cried, but she did not blame Emma at all for what had happened. They went back to Hartfield together and Emma tried very hard to make Harriet feel better, but she knew only time could help her to forget. Perhaps when Mr Elton returned they might all be able to meet without feeling embarrassed.
Mr Frank Churchill did not come. He wrote a letter of excuse and in it he said, I hope to come to Randalls quite soon.
Both Mr and Mrs Weston were very sorry but they decided perhaps the spring was a better time to visit and maybe he could stay for a longer time then.
Emma gave Mr Knightley the news and blamed the Churchills, especially his aunt. Mr Knightley did not agree.
'If he wanted to see his father, he could come. He is twenty-three or -four — at that age it is not impossible. A short time ago he was in Weymouth, so he can leave the Churchills when he wants to,' he said.
'It may not be easy for him all the time. His aunt and uncle may need him at home. Why do you dislike him so much?' asked Emma.
'I neither like nor dislike him because we have never met. But I cannot understand why this is so difficult for him. He seems a very weak young man.'
'We shall never agree about that,' said Emma. 'Perhaps he is just a kind and gentle man. Perhaps he does not want to make his aunt unhappy.'
'He is certainly very good at writing letters and making excuses. But Mrs Weston must feel very insulted because he has not come to meet her.'
Emma knew Mr Knightley was becoming angry about Frank Churchill and she could not understand why.
'I believe he will come soon,' she said. 'And when he does, everyone in Highbury will be very excited. We are all interested and want to meet him.'
'Oh? I never think of him from one month to another,' was all Mr Knightley said.
Emma and Harriet were out walking one morning and in Emma's opinion had talked enough about Mr Elton for one day. Harriet could not forget him and still loved to hear his name. They were near the house where some old friends lived and Emma decided a visit to them may help Harriet to think about other things.
Mrs and Miss Bates loved to have visitors and Emma did not call at their house as often as she knew she should. They were quite poor but there was always tea and cake and a warm welcome for their visitors. Miss Bates loved to talk and because her old mother was deaf she repeated conversations by shouting at her.
They were delighted to see Emma and Harriet and made them sit near the fire and have tea with them. They asked Emma about their old friend Mr Woodhouse and were happy when she said he was in very good health.
'Have you heard from Miss Fairfax recently?' asked Emma, hoping they had not just received a letter.
Jane Fairfax was Miss Bates's niece. Her parents had died when she was young and she had come to Highbury to live with her grandmother and aunt. But then, an old friend of her father's, a Mr Campbell, had offered to look after her and Jane had gone to live with his family. Mr and Mrs Campbell had a daughter the same age as Jane and they were a rich family, so Jane was very lucky. Mrs and Miss Bates were very sad when she left Highbury but they knew it was much better for her to live in London with the Campbell family. She wrote to her aunt and grandmother regularly, and sometimes came to stay with them.
Emma and Jane Fairfax were about the same age and they knew each other but they were never friends. Miss Bates liked to tell everyone in Highbury about Jane because they were generally interested in her. Only Emma was not interested. She was bored with Jane's letters and hearing all about her life, but Miss Bates was a very kind lady and she knew it was polite to ask.
'We had a letter just this morning. Jane is coming to stay next week.'
'How lovely for you! And how long will she stay?'
'For three months at least — and we are so excited, Miss Woodhouse,' said Miss Bates. 'I said we are very excited!' she shouted at her mother.
'The Campbells are going to Ireland and because Jane has had a bad cold recently she decided not to travel with them,' she explained. 'Now, let me read you the whole letter, Miss Woodhouse.'
But although she knew it was not polite to go so suddenly, Emma did not want to stay and hear the letter.
'I am so sorry, but we must go now,' she said. 'My father will be waiting for us.'
Emma and Harriet left the house, although Miss Bates tried very hard to make them stay a few more minutes. They promised to return the next week when Jane was there, and Emma invited Mrs and Miss Bates to come to Hartfield with Jane for an evening of music.
The evening at Hartfield was pleasant and everyone enjoyed the music. Mr Knightley was invited, also Harriet and Mr and Mrs Weston, so there was quite a big party. Both Jane and Emma sang and played the piano, but Jane was much better. Emma tried to make conversation with her but she always found it difficult because Jane was quiet and a little cold. She often seemed unfriendly and Emma did not know why.
As she tried to find something to say, she remembered Miss Bates telling her that Jane had spent some time the summer before in Weymouth.
'Did you meet Mr Frank Churchill? I understand he was also in Weymouth last summer.'
'Yes, we were introduced,' said Jane.
'Tell me about him. Was he handsome?'
'People seem to think so.'
'And sensible? Interesting? Clever?'
But Jane told her nothing. 'It is difficult to say, we did not meet often. He is very polite,' was all she said. Emma was not at all satisfied with that, and disliked Jane more than before.
The next day, the same news came to Hartfield from two different people, first Mr Knightley, then Miss Bates. Mr Elton was going to be married.
Emma was surprised, it was only four weeks since he had left Highbury.
'He is marrying a Miss Hawkins of Bath. That is all I know,' said Miss Bates. 'A new neighbour for us all Miss Woodhouse! My mother is so pleased!'
'We are all pleased, of course,' said Emma, without looking at Mr Knightley.
That afternoon Emma decided she must tell Harriet the news when she called, before she heard it from Miss Bates or someone else. But it started to rain and Harriet did not come at her usual time. When she arrived later, the first thing she said was, 'Oh, Miss Woodhouse, what do you think has happened?'
Emma thought at once that Harriet knew about Mr Elton, but it was a different story that she told.
'It started to rain as I was walking through Highbury so I decided to wait in one of the shops until the rain stopped. And who do you think came into the shop?'
Emma could not guess but she could see how excited Harriet was.
'Elizabeth Martin and her brother! I did not know what to do. I was sitting near the door and Elizabeth saw me immediately, but he did not because he was busy with the umbrella. Then they both went to the other side of the shop and I kept sitting there -I could not go away because of the rain. At last he saw me and they whispered together for a little and then, Miss Woodhouse, what do you think?'
Harriet stopped for breath and Emma said, 'I really do not know Harriet, do tell me.'
'They came across to me and we shook hands and stood talking for some time. Then I saw that the rain had nearly stopped so I said I must go.'
'And now here you are.'
'Miss Woodhouse, I did not want it to happen, but it was so nice to speak to them again. Did I do the right thing?' asked Harriet.
Emma thought about it. As Harriet was so pleased to see Mr Martin again she might not be too upset at the news about Mr Elton, so the meeting must be a good thing.
'You behaved perfectly, Harriet. Now it is over and, as a first meeting, it can never happen again.'
For some time Harriet could not talk about anything except the Martins and Emma was right. The news about Mr Elton did not shock her so very much after all.