It has been said about Jane Austen that she is basically trying to show her readers how they should live their lives. Do you agree with this statement?

Jane Austen is clearly showing us, her readers, how to live our lives and this happens mainly through her characters’ thoughts and behaviors. In a letter to one of her nieces, Austen wrote: “I am going to write about a heroine that no one but me will like”. And then she wrote Emma. Why is it that “no one” would like Emma? Is it maybe because Emma is indirectly  manipulating also our lives as well as that of her characters? Or what if she is just simply trying to show us how to live to save us from mistakes and suffering?

Jane Austen’s Portrait

Austen is indirectly telling us how we should live by highlighting the defects and negative sides of her characters in order for us to avoid the same mistakes into which they have fallen in her stories. In the case of the novel we read, she is using Emma as a symbolic character to show imperfection and humanity.

I had the feeling , more than once during my reading of the novel, that Jane Austen’s attempt to show us how to live our lives became a wish to manipulate our minds; but I felt that this was still meant with good intentions. Emma Woodhouse is, as the central figure, undoubtedly the novel’s most central manipulator, that expresses and embodies in a certain sense the will of Jane Austen. She wants us to reason and not to make same errors as Emma, to learn not to consider ourself too superior and  wants us to grow into a process of maturation of our own mistakes and feelings. The aim of this manipulative behavior serves as an example of moral growth through suffering, as Emma does.

This sort of manipulation doesn’t happen only toward us reader but also within the story itself when Emma tries to place herself in the role of protector of Harriet Smith:

” She would notice [Harriet]; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners”¹

Perhaps ignorant, Emma seeks to control the life of Harriet Smith, trying to improve her life by raising her social status to a higher, more luxurious one but without regard for her moral wellbeing. This is very insulting to Harriet, but the intentions, although ignorant, are not malicious.

Because the word manipulation is commonly linked to a negative concept I therefore “justify” Jane Austen’s manipulative way of writing because I think that there is a moral purpose behind it.

Emma journeys toward a deeper meaning for “value” make her develop a better picture of her place in the world and becomes simultaneously less self-centered and more self-understanding. In this way, she learns a very important lesson, which I think is the one that Austen is trying to transmit to us: that is, the best resistance to manipulation is in knowing and accepting the complex, intrinsic value of oneself!


Âą J. Austen, Emma, p.24.


5 thoughts on “BLOG TOPIC #2

  1. Hi Beatrice,
    I have enjoyed reading your Blog Topic Week 5. Very interesting. I agree with you, in that ‘Emma’ is designed to make readers see what is inappropriate about Emma’s manners. Jane Austen is trying to help us reconsider our own actions, and save us, not only from the suffering we cause others, but the grief and humiliation we bring upon ourselves. Although, I think Emma restores her dignity in the end, when she apologises to Miss Bates (after the Box Hill incident), and reviews her real situation with Frank Churchill. Emma takes on some lessons in life, showing us that we can walk away unscathed if we are willing to put things right. She learns a lot about herself, and hopes for the betterment of her own character. The name Emma means ‘whole’, so her character contains everything, good and bad. I liked your usage of the word ‘maturation’ – very true! Also, it is evident that Harriet Smith was manipulated by Emma, as a result of her innocence, lifestyle, and her wanting to accept the good opinions of others. This led her to believe and trust in Emma’s vain idea, that Mr Robert Martin was not good enough for her, and she should have someone better. Of course, the entire situation backfires, when Harriet begins to feel for Mr Knightley, and this is not what Emma wants. It takes a little time, for Harriet to realise she can make her own choices, and accepts Robert Martin’s marriage proposal when he requests her hand again. It is true, that if we are to resist manipulation, then we should know and accept our own ‘intrinsic’ and ‘complex’ values. Jane Austen manipulates her characters, for the improvement of our own characters. As you said ‘less self-centred and more self-understanding’. Very well constructed, and meaningful blog Beatrice. I enjoyed it 🙂


  2. Same comment as in previous blog Beatrice…

    *Please attend to editing your work carefully. Here is what I have picked up:
    *through her characters thoughts and behaviors.= through her characters’ thoughts and behavior. [behavior acts like a plural noun here and punctuation check: ‘s or s’ – Apostrophe- if there is a meaning of ownership ( the boy’s apple/ the boys’ apples) then you need an apostrophe. See But don’t use apostrophe s for normal plurals!!!]
    * to avoid the same mistakes in which they have fallen = to avoid the same mistakes INTO which they have fallen
    * as a symbol-character to show imperfection and humaneness.= as a symbolic character to show imperfection and humanity.
    * I had the feeling that, more than one time during my reading of the novel, Jane Austen’s will of showing us how to live our lives became a will to manipulate our minds, but this still in a good sense. = I had the feeling , more than once during my reading of the novel, that Jane Austen’s attempt to show us how to live our lives became a wish to manipulate our minds; but I felt that this was still meant with good intentions.
    * and not to do the same error of Emma,= and not to make same errors as Emma,

    Liked by 1 person

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