c Pearson Education Limited 2008
Emma - Teacher’s notes
Teacher Support Programme
About the author
Jane Austen’s literary genius is universally acknowledged.
Her novels, written in the early part of the nineteenth
century, are considered masterpieces. Essentially
romances, the novels are sharply observed, beautifully
constructed, and have tremendous realism and wit. Of
these, Emma (1816) is generally agreed to be Austen’s most
accomplished work. A film of Emma was released in 1996.
Jane Austen was born in 1775 in the Hampshire
countryside; she had five brothers and one sister. Her
father was a clergyman and his wife was an energetic
woman who also had some literary talent. Recent
biographies reveal that the family had constant financial
difficulties. The family was lively and affectionate, with
Austen started writing as a teenager. Even at that age her
works were incisive and elegantly expressed. The few
letters that remain reveal her lively if rather acid wit! Of
her appearance, her brother wrote, ‘In person she was very
attractive; her figure was rather tall and slender … She
was a clear brunette with a rich colour.’ Austen received
several proposals of marriage but rejected them. She fell in
love with a young man who reciprocated her feelings – but
since both were penniless they were not allowed to marry.
By her mid-twenties, Austen regarded herself as a spinster,
drawing ever closer to her beloved elder sister Cassandra,
who after Austen’s death, described her as ‘the sun of my
Austen wrote six major novels. Sense and Sensibility
and Emma (1816) which were published during her
lifetime. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published
in 1818 after her death. The books were popular. Highly
placed public figures admired her novels greatly. The
Prince Regent (heir to the throne) kept a set of her novels
in each of his homes.
In 1800, when Jane was 25, her parents moved from the
family home, and did not settle until 1810. During this
period Austen wrote very little – an indication of how
disturbed she was by the move. Austen died in 1817, at
the age of 41, possibly of a form of cancer.
Emma, the 21-year-old heroine of the book, is beautiful,
young, so her governess played the part of her mother.
Another old friend is Mr Knightley, a man in his late
thirties who treats Emma like a younger sister. Although
Emma is charming, she is rather spoilt. She befriends
a young woman, Harriet, who is of a lower social class.
Emma amuses herself by matchmaking, convinced of her
own superiority and knowledge of people’s hearts. She
makes several attempts to pair off Harriet with men she
considers suitable. But, unbeknown to Emma, Harriet has
fallen in love with Mr Knightley, who appears to return
her affection. When Harriet reveals her feelings to Emma,
our heroine realises with horror, that while claiming to
know others’ hearts, she has neglected to know her own
– and she is desperately in love with Mr Knightley.
Chapters 1–3: The story begins with Emma’s old
governess, and companion’s, marriage to Mr Weston.
Soon afterwards Emma befriends Harriet and begins to
match-make on her behalf. Her first target is Mr Elton,
the vicar. She advises Harriet to refuse an offer of marriage
from a local farmer, Mr Martin, as she believes Harriet can
make a better match.
Much to Emma’s surprise, Mr Elton proposes to her, but
she refuses. Harriet is upset to learn that she is not the
object of Mr Elton’s affections. Mr Elton leaves town for
a short break. Emma learns that Jane Fairfax, a lady with
whom she is acquainted, is to return to Highbury for an
extended visit with her aunt, Miss Bates. News comes of
Mr Elton’s impending marriage to a lady of fortune, only
four weeks after leaving Highbury.
Chapters 4–6: Emma learns that Frank Churchill, Mr
Weston’s son, who was adopted by the Churchill’s, is
coming to Highbury for a long awaited visit. Mr Churchill
and Emma meet and form an immediate friendship.
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Emma does not form a good opinion of Mr Elton’s new
wife. Mr Churchill and Emma start to plan a ball but he
is called away. Emma, upon reflection, decides that she is
not in love with Mr Churchill after all. Soon afterwards
Mr Churchill returns and the ball takes place.
Frank Churchill saves her. Emma supposes her to be in
love with him and thinks it is a good match. A trip is
arranged to Box Hill but it is not a success and Emma
behaves rudely towards Miss Bates. Emma’s behaviour
angers Mr Knightley.
Emma feels ashamed and goes to see Miss Bates where
she learns Miss Fairfax is to take a position as a governess
to three children. After an illness, old Mrs Churchill dies
which means that Frank Churchill is free to marry whom
he chooses. It comes to light that Frank Churchill and
Miss Fairfax are secretly engaged. Harriet reveals to Emma
that she is in love with Mr Knightley. Emma is jolted by
this news as she is also in love with him.
Much to Emma’s joy Mr Knightley proposes to her.
Harriet visits London with Isabella, Emma’s sister, where
she meets Mr Martin, who again proposes to her, this time
she accepts. The story ends happily with three weddings.
Background and themes
Austen’s works are satirical comedies about the middle and
upper-middle classes. The plots are variations on a theme:
a young woman’s courtship and eventual marriage. By the
end of every one of Austen’s novels, the heroine has found
a husband. The world Austen describes is not large: she
describes small social groups in provincial environments.
But within this narrow focus Austen explores universal
themes: money and its effect on the human psyche;
romance and its illusions and the necessary progression
towards more realistic relationships, as the courting
couples discover each other’s true natures.
marriage are central themes in Emma, and are the
prevalent theme throughout. The story is structured
around this theme. In each marriage, the match solidifies
the couple’s social status. For a young woman of this
period, marriage was the surest route to independence and
freedom. Marriage to a wealthy man of good birth was
the most desirable position as this could raise one’s social
status. Unmarried women living in their parents’ home
(as Austen was) were considered second-class citizens.
but makes many mistakes. She is a snob and with her
well-intentioned interference, almost ruins the life of
her friend Harriet. Yet, with all these faults, Emma
remains lovable, as she painfully progresses from youthful
insensitivity to a deeper honesty and maturity. At the end
of the story, Mr Knightley is waiting for her, perceptive,
intelligent and dependable as only an Austen character can
Moral integrity: There is a range of characters in Emma,
from the flighty Frank Churchill and the outrageously
smug Mrs Elton to the self-absorbed Mr Woodhouse.
Underpinning these characters and the sparkling, witty
dialogue, is a practical sense of what is important in life:
honesty, sensitivity, integrity, a certain amount of money,
of the introduction (and the story) begins, ‘Emma
writes down which they would rather be: beautiful/
good looking, clever, or rich. Then put the students
into groups and ask them to compare their answers
giving reasons for their choice.
Put the three choices up on the board. As each
board under the appropriate column. Then add up
the number of students in each column.
Discuss the result.
Chapter 1 is called ‘An Offer of Marriage’. What does
answer these questions:
Emma before he asks her to marry him?
b Do you think Emma was stupid not to realise?
Give reasons for your opinion.
like her to be your friend? Why/why not?
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4 Guess: Write these names on the board.
Harriet, Mr Knightley, Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill,
Put students into groups, and ask them to discuss the
Tell the students that they will be asked this question
of their answers to see if their ideas have changed.
Ask them to write a short diary about what has
happened and how upset they may be feeling.
6 Discuss: In groups, students discuss the following
questions: Mrs Elton describes Mrs Weston as a ‘lady’
What do you think she means by these words?
Who in this story do you think is a real ‘lady’ or
Do you think that we can still use these words about
pages 27 and 28 and write down how Emma’s feelings
for Frank Churchill change over these two pages.
Ask one pair for feedback and see if others in the
class agree. In pairs, ask the students to answer the
following questions. Who does Emma think would be
Compare answers with the rest of the class.
of Chapter 8, ‘A Secret Engagement’. Who do they
play the characters of Emma, Jane Fairfax, Frank
Churchill, Mr Knightley and Harriet as the situation
is at the end of Chapter 8. Tell them to take on the
role of these characters and ask them to consider how
they are feeling and what they are saying to each
10 Artwork: In pairs, ask the students to draw a detailed
picture depicting an event that has happened in the
last two chapters. When completed, ask each student
to describe their picture to the class who can then
guess which event has been drawn.
11 Guess: Put the students into pairs. The title of this
chapter is: ‘Three Weddings’. Ask the students to
briefly discuss who will be the bride and groom at
each of the three weddings in the chapter title. Why
do they think this?
the students’ predictions were correct about which
characters would marry each other.
13 Discuss: Put the students into small groups. Ask
them to discuss what advice they would give each of
these characters: Emma, Mr Knightley, Harriet, Frank
Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Mr Elton, Mrs Elton, Emma’s
father, Miss Bates. Each group can discuss their
answers with the rest of the class.
students into small groups, and ask them to discuss
the following question: Which of these characters do
you think is a snob, Emma, Mr Knightley, Mr and
Mrs Elton, Harriet?
Who do you think is not a snob? Give reasons for your
Do you think Jane Austen liked snobs?
15 Write: In pairs, ask students to write a letter from
Emma to Harriet in which she apologises for her
matchmaking. They give this letter to another pair
and this pair then reads it and writes Harriet’s reply
before giving it back to the original pair.
As a class, read and discuss some of the letters.
Emma’s character has changed, grown and developed
by the end of the book. Is she a better person? What has
she found out about herself ? Does she think she made
any mistakes? Is she a happier person? Will she continue
to try to match make? Can you find any evidence in the
book to support your answers?
Report back to the rest of the class.
For the Word List and vocabulary activities, go to