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c   Pearson Education Limited 2008

Emma - Teacher’s notes 

 of 3

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 

many relatives. 

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 

(1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) 

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, 

clever and rich. Her mother died when she was very 

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.

Jane Austen


c   Pearson Education Limited 2008

Emma - Teacher’s notes 

2 of 3

Teacher’s notes 



Teacher Support Programme

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. 

Chapters 7–9: Harriet is harassed by some gypsies and 

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.

Love, courtship and marriage: Love, courtship and 

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.

Character development: The heroine is self assured  

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, 

and humour.

Discussion activities


Before reading

1  Ask students to read the introduction. The first line  

of the introduction (and the story) beginsEmma 

Woodhouse was beautiful, clever and rich’. Each student 

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 

student gives their choice, write their names on the 

board under the appropriate column. Then add up 

the number of students in each column. 


Discuss the result.

Chapters 1–2

Before reading 

2  Discuss: Ask the students to think about why 

Chapter 1 is called ‘An Offer of Marriage’. What does 

the title mean? What is marriage? Who usually asks who 

– the man or the woman? Do you think marriage is 

important? Why/why not? Do you think marriage has 

changed since Austen wrote Emma? In what ways? If not, 

why not? Would you like to get married? Why/why not?

After reading 

3  Pair work: Put students into pairs, and ask them to 

answer these questions:


a  What signs does Mr Elton give of his interest in 

Emma before he asks her to marry him?


b  Do you think Emma was stupid not to realise? 

Give reasons for your opinion.


c  What is your opinion of Emma so far? Would you 

like her to be your friend? Why/why not?


c   Pearson Education Limited 2008

Emma - Teacher’s notes 

3 of 3

Teacher’s notes 



Teacher Support Programme

Chapters 3–4

After reading

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 

following question: 


By the end of the book, all these people are married. 

From your knowledge so far, who do you think they will 

marry? Give reasons for your choice.


Tell the students that they will be asked this question 

again at the end of the book so they must keep a note 

of their answers to see if their ideas have changed. 

5  Write: Ask the students to pretend they are Harriet. 

Ask them to write a short diary about what has 

happened and how upset they may be feeling.

Chapters 5–6

After reading 

6  Discuss: In groups, students discuss the following 

questions: Mrs Elton describes Mrs Weston as a ‘lady’ 

and Mr Knightley as a ‘gentleman’. 


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 


7  Read carefully: In pairs, ask the students to re-read 

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  

a good match for Frank Churchill now that she is no 

longer in love with him? Do you think this would be a 

good match for Frank and Harriet? Can you think of a 

better match for Harriet or for Frank Churchill? 

Compare answers with the rest of the class.

Chapters 7–8

Before reading

8  Guess: In pairs, ask the students to look at the title  

of Chapter 8, ‘A Secret Engagement’. Who do they 

think is engaged? Why do they think that the engagement 

has been kept a secret? Why do they think it has been 

revealed now? Do they think all the characters will be 

happy with the news of the engagement? Who will be 

happy/unhappy? Why will they be happy/unhappy? 

After reading 

9  Role play: Put the students into groups of five. 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. 

Chapter 9

Before reading

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?

After reading

12  Check: After reading Chapter 9, check to see if the 

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.

14  Discuss: Explain the word ‘snob’ to students. Put 

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. 

16  Pair work: In pairs ask the students to discuss how 

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. 

Vocabulary activities

For the Word List and vocabulary activities, go to

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