Intentions Destined for Misinterpretation: Emma by Jane Austen

Topics: Emma, Jane Austen, Novel Pages: 6 (2121 words) Published: December 6, 2012
Anna Caldwell
26 April 2012
ENG 230-012
Intentions Destined for Misinterpretation

In a novel overflowing with misconstrued romance, “Emma” by Jane Austen succeeds in misleading the readers, as well as the actual characters on the matter of who is really in love with whom. Although it is teeming with romantic dialogue, the characters have a tendency to misunderstand confessions of love, as well as comments made in passing concerning the secret feelings of others. Through forms of narration and dialogue, Jane Austen forces the reader to interpret these subtexts and draw conclusions concerning the actual romantic intensions of her complex characters, while also deceiving readers on an adventure of romantic deception.

One of the main relationships that becomes misconstrued is the “romance” between Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. As Emma fancies herself to be a matchmaker, she derives the idea of setting up the mismatched couple and misinterprets Mr. Elton’s feelings for Harriet. These misunderstandings are introduced in the first paragraph of Chapter 6, as the narrator refers to Mr. Elton’s actions through Emma’s point of view, “He talked of Harriet; and praised her so warmly that she could not suppose anything wanting which a little time would not add.” (Pg. 33) This narration observes Emma’s thoughts on the topic, which can be very misleading to the reader. The narrator is sometimes assumed by the audience to be an omniscient character, and although the narrator is simply construing Emma’s thought patterns and concerns, it encourages the reader to assume it’s the truth at first glance. By writing in this manner, Austen gave the reader a subconscious option of accepting Emma’s thoughts and feelings as truth, or looking deeper into the text and using evidence to determine the true intentions of the other characters. This relationship is continually drawn out in Chapter 6 when Mr. Elton is observing Emma paint a portrait of Harriet. He makes the comment, “No husbands and wives in the case, at present indeed, as you observe. Exactly so. No husbands and wives.” (Pg. 37) He emphasized the words “at present” in making reference to his wish to marry Emma. With that being indicated, Austen’s narration directly following the previous text states, “…with so interesting of a consciousness, Emma began to consider if she had better not leave them alone at once.” (Pg. 37) Here the reader is led to believe that Mr. Elton had been referring to Harriet Smith, and not Emma. This also serves as a device for foreshadowing the events that occur later on in the novel, as well as other textual evidence that supports the claims that Mr. Elton chooses to propose to Emma, instead of Harriet.

In the same chapter, Mr. Elton decides to take the portrait of Harriet to London, which sets off another wide array of misconstrued fantasies. Austen frequently uses Mr. Elton’s dialogue to throw the reader off the trail that he cares for Emma and not Harriet. For example, Mr. Elton compliments the portrait fiercely as he states, “…the naïveté of Miss Smith’s manners- and altogether-oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it! I never saw such a likeness.” (Pg. 39) This particular dialogue causes the reader to believe that Mr. Elton is complimenting Harriet’s beauty, and not the actual portrait of her that Emma has created. Another example of text where this type of dialogue is presented appears on the next page, in which Mr. Elton comments that the portrait of Harriet is a “precious deposit.” This reiterates the effect that Austen has created by using Mr. Elton’s dialogue to consistently praise Harriet, thus further masking Mr. Elton’s true desire for Emma from the reader.

Austen begins challenging readers to start drawing their own conclusions of the text through the narration in Chapter 9, in which the riddle from Mr. Elton is introduced. Mr. Elton presents the letter to Emma saying, “Being my friend’s, I have no right to expose it in any...
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