Victor’s Anagnorisis

In volume I, chapter IV, readers see the creation of the monster in two ways, externally and internally, that construct Victor’s anagnorisis. In the first paragraph, we get a very detailed description of the environment in which the monster was created. “A dreary night [in] November”, with “rain patter[ing] dismally”, and lightly lit by “half-extinguished light[s]”sets up a tone  and mood of dreadfulness and gothic elements for the readers. (83) I believe Shelley did this to MAKE us feel this way because Victor is feeling this way as well.

 In this first paragraph, not much is described of the monster just yet besides his “dull yellow eyes”. (83) The rest of the entire paragraph is exclusively written to describe the environment in which the monster is created in. This shows how important setting is, to not only this gothic scene, but the novel in its entirety as well. Shelley’s detailed descriptions of many other gothic and sublime scenes to the novel show how important these minuet details are also. This paragraph shows Victor’s external feelings during the creation. He can’t clearly see just how terrible his creation is, because the lighting is so dim, but once he is able to, he comes to terms with the faculties of his situation with the monster.

The second paragraph in Volume I, chapter IV, gives us a different approach on the monster’s creation, and Victor’s internal feelings. Victor realizes at this time that the creation of life is a “catastrophe”, in which he is not ready to come to terms with. (83) Readers get intensive details on the monster himself, instead of the environment in which he was created, which gives readers a chance to make judgments of the monster for themselves. The physical qualities of the monster are interesting themselves as well because there are many opposing details. For instance, we are told about the monster’s hair that is “lustrous black” and then get the description of his “white sockets.”(83) His descriptions are not of a positive connotation.

After both of these paragraphs, Victor’s anagnorisis comes to life. He comes to terms with the nature of the situation that he put himself in by creating life. Once Victor realizes the consequences that he will have to come to terms with, he is filled with “horror” and “disgust”. (84) “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room.” (84) Victor ends up having to leave the dreadful space in which his creating the monster took place, and the monster himself lay because he just cannot deal with reality.

Pop Culture Ruined Frankenstein’s Monster

In my experience with cinematic tales of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, the monster is a dumb, lumbering, illiterate beast that only exists to wreak havoc among humans. This seems to me, is a far cry from the creature that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created in her novel.

Shelley’s creature learns to speak and read within the novel. He is capable and smart. He creates profound arguments to persuade Frankenstein to make him a companion. He even references the Bible with sound enough authority to make logical comparisons between Frankenstein and God and himself and Satan.

This depth of thought is not portrayed in many modern movies or television shows. Many times The Creature is portrayed as a very stupid brute.

As a modern reader this angers me. I know that no movie is ever as good as the book, but The Creature’s characterization is so off and so biased. If Frankenstein’s Creature would have turned out to be a monster who would never be able to comprehend anything simple nevertheless profound, the audience would feel less inclined to take his side. They would feel less empathetic towards him.

And really, isn’t Shelley’s depiction of The Creature all the more terrifying? Frankenstein created a being who learned so much so fast. He was bigger, stronger and faster than humans. He can be a big problem to a community, as we see in the book.

This intelligent being is much more frightening than a monster that has no reasoning or motivation. Especially because, in Shelley’s work, an audience might even pity The Creature.

If The Creature can make humans understand it, relate to it, its chances of survival are far greater. Everyone likes an underdog and a comeback story. If The Creature could have convinced the audience that it could really change, the audience may have started rooting for him and resenting Frankenstein.

By dumbing down the monster, many movies have dumbed down the plot of Frankenstein. It has lost its profundity and prowess. This goes against the entire point of the novel. We are supposed to look past The Creature’s appearance and take him for what he can be. By creating this shallow version of The Creature we are disrespecting Shelley’s entire novel.

Wars in the Sky and the Soul

That nature should affect a person’s disposition is not an uncommon idea, and certainly not uncommon in Gothic literature. Mary Shelley’s famous protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, has an interesting connection to nature that is often overshadowed by his monster’s own… issues… with nature. Victor is at odds with his surroundings, having been somewhat different than his peers since his childhood, and it does not seem a stretch of the imagination to suppose that his fixation on messing with nature, culminating in his famous act of creation, would put him at increased odds with his natural surroundings. One scene in particular showcases this; in chapter six of the first volume, Victor’s journey to Geneva contains separate scenarios of natural imagery at almost direct conflict with each other, and instead of feeling what most people would feel at each given natural setting, Victor seems to invert the expected and what is “normal.”

First, Victor contemplates the lake at Lausanne, and initially, “the calm and heavenly scene” – the sublime – restores him to some degree, which one would normally expect at such a pretty sight, but this is Victor Frankenstein we’re talking about, and the reader already knows enough about the protagonist to know that this momentary calm can only be followed by a storm. As Victor nears Geneva, he looks upon the “bright summit of Mont Blanc,” and feels as though it is mocking at his unhappiness. Leave it to Victor Frankenstein to have his own King Lear moment and assume that all of nature is focused on him. He mentions that his beloved country at first fills him with delight (again, as one would expect) but this is soon overshadowed by “grief and fear” as he draws closer to his home (70, in my book). These scenes of serenity and light would be reflected in most people, but they make Victor only that much more aware of his woe.

Then follows the gloomy nature scene, distinctive of the Gothic, taking form in the coming night and arriving storm. Understandably, with nightfall Victor feels “still more gloomily” and foresees himself becoming “the most wretched of human beings.” Normal, right? However, when the storm finally hits, it is almost as if Victor draws strength from it, or at least comfort. He considers it a “noble war in the sky,” which is a beautiful way of characterizing the externalization of the war within his soul. How he feels in his heart and soul is finally mirrored in what he sees around him; the internal matches the external. Where most people would flee and find shelter, Victor, for a moment, finds that the storm “elevated [his] spirits,” and it is only the arrival of his creature that lowers them again (71).

This scene is important because of the fact that it emphasizes not only Victor’s separation from society, but also the warring emotions within himself. The first setting accentuates the disparity in its light beauty and Victor’s heavy heart, whereas the latter setting mirrors and emphasizes said heaviness. Victor feels out of place in the sublime, and at home in the Gothic.

By The River of Ingolstadt, He Sat Down and Wept

Soon after his creation, after Victor Frankenstein fled his apartment in horror, the monster himself wandered out into the cold woods. The monster recounts this moment to Victor saying: “feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (Shelly 121). In a novel filled with allusions, this particular reference to Psalm 127 struck me as an interesting insight to the monster’s predicament. The monster’s story had a few similarities to the Israelites’ in Psalm 137: both the monster and the Israelites sit near a running body of water when they “wept,” both parties felt despair at being outsiders in a foreign and inhospitable land, and both the Israelites and the monster desire violent revenge on their enemy.

Psalm 137 begins: “By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps 137:1). In this Psalm, the Israelites, captives in a strange land, lament the loss of their land and the diaspora of their people.  In Frankenstein, the monster tells Victor that after he entered the “forest near Ingolstadt” he “lay by a brook resting from [his] fatigue” (Shelly 121). The monster, like the Israelites, has sat down at the side of a river and begins to lament his situation.

The Israelites thought that they were God’s chosen people, but the fall of Jerusalem led them towards feelings of isolation and doubt. Like the Israelites, the monster finds himself alone in an unknown place. The monster recounts his earliest memories by telling Victor, “It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened as it were instinctively, finding myself so desolate” (121). Throughout the novel, the monster seems to have no proper home. He lives with the DeLaceys for a while, but even then his lodgings are outside the house and in secret (125). Victor repeatedly tells his audience that he couldn’t access the deep recesses of wilderness where the monster lived, that the monster lived in the most inhospitable places. How similar then, must the monster have felt, to the Israelites who thought themselves snatched from the land of milk and honey and forced to wander the wilderness once again after the fall of their kingdom?

During the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites felt isolated from God and from the seat of his majesty- the Temple. In Frankenstein, the monster repeatedly bewails his feelings of loneliness and seclusion. The monster says that, “Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was” and later asks Victor to create a female monster to keep him company (145, 156). The allusion to Psalm 137 shows how, like the isolation from God and the Temple felt by the Israelites, the monster’s separation from society has led him towards misery and hatred.

Psalm 137 ends with the Israelites looking forward to the children of their captors being “dashed upon the rocks” (Ps 137:9). In this aspect, the allusion to Psalm 137 seems to foreshadow the monsters own actions towards Victors family, including the murders of William, Clerval, and Elizabeth.

Walton’s Responsibility to Frankenstein’s Monster

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s critique of the criminal justice system’s consistency, her critique of retributive justice, and the death of Victor leave Walton with the responsibility to deliver justice to the monster. He is responsible for counseling the monster and restoring him to human society.

First, Walton must carry out some form of justice because the criminal justice system in Frankenstein lacks the ability to do so consistently. This system condemns Justine to death in the face of her own honest defense: “‘God knows,’ she said, ‘how entirely I am innocent…I rest my innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts which have been adduced against them; and I hope the character I have always borne will incline the judges to a favourable interpretation’” (104). In spite of her reasonable explanation and Elizabeth’s defense, she is found guilty and killed. Thus the law is not to be absolutely trusted in carrying out justice.

However, Walton is not responsible for killing or exiling the monster. The retributive system of punishment (matching punishment to crime) only results in more death and pointless suffering. Shelley emphasizes this through the monster’s murder of William, Elizabeth and Henry as he tries to retributively serve justice to Victor. Yet the monster reveals at Victor’s death that retribution is not satisfactory. The monster ends up wanting forgiveness; “what does it avail that I know ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst” (217). Retributive justice only destroys everyone involved; there is neither healing nor consolation. It only leads to more destruction and is therefore not just.

Walton instead has the responsibility to help the monster process his existence so he can best live for himself and for human society. The monster believes that his creator Victor is responsible for preparing him for a virtuous and happy life: “‘Remember, I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam…I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous” (118-119, 119). Victor did not befriend him nor guide him so the monster never learned how to live virtuously. It is fair to the monster that he be helped in this way and Walton is the last one who can help him.

However, this redemption would require detention. First, it would provide the opportunity for Walton to peacefully restore his feelings, for the monster lost some ability to empathize after killing Elizabeth: “then I was not miserable. I had cast off all feeling, subdued all anguish to riot in the excess of my despair” (218). Regardless if he lost all feeling or not, he would need guidance to learn how to feel sympathy, respect, and love. Second, it would help appease his fellow humans as they could see him “pay his debt to society,” helping them process his existence as well, though preferably in a monastery or small town where people could interact with him but stay away from large groups of people.

Lightning and Fire

The monster and Victor both have first memories in the natural world that shape them quite profoundly – Victor has his lightning storm, with the complete destruction of a tree, and the monster has his fire, which warms him while it destroys and burns. Victor’s lightning storm is sublime, for he is in awe of as much as he is terrified by its destructive power. It is beautiful, untamed nature. The monster’s fire is in contrast, for although nature can make fire, it is generally thought of as a tool of man. And like men, it is capable of both good and bad, life and death.

Victor’s lightning storm was first witnessed by him when he was fifteen years old (Vol. I, Ch. I). It ended in a tree’s ruin; “nothing remained but a blasted stump.” Victor was enraptured by this happening, that he went into the science field because of his wish to understand its complete destruction. He wanted to create something equal to the grandeur of the storm, which was why he valued alchemy over natural philosophy (Vol. I, Ch. II). In his mind’s eye Victor only saw that storm, and natural philosophy seemed to attempt to explain the realities of it when what he wanted was “boundless grandeur” to emulate. The next lightning storm Victor relates to us is in Vol. I, Ch. VI, when he sees the monster for the first time since the night he created him. Victor still sees the sublime in the storm, that it is “beautiful yet terrific,” but the destruction he sees this night comes from the creation he made in his dreams of majesty. His monster, a being himself created from other beings destroyed, is here at the scene of his first murder. Victor succeeded in his grand scheme – he made a monster amazing in its impossible life and terrifying in its complete destruction. And it will teach Victor the understanding of complete destruction, by killing all those who are dear to him (except brother Ernest, but that’s a different issue). Victor will become the “blasted tree” that first ignited him so (Vol. III, Ch. II), destroyed by his own inspiration.

The monster’s fire is a different matter, though it affects him similarly. He came upon his first fire during his wandering days, when he was discovering his senses and vulnerabilities. He came upon a fire “which had been left” by humans (Vol. II, Ch. III), so a human tool left in nature. He was “overcome with delight” and joy, but touching it brought him pain. “How strange, [he thinks], that the same cause could produce such opposite effects!” He has learned the dichotomy of flame – to save and to hurt. The same can be said of men, he later learns with the DeLaceys. Men could be “so virtuous, and magnificent, [and] yet so vicious and base” (Vol. II, Ch. V). He wondered at the DeLaceys virtue, and grew to loathe their vicious disgust at his appearance. He used his fire to destroy their cottage, where fire had once kept him and the family safe (Vol. II, Ch. VIII). He used man’s tool to destroy, which was the catalyst for his becoming destruction himself. We’ve already talked about he destroys Victor – he is Victor’s lightning bolt, glorious and fatal all at once – but the monster also destroys himself. Just like fire will eat and eat until it extinguishes itself, the monster continued to destroy and destroy, until by the end his “insatiable passion” of rage has left him tired and purposeless (Vol. III, Ch. VII). He resolves to end his life in fire, and will burn himself to ashes to rid the earth of him.

This is Victor and the monster’s relationship with their most defining memories, and I’d like to end with a quick comment on the adaptations of Frankenstein I am more familiar with. In all versions of Frankenstein that I know (since this is my first time reading the book), the monster was created with lightning, and the monster feared fire. While the actual science behind the monster’s creation was purposefully vague in the book, I think that film adaptations of it, which focus on the creation, are right in giving the monster life through lightning, because lightning was Victor’s original inspiration for his lofty goals, and the monster eventually became the lightning that destroyed Victor himself. Similarly, the films I have seen often have the monster as a far simpler creature, who would thus be scared of fire, which brings pain. In these versions I remember, the monster was no murderer, at least not on purpose. A fear of the tool that can be used to destroy fits a monster who is not the destruction his book-self is. The book and the film adaptations are vastly different, but these two big symbols, I think, are done justice.

Nature and Human Characteristics

Nature plays a large part in the novel Frankenstein. There are numerous instances of the characters in nature and images of sublimity. The characters’ reactions to nature both reveals something about the character and human nature.

When the monster is telling his story, he notes several instances of nature and his reaction to nature. He has different responses to nature. At one point, after he is beaten and is wondering the woods. He becomes enraged at nature because it is mocking him: “the cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me” (pg. 149). However, there are also moments where nature calms him. He notes, “The pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored me to some degree of tranquility” (pg. 149). By the monster reacting this way to nature, he is revealing his morality.

Victor, too finds solace in nature despite the harshness of it. In the end, while he is traveling and searching for the monster, he endures harsh weather and a difficult journey. However, it is also the weather that he finds consolation in. He says, “Sometimes, when nature, overcome by hunger, sunk under the exhaustion, a repast was prepared for me in the desert, that restored and inspirited me” (pg. 204). He also notes, “when all was dry, the heavens cloudless, and I was parched by thirst, a slight cloud would bedim the sky, shed the few drops that revived me, and vanish” (pg. 204). Despite nature causing him hardships, he finds consolation from it.

At the end of the novel, Walton has different reactions to nature as well. While the monster finds calmness in nature, and Victor finds solace, Walton finds adventure and excitement from finding a piece of nature that remains untouched: “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (52). However, by the end of the novel, he finds trepidation and helplessness. At the end of the novel, when he is traveling the cold sea, “the ice began to move, and roarings like thunder were heard at a distance, as the islands split and cracked in every direction. We were in the most imminent peril; but, […] we could only remain passive” (pg. 215). While he was in immense danger, he didn’t feel like he could do anything.

The characters have different reactions to nature; each character even has different reactions depending on his surroundings or the weather. This images and reactions show different sides of human nature. Nature brings out the monster’s morality by showing he can feel tranquil and calm in the midst of nature. Victor, too finds solace in nature despite the hardships he endures because of the weather. Walton first finds both excitement and helplessness from exploring nature.

The Gothic Nature of the Monster in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein implements many elements of the gothic genre in order to enhance her horror story. The two elements that animate this genre within the text the most are isolation of characters and the dark, gloomy settings where they are isolated. Shelley also incorporates scenes containing a sublime nature (i.e. Mont Blanc scene) in order to make the monster appear more bizarre; however the scenes where he appears in a gothic setting provide a greater sense of terror for the reader, and increases the reader’s sense of his looming presence and vengeful spirit.

A scene where this incorporation is most powerful occurs in Volume III, Chapter 3 (174-175 Broadview). Victor sits alone in his lab on an island in Scotland, and after some internal contemplation, comes to the conclusion that he must take a stand and refuse the monster a companion. Yet to understand the significance of this setting, one must consider the events leading up.

In Volume I, Chapter 6, Victor has returned to the scene of the crime where his brother William was killed. “It was completely dark… I saw lightnings playing… The storm appeared… The heavens were clouded… I soon felt rain… its violence quickly increased” (8). The scene clearly holds a dark, gothic tone to it. “A flash of lightning illuminated the object” (9). This is the first time Victor has scene the monster since he created it, and considering this is where the murder happened, Victor instantly understands that his creation is an evil murderer.

Moving forward to Volume II, Chapter IX, the monster makes a promise to Victor. “I shall watch their progress with unutterable anxiety; and fear not but that when you are ready I shall appear” (159). This statement indicates to Victor that the monster will always be looming about, watching him. As Victor advances in the story, the reader always feels Victor’s own sense that he is being watched.

Returning to Victor’s lab, we encounter the monster when Victor looks up, and “by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement… his countenance expressed the utmost extent of malice and treachery” (174). The monster perches above Victor, watching over him as if he were god. The “light of the moon” description is a key element in this gothic setting, and causes the monster to appear more looming. Victor must recall seeing the same object by the lightning earlier in the storm. And the fact that the monster is faithful to his promise gives him an omnipresence that makes him all the more terrifying.

The monster is a more effective character when he appears in these dark and gloomy settings. Sure, there is a sense of awe and grandeur when Victor encounters him on Mont Blanc amidst the beauty of nature. But the monster is Victor’s tormenter; a demon to haunt him until he has his vengeance. The essence of this horror is only captured when the monster appears in the gothic nature.

 

The Creature and Nature

For much of the novel, the Creature in Frankenstein is shown as a menacing, violent character toward humanity. However, when the Creature is in nature, he appears to be much more docile than during his interactions with humans. The scene shortly after the Creature’s first experiences in nature provides a glimpse into the Creature’s future conflicting feelings about humanity and develops within him the desire to be heard.

In Volume II, Chapter III, the Creature begins his narrative about his life after leaving Victor’s apartment. After a day or two, the Creature experiences the cold for the first time: “I was a poor, hopeless, miserable wretch, I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.” In this instance, the Creature can’t do anything to combat the cold. This is a very different contrast from later in his story, such as when he tries to make William become his friend; the weather is something he can’t control.

Just after the Creature’s episode of self-pity, however, “a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave [him] a sensation of pleasure.” Earlier, the Creature had described the sun as a reason to “shut [his] eyes,” but here he has a very different reaction. He describes it as “a radiant form,” and he watches it with “wonder,” both of which are common descriptions used in sublime nature scenes. Whereas the Creature had previously found nature to be harsh and uncontrollable, here he seems to find it enjoyable. This contrast in reactions to nature could be seen as a parallel to his relationship with humanity; while he vows to exact his revenge on all mankind, he also desires for companionship.

Sublime settings, as stated by Nancy Fredricks, “provide a space where the marginalized can be heard,” and later in the same scene we see the Creature reflect this literally. He listens to the birds, and tries to replicate their music: “Sometimes I tried to imitate [their] pleasant songs.” More than that, though, he tries to articulate his thoughts: “I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth . . . sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” While the Creature is unsuccessful at fully expressing himself at this point, it’s interesting to see that he has the desire to speak and be heard before he has any concept of real speech. Of course, he does become able to express himself later, as demonstrated by his entire conversation with Victor—they are in nature, and the Creature is making himself heard by telling Victor his story and ultimately asking for a companion.

All of the Creature’s encounters with nature prove to be interesting in terms of his character. His first, however, is interesting because it not only foreshadows future events in regards to his interactions with humans, but it also demonstrates his desire as a marginalized being to be heard.

The Greater Good

By the time she finishes dragging her main characters around the world, locked in a life or death chase and traps them in ice, Mary Shelley has lost all subtleties. The question of Victor’s duty drops all drama and he comes straight out with it: “I created a rational creature and was bound toward him to assure… his happiness and wellbeing. This was my duty” (Ch. 24). The question has been answered – creation begets responsibility to the creation from the creator.

Yet, what comes next spins the dial completely. “My duties towards the beings of my own species had greater claims to my attention,” Victor says (Ch. 24). While Victor does have an obligation to take care of the monster as his creation, he must look after his fellow man first. Victor refuses to create a “race of devils” in order to “buy [his] own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race” (Ch. 20). But this refusal is not without bloodshed; Victor loses William, Justine, Henry, Elizabeth, and his father for doing so. He has to sacrifice his duty to the monster and to everyone he loves in order to protect everyone else.

Walton’s actions also reinforce the idea that one’s duty to mankind is primeval. Although it might appear to be the fulfillment of his quest, Walton’s primary duty is to secure the safety of his crew. This charge is complicated by Victor’s dying declaration for Walton to “undertake [his] unfinished work,” which bequeaths him with the duty of killing the creature (Ch. 24). These duties are in immediate conflict, as pressing on to kill the creature would place the crew in almost certainly fatal conditions. Therefore, Victor advises “the well balancing of what you may esteem your duties” (Ch. 24).

Walton’s choice is less blatant than Victor’s. Whereas Victor makes a conscience decision and carries this out through action, Walton’s choice is conveyed by his inaction. He consents to return to England in order to return his men to safety. When faced with killing the monster, the “duty of obeying the dying request of [his] friend in destroying his enemy, were now suspended by a mixture of curiosity and compassion” (Ch. 24). Considering that Walton has spent almost the entire story listening and scribing, conscious suspension of action is as much as we can expect from his character. It is certainly enough to serve as the “well balancing” of his duty to his crewmen as above that of his duty to Victor.

Man has a duty to those he loves and those he creates. He must nurture them and protect them, beyond anyone or anything, but the balance shifts when the stakes expand. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good when the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.

The Unlikeable Emma

Everyone knows a person that they cannot stand. There are people who can ruin your day as they walking into a room. For many people, if Jane Austen’s Emma walked into a room their moods would dramatically change. Because Austen’s Emma is so unlikeable, even if Knightly can love her, it doesn’t matter if her character grows, changes or prospers. It only matters that we, in modern times, cannot stand her. This impairs our judgment, it makes our opinions bias and ultimately can dissuade us from reading the novel.

From the first sentence to the last, it seems that Austen’s narrator wants us to be made uncomfortable by Emma. Characterized as “handsome, clever, and rich,” (Volume I Chapter I) it is already difficult for the majority of people to relate to Emma. By the end of the first paragraph when we learn that Emma “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her,” (I, I) she already leaves a bad taste in our mouths. People want relatable. People want to know someone who has struggled. Emma is not that person, and does not become that person at any point in the novel.

Emma, the tormentor, continuously meddles in her “friends’” lives to the point of causing heartbreak, embarrassment, and simply chaos. She manipulates Harriet throughout the novel and eventually just sends her off to London. She insults people of lower classes, such as Ms. Bates to the point of social determent. And she simply enjoys making mischief for Jane, her frienemy. Her saving grace only comes in the form of her man.

Just because the novel is named after her, doesn’t mean Emma is the heroine. In fact, I believe many people could make a claim that Knightly is the true hero of the novel. Emma does grow enough to acknowledge this point in one of her final conversations with Frank Churchill. She says to Frank, “’there is a likeness in our destiny; the destiny which bids fair to connect us with two characters so much superior to our own,’” (Volume III Chapter XVIII). With this statement Emma proclaims Knightly, rightly named, the knight and shinning armor of the novel. He brings out the best in Emma, and without him there would be no one to see the best in her.

Without Knightly Emma would have no positive recognition for her few good actions and characteristics. Without his positive reinforcement, Emma would simply have dottled her life away playing love games with others’ lives.

For this reason, we don’t love her. We don’t even like her. She grinds our gears and chafes us. Knightly brings out the good within Emma. Without him, she may not be redeemable.

Mr. Woodhouse as the Stereotypical “Little Old Lady”

In Emma, most characters provoke serious considerations of judgement and propriety. Most of Emma’s characters are fallible, most have some shade of ambiguity in character, and most characters experience change or growth in the course of the story. Mr. Woodhouse, however, is not one of those characters. Throughout Emma, Mr. Woodhouse acts ridiculously. Whether he’s urging his guests not to eat the cake they’ve been given, or panicking over the atmosphere’s influence on physical health, the scenes which prominently feature Mr. Woodhouse inject humor and absurdity into an otherwise serious story (65, 121). Despite Mr. Woodhouse’s ridiculous personality, a serious consideration of his role in Emma reveals that his character also provides a satire on gender stereotypes and of the stereotypical “Lord of the Manor.”

Of all the characters in Emma, very few didn’t change at all through the course of the novel. Mr. Woodhouse, obviously, is one example. In Volume I, Mr. Woodhouse worries about the air around the coast and the health risks of visiting a seaside location such as Bath. In Volume II, Mr. Woodhouse must be consulted to consider the drafts and microclimates of a ballroom before the location must be booked. Finally, in Volume III, Mr. Woodhouse receives special accommodations during his visit at Donwell Abbey, and must be placed inside by the fire despite the heat of the summer season. Throughout Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is portrayed as a delicate, finicky, and anxious old person. In her characterization of Mr. Woodhouse, Austen intentionally endows him with many of the characteristics readers would often associate with older women, such as his anxiety on trivial matters, dislike of changing social situations, and old-fashioned anecdotes regarding health.

In Chapter III, the narrator introduces Mrs. Bates as “a very old lady, almost past everything but tea and quadrille” (67). Mrs. Bates is another one of the static characters in Emma, since she features such a small role and is portrayed as the almost perfect trope of a little old lady throughout the novel. Despite Mrs. Bates frailty, and despite her lower social rank, she seems to be great company for the anxious old man that is Mr.Woodhouse. The narrator tells us, “[Mrs. Bates] was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip” (67). Emma’s narrator tells us of Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Bates’ relationship early in the novel, so that the reader can begin to mentally connect the frail old widow with the anxious old widower. Mr. Woodhouse’s close connection to Mrs. Bates further exaggerates the stereotypically feminine aspects of his personality such as his love of the trivial and gossip.

In discovering Mr. Woodhouse’s traditionally womanly traits, and in laughing at his comical behavior, readers engage in a subversion of socially accepted gender roles. Mr. Woodhouse is the Lord of Hartfield, and ought to be seen as a gentleman and an authority. Instead, his character provides comedic relief for the more serious considerations being made by his daughter and caretaker, Emma.

A Source of Errors in Judgment

Austen’s treatment of judgment centers on Emma’s inability to judge well. A passage from page 136 indicates that a lack of information is a key part of the issue: “she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretentions to judgment are for ever falling into; and not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind and ignorant, and in want of counsel” (136). The passage’s use of irony (and the coming revelation of Mr. Elton’s affection for Emma) suggest that her information about Mr. Elton’s love of Harriet is incomplete, throwing her method of observation and judgment into question. Emma collects information through the type of observation she implores Harriet to employ: “Be observant of him. Let his behaviour be the guide of your sensations” (301). While Emma relies heavily on physical behavior and manners of speech, she cannot gather enough information to make informed judgments.

Clearly, Emma errs, as in trying to bring Harriet and Mr. Elton together: “it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much” (154). Even as Emma pulls away from meddling, at least somewhat, she still finds trouble in the form of Frank Churchill and misinterpreting his actions as romantic. This suggests her issue primarily stems from a lack of access to information. She, as a young, unmarried woman, does not have access to all of the interactions that married women, or men have with people to make better judgments.

For example, Mr. John Knightley’s comment about Mr. Elton suggests that he knows more of him than Emma could: “‘I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please every feature works” (136). In this case, Emma simply cannot see a holistic view of Mr. Elton and gauge his intentions well because she can only see him in certain environments.

Even in the environments to which Emma has access to information, cultural limitations often prevent complete communication. When she interacts with Frank Churchill, his actions seem to indicate infatuation because she’s been conditioned (primarily by Mr. Elton’s romantic advances) to interpret his actions and sincere talking as romantic advances: “‘It was something to feel that all the rest of my time might be given to Hartfield’…He [stopped] again, rose again, and seemed quite embarrassed.—He was more in love with her than Emma had supposed” (242). Emma thus incorrectly perceived Frank as being in love with her. Austen thus suggests that Emma is forced into poor judgments because she is not given access to adequate information to judge people, nor do social rules of propriety permit complete communication. She must make do, rather poorly, with what she is given.

The Vain Spirit and Serious Spirit

“‘Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?’

‘Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.–If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it’ (292).

Mr. Knightly’s comment on Emma’s two sides perfectly sums up Emma’s character and demonstrates Emma’s growth throughout the novel. There are many areas in which Emma’s character needs to grow. However, her biggest is needing to, as Mr. Knightly puts it, let her serious side tell her vain side when she is wrong. Emma’s changes becomes noticeable when her “serious spirit” overcomes her “vain spirit” more often than not.

One of the biggest moments of self reflection is after the Box-Hill incident. While Emma acted wrongly, she evaluates herself more than she does in any other part of the novel. She notes, “She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so […] But it should be be so no more. She would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse” (327). This is when Emma begins to truly attempt to listen to her serious spirit more than her vain spirit.

Emma’s views on Jane Fairfax change drastically throughout the novel. Emma is always uncertain of Jane as Jane gives little insight to what she is feeling or thinking. However, she finally puts aside her vain spirit in regards to Jane Fairfax when she apologizes. “I feel that all the apologies should be on my side. Let us forgive each other at once” (387).

By the end of the novel, Emma has not changed completely, which reflects a realistic view of her character. She still believes she is right in certain ways, but she reevaluates herself and holds back more than she did in the beginning of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Emma manipulated Harriet into declining Mr. Martin’s proposal, and she denies to Mr. Knightly that she persuaded Harriet. She responds to his accusation by saying, “And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing, I should not feel that I had done wrong” (97). In this instance, her vain spirit trumps her serious spirit.

However, when Emma hears of Harriet’s engagement to Mr. Martin at the end, she does not become completely ecstatic or accepting of Mr. Martin. She still doesn’t believe that Harriet would accept his proposal. “Are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him” (397). However, instead of expressing disdain or arguing that Harriet is too good for Mr. Martin, Emma accepts their marriage by saying, “I am perfectly satisfied, and most sincerely wish them happy” (398). While Emma hasn’t completely changed her mind about Mr. Martin, she doesn’t let her vain spirit and judgement take precedence.

Emma can be classified as a bildungsroman because Emma does undergo changes. It’s uncharacteristic of Emma to completely change her views, but she does grow as a character when she doesn’t let her vain side dominate.

“I love him, I love him not…”

flower-2              In Austen’s 19th century novel, Emma, it’s a twist on the old elementary game of “he loves me, he loves me not”, for the protagonist Emma Woodhouse and her suitor, Frank Churchill. In this case however, Emma is not the one wondering if Frank loves her, but rather if she could or even should fall in love with the new, big deal in town. Women of this time period are expected to fall in love and be married at a young age, but not in Emma Woodhouse’s case. Austen loves playing with this rebellious type of behavior with Emma throughout the novel, in other cases than just her love life.

Emma is the head of her father’s household. Her mother is dead and her older sister is already married. This makes for a special relationship between her father and her. She doesn’t want to leave him to care for himself if she were to get married. Thus, her anticipation toward falling in love. However, when a new guy in town starts to get in her eye sight, she begins to fall…or so we think.

Emma’s first impression of Frank is honestly, rather shallow. She describes him first as, “a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his fathers…” (191) Austen has Emma first describe his physical attributes. This is when I, as a reader, inferred that this would not work out in the end. Emma did have an urgency when it came to talking to Frank though. “She felt immediately that she should like him; and there was…a readiness to talk.” (191) Without even seeing him in person first, Emma thought she should like him just because he was the new deal in town. This comes across very shallow to readers.

Further in the novel, in Chapter XIII, readers finally see Emma become honest with herself and this “I love him, I love him not”, situation. The narrator tells us first that Emma had “no doubt of her being in love”, but then immediately explains that, “at first, she thought it was a good deal; and afterwards, but little.” (244) Later it’s determined that their affection could only ever be a friendship after all. “When she became sensible of this, it struck her that she could not be very much in love.” (244) As readers, we see Emma go from having no doubt, to having doubt.

This love game between Emma and Frank is important to the novel because it helps develop Emma’s bildungsroman, and we see her become more honest with herself and the situation of rather she will ever marry or not. As a romanticist, I wanted this to turn into some form of lovey dovey love relationship, but I was let down by Austen rather quickly. Oh well! Emma DOES end up getting married, so I am satisfied.