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.