Signet Essay Contest 2012
What girl doesn’t love a love story? It seems a taste for the romantic is written in the female DNA. Miss Emma Woodhouse is no exception. Emma just can’t help
herself when there are single, eligible adults around just waiting to meet their match.
Her matchmaking hobby led her to several realizations that sparked her development
into a mature, young woman.
The first real product of Emma’s romantic imagination materializes in the
marriage of her governess, Miss Taylor, to Mr. Weston. The union, though welcomed,
brought new loneliness to Emma, who was accustomed to the female companionship
Miss Taylor provided. “How was she to bear the change? — It was true that her friend
was going only half a mile from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the
difference between a Mrs. Weston only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the
house …” The great loss of her friend required Emma to learn independence and selfsufficiency,
qualities that show maturity.
The vacancy Miss Taylor left was soon filled by Harriet Smith. Emma made great
endeavors on Harriet’s behalf, hoping to assist her friend to the altar. Emma
discouraged Harriet’s feelings for Mr. Martin, a local farmer, believing that he was
unworthy and ignorant. Emma persuaded Harriet to develop feelings for Mr. Elton, a
local clergyman, unaware that Mr. Elton had taken an interest in Emma. These
blunders culminated in an awkward proposal that revealed the mistake. Mr. Elton
quickly married a rich woman from Bath, but he did not forgive Emma for her mistake.
Mr. Elton showed his true character when he later slighted Harriet at the ball. As Emma
admitted to Mr. Knightley, “e;I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr.
Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not …”
Eventually Harriet would enjoy a happy union with Mr. Martin who Emma discovered to
be intelligent and kind. These events proved to Emma that she could misread others
and taught her to be careful when making judgements
The most painful trigger of Emma’s maturity was her insult to Miss Bates. Emma
made a cutting remark about Miss Bates talking too much in front of a party on Box Hill.
Emma’s insult was an obvious sign to Mr. Knightley, her moral compass, that Emma
could lack compassion towards others. He scolds Emma for her conduct by saying, “I
cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling
to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character,
age, and situation? — Emma, I had not thought it possible.” This act of carelessness not
only showed Emma how flawed she was, but also had some lasting impact on her
relationship with Miss Bates. Emma learned that even if she admitted she was wrong,
there were consequences to her behavior. Emma hurt a friend who was really very dear
to her with casual insolence. Eventually Emma’s peace offerings brought about a
renewal of their friendship, but it was a hard lesson to learn.
The secret engagement of Frank Churchill to Jane Fairfax not only caused
Emma extreme embarrassment, but also taught her to measure her conduct. Emma
believed herself to be in Frank’s confidence and displayed her surety of their
acquaintance to Mr. Knightley. “e;’Have you never at any time had reason to think that he
admired her, or that she admired him.’ ‘Never, never!’ – she cried with a most open
eagerness – ‘Never, for the twentieth part of a moment, did such an idea occur to me.
And how could it possibly come into your head?’” Emma had much to regret when the
engagement was revealed. Emma’s confidence in her power of perception was
challenged, revealing that she could allow her own ideas to bias her observations.
Through all the events that took place, Emma learned that hasty judgement and
presumption are serious flaws and friendship is precious. These lessons were
important for Emma to learn because without the maturity and growth they brought
about, Emma would not have been ready for a love story of her own.
For information on the 2012-2013 Signet Classics Essay Contest, click here.