The Emergent Woman

  • Andrew Wright


The perfection of form of Emma stands as a challenge, from the beginning to the end of the novel — a work of captivating arrangement and (on the heroine’s part) brilliant incomprehension, concluding with the tonic chord of marriages that have been envisioned throughout, except by most of the principals; and ‘perfect’ is a word whose ironic fortunes trace and express the challenge throughout the novel. But more than one reader has been led astray by supposing that ‘perfect’ means perfect, without the slant of irony, especially at the end of the novel. Thus Miller: ‘The “perfect union” of Emma and Mr. Knightley virtually must end the novel; otherwise it would not be a “perfect” union. It would be brought back to the state of insufficiency and lack that has characterized the novelistic movement’ (5). But the perfection there sketched has already been eroded by what has led up to this comic moment. Historically, the book’s fine coherence places it as powerfully indicative of the era that had just drawn to a close but to which Jane Austen’s novel provides wary retrospect; the glitter is valedictory — compare Tom Jones. Tom Jones has a different kind of perfection, because its length and breadth create more space around and within it.


Personal Relation Happy Ending Historical Space Perfect Union Fictional Discourse 
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I Emma: Perfection under Threat

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II Howards End and the Denial of Doom

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Copyright information

© Andrew Wright 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Wright
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

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