Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Strange Phenomenon: The Villain in Emma

I've been thinking about this for a while: who on earth is the villain in Emma?  A recent post from Melody's blog reminded me to post my thoughts about the villain in Jane Austen's Emma.  Melody has three options about the villain.

1: Frank Churchill
I used to think that Frank Churchill was the villain.  He seems to be cast in the perfect Austen-villain mold.  Handsome, charming, hiding a secret and flirting with the heroine without meaning to marry her.  But now I like him more.  He really loves Jane Fairfax.  He really thought that Emma knew, or at least guessed, their engagement.  He has many faults, but he's not a villain.

2: Mr. Elton
Mr. Elton is ungentlemanly and villainous, but is he the villain?  A villain is someone who does something really bad and keeps the plot from going forward and the book from ending as it should.  All Mr. Elton did was give Emma a reality check, which she thoroughly deserved. 

3: No villain

No, that can't be!  There has to be have a villain/antagonist or somebody who keeps the plot from moving forward and nearly ruins everybody's happiness! 

There is a villain......................

Emma Woodhouse! 

This is when everybody looks at me funny and says, "I thought she was the heroine!"  She is the heroine, but she is also the villain.  She keeps the plot from moving forward, and nearly ruins everyone's happiness.  She is almost as guilty of flirting without any real intentions as is Frank Churchill.  That flirting nearly breaks Frank and Jane's engagement.  Her friendly actions hurt poor Harriet Smith more than all of Mr. Elton's ungentlemanly behaviour.  And she nearly ruins Mr. Knightley's happiness, not to mention her own.  This phenomenon of having the heroine and the villain be the same person is what makes Emma so unique.  

So, do you agree with my conclusion?  Disagree?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Melody said...

Wow! I had so many thoughts running through my head while reading your post, I'm not quite sure what to say, and I think it may all end in a very long comment...

First of all, it was really fun reading a post almost as a reply to my own. I thought your statements about Frank Churchill and Mr. Elton were really good.

Well! Someone being a heroine and a villainess at the same time, that *is* strange. But, during my recent intense Emma study, sort of, I've begun to dislike Frank Churchill more and more, sympathize with Emma more, and I have an increasingly high opinion of Mr. Knightley. So I must defend my Emma.

What people say about Frank is then, true of Emma, too - she wasn't *trying* to hurt anyone or destroy people's happiness. Plus, I don't exactly agree that a villain is someone who keeps a story moving forward as it should - villains are placed very cleverly by authors, and they are meant to be there, to make the story take a different turn and perhaps end even better than it would have. As far as her flirting goes, I'd say Frank Churchill was much more to blame. I remember, in the book, perhaps a little before Box Hill, Emma was feeling like Frank and herself almost had a silent understanding between them, and were just being silly and having fun with each other. If *he* hadn't been flirting, she wouldn't have, either - I can't say the same for him. As far as her hurting Harriet Smith...well, there really are no excuses for Emma, but if Harriet had been anyone else, it might not have happened - someone with a stronger personality and a more discerning mind would have known that she and Mr. Martin *were* suited, and that Mr. Elton was actually after Emma. Mr. Knightley may have been right there - it wasn't the best friendship for either person.

Another thing that I like about Emma is that she was willing to admit to her mistakes, and wanted to improve herself. That's not very villainous behavior, if you ask me. Maybe yet another way to look at it is that she's part villain at the beginning but turns into a heroine by the end!

But how did she nearly ruin Mr. Knightley's happiness? She *thought* she had ruined her own, had Mr. Knightley been interested in Harriet. But he wasn't. Mr. Knightley *thought* his happiness would be ruined because Emma would marry Frank, but she wasn't going to do that, either.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth believes Mr. Wickham's story when she shouldn't have and, if you want to put it that way, nearly ruins Mr. Darcy's happiness and her own; but that didn't make her a villain.

All this to say, that I really enjoyed your post! Haha. Thanks linking me...and if you don't mind, I might put a link to this post on my own.

Sorry for the extremely long comment...but when it comes to Jane Austen I tend to get......



Melody said...

Oh, and it was interesting to know that you have been thinking about that too!

Maybe great Janeites think alike...;-)

Melody said...

Now that I think of it, most of Jane Austen's heroines did something to risk their own happiness, and other people's.
Anne Elliot allowed herself to be persuaded not to marry the man she loved because his rank was lower; Marianne Dashwood almost died when she let herself be so broken-hearted that she didn't fight her illness as she should; Elizabeth Bennet let her prejudices rule her judgement; I don't know very much about Northanger Abbey, but I think Catherine Morland let her imagination take her a little too far, and, like Emma, was blind to certain people's intentions.

Maria Elisabeth said...


I agree that all the Austen heroines make mistakes; Emma just makes waaaaaaaaay more mistakes than the others do.
Emma is not a villain in the snake-like sense that Wickham is. I guess 'antagonist' is a better way of putting it.

And yes, I think great Janeites think alike, or think about the same things differently, which leads to interesting discussions.

Thanks for your comments!

Melody said...

She did make more mistakes than the others; but not all of the others had such a great hero! :) tehe.

'I am fond of lively conversation', as your cousin Col. Fitzwilliam would say (on the 1995 version, anyhow.)

I like your blog, by the bye. =)

Melody said...

I know that it is quite horrid of me to be posting *another* comment; but Miss Darcy, I wanted to ask you - did you vote on the poll on my blog, and if so, which of those options did you choose? ;-)

Rachel said...

Hi! I found your blog through Young Christian Bloggers. I had to comment on this post, since I just watched the most 2010 version of Emma - and I have to agree with your conclusions. Villain is a strong word, like another commentor mentioned, but it is quite easy to be exasperated with her...and love her at the same time. :)

Maria Elisabeth said...


I'm so glad to came to my blog. Yes, villian is a strong word, but sometimes when there isn't a perfect word, you have to use one of the closest.
And yes, I know by experience that it is very easy to be be exasperated by Emma and love her at the same time.

Melody said...

What happened with me was, the first few times I watched Emma, I was expasperated with her at the beginning, but loved her by the end. :) Now, since I've become so acquainted with the story, I end up loving her all the way through...because I know how it will be! tehe.

Oh, and I was thinking: I think the biggest Jane Austen heroine mistake was Anne Elliot, when she broke off the engagement.
We're talking about a mistake that caused 8 1/2 years of pain and regret for two people! :(