to think a little too well of herself;

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Discussion | Title: Emma (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Vol: Volume I | Ch: Chapter I

The phrase is central and the point delicately but firmly made. Emma enjoys being Emma. No woman in her immediate society has her wit, lively appeal, and energy, but then her society is also small.

Austen never withholds her judgments upon her characters from the reader but instead makes them in rapid, surgical strokes. She does not, though, cut so deeply into the private and psychological as generally to expose motivation. All the same, Emma is the most self-reflecting and introspective of her heroines. She thinks about herself and who she is. Over the course of a formative year she stops seeing herself through the eyes of her admirers and acquires a clearer image of herself. Though not given to exploring the psyche, Austen does explain Emma's self-centeredness as having psychological roots in circumstances that in other ways have favored her imperiousness: her mother's early death, which removed a potentially corrective force; her father's self-absorption; the youth and pliable nature of her governess; her older sister's marriage, leaving Emma in the absence of any supervising authority "mistress of the house." 

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