Critical Essays Point of View in Emma


By and large the point of view is that of Emma, a necessary one if Austen is to explore the character of a willful and somewhat snobbish young lady and at the same time keep the reader's sympathy for her. Only thus can we be convinced that Emma's character really blends honesty and goodwill with its negative qualities; it is thus too that we can best view the effects of emotion rather than dwell upon climactic emotion itself.

At times the point of view is that of the author. Though this subject comes also under Style (see below), it should be said here that, in order to get the necessary ironic distance from her characters, the author not only very occasionally gets briefly into the point of view of other characters but also skillfully pulls the reader back to her own point of view in order that he see things in terms of ironic satire. If he is too close, his reader involvement may lead merely to critical disgust. At the proper distance, he is involved only enough to appreciate the comic satire. When necessary for proper distancing, then, Austen simply moves into authorial point of view as, for instance, in the scene where George proposes to Emma: "What did she say? — Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. — She said enough to show there need not be despair — and to invite him to say more himself." This shift to authorial point of view avoids sentimentality and allows both humor and irony in reference to the coyness and indirection that a consistently social person may give to a vital and personal occasion. And it does all this better than in the details of dialogue, where the point might be lost without brevity.

Point of view, then, is omniscient when it is to the author's purpose (we do not, for instance, get into the points of view of Jane or Frank, for doing so would give away too much), but the character whose point of view is most before us is Emma, the focal personage of the novel.