Critical Essays Setting in Emma


Austen's setting is that of a provincial community, particularly as it involves the gentry of the region. One is hardly aware of the geography of the locale. The closeness of the town of Highbury and the estates of Hartfield, Donwell Abbey, and Randalls is made clear, as is the fact that London is sixteen miles away; but, except for the description of Donwell (which is shown for the purpose of giving Emma's reaction to it), physical aspects of the country are not dwelt upon. For instance, Harriet meets the gypsies on the Richmond road and is "saved" by Frank; but, other than the fact that there is an embankment over which her original companion scrambles, all we learn is that there is a Richmond road.

Primarily the setting is the drawing room or its equivalent. Even the scene at Box Hill is in essence merely an outdoor drawing room and so is the shrubbery walk where George proposes to Emma. Vegetation and terrain are barely mentioned if at all, for the real setting is the social involvement, the human relations, which are not connected with the specifics of geography. Instead, they find their natural setting among the drawing rooms, the dining rooms, the rooms for dancing, the carriages, and the paraphernalia of entertainment such as charades and word games.