Jane Austen's Emma

Emma: Just Desserts for Austen’s Mr. Elton

Image of steel engraving frontispiece by William Greatbatch after George Pickering, Emma, (1833)DISCERN

Mr. Elton was only too happy. Harriet listened, and Emma drew in peace. She must allow him to be still frequently coming to look; anything less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed. There was no being displeased with such an encourager, for his admiration made him discern a likeness almost before it was possible. She could not respect his eye, but his love and his complaisance were unexceptionable. Mr. Elton, Emma, Chapter 6

This passage is a great example of why many believe Jane Austen’s Emma is actually a mystery novel, and not a comical romance. Here she has laid out a great physic clue about the fate of Mr. Elton, which until today, had totally passed my notice. To understand Austen foreshadowing, one would have to meet, and or believe in the following three conditions.

  1. You have read the entire novel.
  2. Agreed to the possibility that Emma was a sly mystery disguised as a comic romance.
  3. Believe that in fiction and in true life, characters and or people are often attracted to the exact person that they deserve.

If we investigate further, Mr. Elton is observing Emma Woodhouse sketch a portrait of Miss Harriet Smith. He is hovering over Emma, fussing over her progress, and praising her before the image is even visible. Total foppery and affectation. What a suck-up!

After Mr. Elton’s solicitous attempts to woo Miss Woodhouse are flatly rejected, he quickly marries wealthy but outrageously un-couth Augusta Hawkins on the rebound. She is officious and overbearing. Emma is offended and annoyed, thinking her insufferable and ill-bred; unable to understand what attractions she held to him.

We continue to see examples of Mrs. Elton’s ill judged and presumptuous opinions until Austen drops another clue flatly in our laps. From the following conversation that she has with Mr. Weston regarding his son Frank Churchill, we at once understand Mr. and Mrs. Elton’s ironic attraction to each other.

“A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with him. You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsome young man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve — so truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike to puppies — quite a horror of them. They were never tolerated at Maple Grove. Neither Mr. Suckling nor me had ever any patience with them; and we used sometimes to say very cutting things! Selina, who is mild almost to a fault, bore with them much better.” Emma, Chapter 38

Here she is, talking and preaching about how she can not abide puppyism, when in fact, the very man that she married is the biggest puppy in Highbury!

Just desserts I say!

*Steel engraving frontispiece, “There was no being displeased with such an encourager”  by William Greatbatch, after George Pickering, Emma, published by Richard Bentley, London, (1833)

8 thoughts on “Emma: Just Desserts for Austen’s Mr. Elton”

  1. “Emma: Just Desserts for Austen’s Mr. Elton”

    I have called in on this location on many an instance now but this post is the 1st one that I have ever commented on.

    Congratulations on such a first-rate critique and site. I have found it to be very helpful and educational – I only wish that there were more blogs online like this one.

    I never disappear from this blog without learning anything, from time to time I may feel a tiny bit saddened that I may not agree with a blog article or comeback that has been made. But hey! that is existence and if every one decided to agree on the same thing what a boring old world we would exist in.

    Please maintain your admirable work.

    Cheers, have a great day and thank you.


  2. Hello Suzanne, thank you so much for posting a comment today. I appreciate your kind complements, and am gratified that you have enjoyed the bolg. Your post was quite fortuitous. It had been some weeks since anyone had posted a comment, and I thought that what I had been writing about might of been dull or uninteresting! Glad to know that you are there, and I appreciate your support. Cheers, Laurel Ann


  3. I’m looking for a definition of the term puppyism. I infer many things from Jane’s use in Emma. please inform.


  4. Hi Deirdre, Websters dictionary claims that the word puppyism begins to appear in literature after 1811. It is a noun: 1. Extreme meanness, affectation, conceit, or impudence. Synonyms: foppery, dandyism, man millinery, coxcombry.

    My understanding is that it means overly ingratiating. One who fawns, is toady or truckling to gain favor.

    Hope that this is hepful, Laurel Ann


  5. Hello Laurel Ann,
    I am wondering if you can send me electronically the engraving from the Bentley 1833 EMMA that is in the upper left of this page.

    Thank you,
    Joan Ray


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