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10 of the Wittiest Quotes from Jane Austen's Emma

Rachel Sherlock By Rachel Sherlock Published on June 29, 2017

You would be hard pressed to find a list of literary greats that does not include Jane Austen. Her novels are considered some of the most important and popular in literary history. Despite the 200 years that have passed since Austen’s death, her writing remains eternally fresh. A famed wit, Austen’s writing shines with her talent to turn a phrase, her insults remain as sharp and her observations remain as true as they are wry. This is never more true than in her fourth novel, Emma.

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Colour illustration of a 1909 edition of Emma, by C. E. Brock

That Emma should be an exemplar of Austen’s wit is perhaps unsurprising given her inspiration for the novel. In a letter to her nieces, Austen wrote “I am going to write about a heroine that no one but me will like,” and it was from this, jocular beginning that the character of Emma was born. Austen was successful in creating a divisive protagonist. Emma is the indulged, self-assured daughter of a wealthy family in a small town. As the biggest fish in a very small pond, and Emma occupies her time in this limited society by matchmaking and meddling in the love lives of others. Of course Austen never deals in black and white, Emma is also generous and kind hearted, ultimately lovable in spite of, or perhaps because of her faults. However, centring her novel on such an imperfect protagonist leaves much room for Austen’s characteristic wit. We can delight in the quips of this clever but self-important heroine, but we can also join in with the narrator’s in smirking at Emma’s folly.

We have selected ten of the best quotes from Emma, which exemplify the wit of this beloved author.

1. The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.

2. "I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I?—(looking round with the most good-humoured dependence on every body's assent)—Do not you all think I shall?"

Emma could not resist.

"Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once."

3. A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.

4. The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable.

5. Harriet was one of those, who, having, once begun, would be always in love.

6. It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind.

7. Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.

8. This sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults.

9. My being charming…is not quite enough to induce me to marry. I must find other people charming - one other person at least.

10. It was a delightful visit - perfect, in being much too short.

Editorial content writer at Bookwitty. Lives up to her name by having a housemate called Watson, but is still working on the violin-playing and crime-solving.


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