Jane Austen's Emma concerns the social milieu of a sympathetic but flawed young woman whose self-delusion regarding her flaws is gradually erased through a series of comic and ironic events. Emma Woodhouse, who begins the novel "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition" (Austen 1), nevertheless suffers from a dangerous propensity to stage manage others' affairs, most notably their engagements, for what she believes is their own good. Despite this, she is a sympathetic character. Her matchmaking leads only to near-disasters and her expressions of remorse following these gaffes are sincere and resolute.
The events which serve to refine Emma are witnessed and commented upon by Mr. Knightley, a man who serves at the start of the novel as a voice of reason and ends the novel as Emma's husband. Emma is transformed by Knightley, "one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse and the only one who told her of them" (Austen 3), and her eventual marriage to Knightley reflects an ability to embrace her flaws and temper her matchmaking propensities with greater circumspection. Through her marriage she is not "reformed" but becomes more self-aware.
This self-awareness comes through a gradual paradigm shift in her beliefs about marriage. She is more than eager to arrange other people's lives in this regard. She encourages her protTgT Harriet Smith to reject the proposal of Robert Martin as being beneath her:
"You think I ought to release him, then," said Harriet
looking down. "Ought to release him! My dear Harriet,
what do you mean? Are you in any doubt as to that?
. . . I certainly have been misunderstanding you, if
you feel in doubt to the purport of your answer. I had
imagined you were consulting me only as to the wording
Whether Martin and Smith would be well-suited in their own eyes does not cross Emma's mind. She is preparing Harriet for society, tak...