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What Every Man Delights In?

How three major female characters of Jane Austen’s Emma adhere to an early 19th-century female ideal


  • Unn Segrén

Summary, in English

Jane Austen’s novel Emma (1815) is set in the quiet English countryside and focuses on the young woman Emma Woodhouse, the daughter of an elderly country gentleman. For 200 years this book has been widely read, and its protagonist has evoked strong feelings. Most readers either love, or hate her, but she is rarely met with indifference. Next to Emma there are two other young women in the novel: Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith. In this essay these three female characters are examined, and compared to the female ideal promoted by the moralists James Fordyce, John Gregory, and to some extent Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Though all of the three young women in many ways adhere perfectly to the Regency-ideal, not one of them can be considered to perfectly represent it. On the contrary, they all behave in ways which are contrary to the conduct promoted by Rousseau, Fordyce and Gregory. What is more, a connection can be found between the characteristics which follow the ideal, and the conduct that opposes it. The novel highlights the contradictoriness of many aspects of the ideal female.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Emma
  • Jane Austen
  • Fordyce
  • Gregory
  • Rousseau
  • 18th-century conduct-manuals
  • Regency ideal
  • Ideal woman
  • Feminism
  • Feminist


  • Birgitta Berglund (FD)