Jane Austen is considered to be the first great English novelist, and Emma, is undoubtedly her greatest work. Her greatness is evident with her use of characterization to create living characters from the kind of people she knew, especially the landed gentry and the middle class. Her most important characters are the most carefully built and dynamic; they change with the passing of time and they modify the events of the novel with their natural vitality. Her unparalleled writing allows the characters to reveal themselves through their own thoughts, dialogue, and action. Emma provides the prime example of Jane Austen's use of characterization to show the sometimes comic and sometimes painful evolution in the development of this memorable character.
Austen commences the novel by describing Emma Woodhouse. Emma is a beautiful, wealthy, well-educated young woman who was born and raised in a sheltered, upper-class environment. She is "handsome, clever, and rich with a comfortable home and happy disposition and had lived twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." (pg.7) Emma's life centers on herself and her father. Her mother passed away years earlier and therefore " she has been mistress of his house from a very early period." Her governess for sixteen years, Miss Taylor, imposed little "restraint" on her actions and the "shadow of authority" had long since "passed away." Emma does "just what she likes" and is "directed chiefly by her own" judgment. Her "power of having too much her own way" and "disposition to think a little too well of herself" are identified by Austen as the "real evils of her situation". They are "disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments." (pg.7) .
As the novel progresses, Austen shows the reader Emma's other flaws, the most pronounced of which is her meddlesome nature. She is a gossip and has no problem trying to take control of other people's lives by playing "matchmaker".