Emma by Jane Austen


I’m a 17 year old girl who has decided to start reading Jane Austen. I recently bought Emma and it looks really good, but there’s something I’m conflicted about.

I read some things online about the fact that the romantic interest (the male) is a lot older than Emma, and that he has loved her since she was 13.

Would it be okay to read this book? (I saw that it was recommended for catholic schools and such, so my guess is that it would be okay, but it still feels weird or wrong to read to novel, but I really want to read it)

It might be important to mention that I believe I’m scrupulous, so my guilt might come from there.

Do you think it would be okay for a Catholic person to read it?

Thank you and God bless

I would suggest you ask your PARENTS what it is appropriate for your to read or not read. Your parents know you, we do not.

You need to talk to your parents and your pastor about scruples.

Random people on the internet cannot help you.


Keep in mind that in those days, girls could run off and get married at the age of fourteen without parental consent and the marriage couldn’t have been legally annulled. While most waited until their twenties to marry it was due to inheritance issues that revolved around the age of majority- which was also around twenty-one. However, the age of consent for girls was around twelve years old during the Regency era.


First of all, if you are scrupulous, you should not post these types of questions here. You should discuss them with your priest.

Second, when you read works of literature set in earlier centuries or other cultures, you need to take into account the customs of the time. In previous centuries and in many other cultures, girls married at much younger ages than they do today. Life expectancy was shorter, formal education was limited, and many people were essentially adults taking on adult responsibilities by their mid-teens or even young teens.

Third, if you are a minor, it’s better for you to be discussing your reading matter with your parents rather than random Internet strangers.

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Jane Austen is one of the greatest English novelists and Emma is one of her best. People back then married earlier at times. I know a woman who was married at 15, but this was close to 80 years ago. I see no problem with reading Emma at all.


Thank you all for your answers. The thing that just bothered me about the novel is this huge age gap. I mean, it would be extremely inappropriate in our century for a man to fall in love with a 13 year old. I must indeed take the era into account.

As for my scrupulosity, my parents know that I have a tendency to overthink sins and whether or not I consented to certain thoughts. We also very briefly spoke about seeing a spiritual director, but I dont think I am going to see one. I’m just going to wait for a while to see what happens to my scrupulosity (I realized that when I openly speak about what’s bothering me to my parents, it helps me see more clearly and rationally. This discovery is quite recent, so it might not be enough for my scrupulosity, but I’ll wait and see how things evolve before making a choice)

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Sometimes when you verbalize your issues and concerns to your parents or another trusted adult it gives you clarity. What sounds rational in your head can immediately seem otherwise when you actually verbalize it. Don’t completely count out the idea of a spiritual director. It may help. I’m really glad you’re talking to your parents about these things though. That’s a good thing.

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How blessed you are to have parents like this! If they are willing to help you see a spiritual director, why not do it? If it turns out your scruples aren’t a big deal, your prayer life will grow immensely from having someone help you in this way. I wish I had parents like that.

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It was not at all unusual to get married extremely young in that day. Emma is not an “immoral” book by any standard. In fact, it is all about Emma learning how to be a moral person. It is a beautiful book.


IMHO “Emma” is entirely suitable for a young Catholic woman to read. The unrequited love Mr. Knightley has for Emma, his helping Harriet Smith and Robert Martin and his chivalrous defense of Miss Bates illustrates Christian virtue completely. I wont say anything else so as not to spoil the ending. I am a great Austen fan and visited her cottage home in Chawton Hampshire many years ago. It is now a museum but much as she knew it. (I even surreptitiously quickly sat at her desk on which she wrote her masterpieces, which is still in place by the window overlooking the original road to Winchester. It was very thrilling for me.)


Another thing to consider is that the character in question, George Knightley, is the brother of John Knightley, who is the husband of Isabella (Woodhouse), Emma’s older sister by several years. Both brothers knew Emma’s family, lived nearby, were of the same social class, were fond of Emma’s widowed father, felt a ‘class responsibility’, etc.

George did not ‘fall in love’ with Emma when she was 13; in fact he often was the only person who found any fault with her at all. She was much smarter than her older sister and had many good qualities but often did more planning to improve herself than actually ‘following through’. It was only over the 8 years that follow (Emma is 21 when the novel starts) that George THEN realizes that the young woman whom he has known as first a more-or-less ‘family worry’ and rather ‘sassy’ and far too conceited troublemaker has grown into a woman with still great faults but whose innate goodness can be brought out by those who have the courage to love her enough to tell her when she is going ‘off course’. And she likewise realizes at 21 that the somewhat forbidding older brother like spoilsport nagging ‘grownup’ not only has her welfare at heart more than the family and friends who just ‘let her go as she pleases’ to a person for whom she cares deeply; someone whose own moral compass she admires and, showing that her own morals are fundamentally sound, that she wishes to emulate.


Really? Feelings are often.out of our control. And it is not so much what we feel as whether,.or what, we do about those feelings that is the problem.

Asuming Knightley waa.feeling some.romamtic attachment, he certainly appears not to have realised what it was, let alone done anything at all.about it, until both were of age.

Many a happily married couple first get to know each other when one (or both) are child or.teenage. All perfectly proper.

Tradition is that Mary was young when she married Joseph and bore Jesus - the word used in Isaiah to prophesy that a virgin will bear a child is sometimes translated as ‘young girl’ instead of ‘virgin’

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one of the characters is a vicar wo wants to get married. Is that a problem?

Mel, stop. Please get professional help for your scruples.

It is not healthy to keep posting random questions here.

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I’m just unsure if it’s okay to read books with certain things exclusive to protestants in it. That’s why I’m asking this question.

Mel, get help with your scruples. It is your scruples driving these questions.

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Is there a way to know the difference between questions driven by my scruples and legitimate questions? I tend to have a hard time knowing what to do in some cases such as this one, because it isn’t directly related to a sin or anything. I know that I will find many novels with things exclusive to Protestantism/Anglicanism in them.

Hence— my advice to seek help for your scruples from a professional. Your pastor will help you understand your scruples and work through how to recognize scruples and what do so about them. You should also consider getting evaluated by a counselor— scruples are typically one aspect of OCD, but only mental health professional can diagnose.

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Stop bugging the OP. She’s only asking a simple question about whether a book is likely to be a moral detraction or enhancement in her life. She doesn’t need to see a priest. Most priests probably haven’t even read Emma.

And it wouldn’t matter if a few posters didn’t know her as well as her parents. They have her best interests at heart about an innocuous book.

Also, there is no point in this whole forum based on what you are writing. Everybody should just see his or her priest when confronted with a problem.

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I’m not “bugging” the OP. She stated she is scrupulous. This isn’t about Emma, this is about her scruples which are manifesting over the book Emma.

Not everyone. But definitely the scrupulous. Scrupulosity is an illness, and it can be harmful to those with scruples to receive advice from those not trained to help them.

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