Emma Woodhouse, introduced in the opening line of Jane Austen’s 1816 novel Emma, is “handsome, clever, and rich”, yet despite this deceptively basic description, she is considered one of the most complex heroines in literature (3). In fact, Jane Austen herself seemed to be the only one to truly understand her, claiming that she was “going to take a heroine to whom no one but [herself] will much like” (qtd. in Steven Marcus 23). But what makes the baffling Miss Woodhouse such a multifaceted character? One popular trend in psychology, the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, may provide an answer. The Myers-Briggs test seeks to classify individuals as introverted or extraverted (I or E), intuitive or sensory (N or S), thinking or feeling (F or P), and judging or perceiving (J or P), combining to form a four-letter code summarizing and providing insight into the general personality tendencies of that particular person (MyersBriggs.org). The most unusual combination of these traits in women is INTJ: introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging. Because of the rareness of this combination among women, with INTJ females only making up an estimated 0.8% of the population, it is not surprising that a literary character of this personality archetype, such as Emma Woodhouse, would be considered complex (16personalities.com).
The first pair of personality traits addressed by the Myers-Briggs indicator relate to how an individual approaches the world. In other words, is this person introverted, maintaining an internal focus, or extraverted, tending to focus on his or her surroundings? Many readers immediately assume that because Emma is socially active, she must be an extravert. However, evidence from the novel implies that her focus
is actually more internal. In one scene, while visiting the village with friends, Emma stands apart from the group to daydream. The text reads, “a mind lively and at ease can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer” (210). This demonstrates that, although with others and in the midst of a social hotspot, Emma prefers the company of her own mind and often retreats deep into her private thoughts. According to the official Myers-Briggs site, those who lean toward introversion are often seen as “reflective” and are “comfortable doing things on their own” (MyersBriggs.com). Emma here certainly is comfortable in her own mind and content to spend her time in reflection rather than interaction and, thus, this scene indicates her true nature as an introvert, as does her reaction to Mr. Knightley’s proposal of marriage later in the novel. Austen writes that “[Emma] wanted to be alone. Her mind was in a state of flutter and wonder…and till she had… talked to herself and … reflected, she could be fit for nothing” (429). Whenever something as exciting as a marriage proposal occurs in her life, Emma’s first response is to withdraw to ponder it alone, a distinctly introverted tendency. Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book, Quiet, describes introverts as “people who are in their heads too much” and here Emma definitely fits this standard, making the first letter in her Myers-Briggs combination an “I” (ThePowerofIntroverts.com). Within the social world of balls, tea parties, and group outings found within Jane Austen’s novels, it is surprising that one of her most famous heroines would be an introvert. Therefore, this first trait already implies that Emma’s personality is the cause of her complexity as a character.
The second set Myers-Briggs personality types accounts for how an individual processes and understands information; is this person a sensor, preferring facts and experience, or an intuitive, tending to favor big-picture concepts and idealistic dreams. As the novel Emma progresses, the character Emma is painted as heavily intuitive, imagining perfect futures and grand schemes that fall short of her expectations,
especially in the area of romance. Emma plans throughout much of the novel to make a wonderful match for a friend of hers, Harriet. However, the future she creates for Harriet never becomes a reality as Emma often overlooks fundamental details that a sensory-prone person would have kept in mind. She is described in chapter sixteen as admitting to herself that once “she had taken up the idea, she supposed, [she had] made everything bend to it” (120). Her habit of focusing on idealistic plans and ignoring necessary details and flaws in these plans is evidenced in this quote. In her essay “The Dilemma of Emma: Moral, Ethical, and Spiritual Values”, Karin Jackson writes that Emma “is a victim of her own illusions and creates a world of her own fancy, but it is not the real world.” Miss Woodhouse lives in an idealistic world built by her intuition and fostered by her complete lack of sense. She fits the standard of the Myers-Briggs indicator as an intuitive due to her preference of the imaginative and abstract over the tried and true. Being intuitive alone is not rare, but combined with introversion, as well as the next two traits that she possesses, it lends to Emma’s overall complexity.
As Emma acts as a matchmaker and daydreamer throughout her story, it would seem logical to assume that she relies more on emotion than reason. However, on the third Myers-Briggs type, feeling versus thinking, Emma appears to be more inclined toward thinking. When Emma and Mr. Knightly profess their love for one another, Emma finds herself in “an exquisite flutter of happiness” but also recognizes that
it was “such happiness, moreover, as she believed must still be greater when the flutter should have passed away” (393). Although Emma loves the joy she feels in this moment, she recognizes that she will be much happier once the “flutter” of emotion has calmed into rational thought, evidencing her preference of thinking over feeling. According to 16Personalities.com, INTJ personalities such as Emma “do feel, and deeply”, but these individuals maintain a steady mental state of processing using logic rather than simply acting according to feeling, just as Emma does when she anticipates fuller satisfaction in the settling of her dancing heart into calm levelheadedness. This is not the expected personality of a matchmaker, especially not one of a Jane Austen novel, making Emma an even more unconventional character.
The final of the four pairs of personality types, as classified by the Myers-Briggs Indicator, addresses how an individual approaches decision making: either a person is judging, desiring to act strategically and logically, or perceiving, preferring to live spontaneously and in the present. Emma is obviously a judging character, as shown by her elaborate planning and reaction to events that do not go according to her expectations. After Mr. Knightley proposes to her, Emma feels that she is living in “the happiest dream”, yet she sets aside her current bliss to plan for the future (393). Rather than immediately marrying her love, she takes time to consider the effect this union would have on her father and home, making sure that every variable is accounted for before she gives Knightley a final answer. The novel states that Emma suffers a “sleepless night… [with] very serious points to consider”, further revealing her inherent need to plan rather than act in the moment (394). In this instance, Emma does exactly what those familiar with the Myers-Briggs Indicator would expect her to do as an INTJ; she approaches romance “the way they [INTJs] do with most situations: they compose a series of calculated actions with a predicted end goal- a healthy long-term relationship” (16personalities.com). Emma’s judging trait is also demonstrated in her social interactions, of which she always seeks to be in control. For example, when she is invited to a party at a lower-class family’s home, she resolves to snub them as she “had made up her mind how to meet this presumption so many weeks before it appeared” (188). Emma, as shown in her determination to reject the invitation, exhibits her tendency to judge rather than perceive, treating her life and especially social interactions as “a giant chess board” of which she desires to “maintain control” (16personalities.com). As she plans her next move in life, Emma reveals herself to possess a judging personality rather than the more relaxed perceiving personality. Therefore, this, combined with her other traits to complete her code as an INTJ, contributes to her overall uniqueness and intricacy as a character.
INTJs, those who are classified as introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging by the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, form the rarest combination of the basic traits identified by modern personality psychology. These individuals are described as difficult to understand or predict because they “live by glaring contradictions” and can simultaneously be “the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics” (16personalities.com). Emma Woodhouse, the title character of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, matches this description perfectly. Her pleasure in solitary reflection, focus on ideal dreams, preference for conscience pondering, and need for settled plans are all basic characteristics of an INTJ personality. Therefore, since Emma can be classified as the rarest and most enigmatic Myers-Briggs combination, it is no wonder that she is hailed as one of the most complex heroines in English literature.
Austen, Jane. Emma. N.p.: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Print.
Cain, Susan. “Manifesto.” The Power of Introverts RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
“INTJ Relationships.” 16Personalities. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Jackson, Karin. “Karin Jackson.” Karin Jackson. Jane Austen Society of North America, Summer 2000. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Marcus, Steven. “Introduction.” Introduction. Emma. By Jane Austen. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.
“The Myers & Briggs Foundation – MBTI® Basics.” The Myers & Briggs Foundation – MBTI® Basics. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.