Name: Emma Woodhouse
First appearance: Emma (1816)
Creator: Jane Austen
Emma is the heroine of whom her creator said that she, the author, would be the only one to like her. She was not altogether right, there are plenty of readers through the years that has taken Emma to their hearts - but there are also many who really dislike her.
These different feelings are perhaps not that strange when dealing with a character of this type. Emma is somewhat spoiled, rich, rather full of herself and has a tendency to meddle in things she really ought to stay out of. She thinks she is great at match-making, after the marriage of her governess, miss Taylor (now Mrs. Weston).
This marriage is the starting-point of the novel. Emma, who lives alone with her father (her mother is dead and her sister is married and lives in London while they live in the small town of Highbury), is by now too old to have a new governess to keep her company. So to make up for it she takes the orphan Harriet Smith under her wings and tries to help her in the world - preferably through match-making. Her first try is with the vicar, Mr. Elton, who is really attentive to the girls - but everything back-fires when it is discovered that he has not interest what so ever in Harriet but is instead aiming at the wealthy heiress Emma, herself. Emma is disgusted by the idea and turns him down.
This book is a comedy and though it deals a lot with match-making and liasons it is not really a romantic story. Emma goes through most of the novel totally uniterested in anything romantic, the thought of marrying herself is far from her mind - she has her own money and therefore sees no need to have a man in her life. Eventually she will mature enough to realize that sometimes it is best not to meddle in other's affairs and comes to understand something about the nature of romantic feelings.
The story has been filmed several times. Two versions, and very different from eachother, worth mentioning are: Emma from 1996 by Miramax, with Gwyneth Paltrow as the lead, and Emma from the same year with Kate Beckinsale as the lead - made by A&E. The film Cluless (from 1995) is based on the same story, but set in modern day Beverly Hills.
The picture above is from C.E. Brooks illustrations to the book and shows Emma (the dark-haried) and Mrs. Elton (the lady the vicar eventually marries after having been snubbed by Emma).