"A heroine whom no-one but myself will much like," the author famously proclaimed.
In fact, in any league of likeability Miss Woodhouse is streets ahead of Miss Fanny - the ostentatiously "meek" heroine of Mansfield Park.
Meek Emma is not. Indeed it is her sense of absolute sovereignty over her little world of Highbury - her right, as she presumes, to dispose of the marriage choices of those in her circle - which brings her to grief. And that grief, by the familiar course of the heroine's moral education in Austen's fiction, makes her, through remorse and repentance, a mature woman capable of forming correct judgements.
Not least about whom Miss Woodhouse herself will marry. Emma, of all the six great novels, is the one which conforms most closely to Austen's famous formula that "three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on". Emma is, by general agreement, the "quietest" of the novels. Some have complained that there is not enough of a story in it, but others, as this guide shows, have found the plot in Emma the most successful Austen achieved.
It is, for example, unusual among the sextet in playing a cunning trick on the reader who - unless they are sharp (sharper certainly than Miss Woodhouse) - may well be deluded as to which eligible young (or less than young) man the heroine will end up spending the rest of her life with. Or whether, given her frequently uttered distaste for marriage, she will end up the only unwed of the six heroines at the end of it all.