From Emma by Jane Austen, Chapter 31, the last paragraph:

"There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart," said she afterwards to herself. "There is nothing to be compared to it. Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction, I am sure it will. It is tenderness of heart which makes my dear father so generally beloved—which gives Isabella all her popularity.—I have it not—but I know how to prize and respect it.—Harriet is my superior in all the charm and all the felicity it gives. Dear Harriet!—I would not change you for the clearest-headed, longest-sighted, best-judging female breathing. Oh! the coldness of a Jane Fairfax!—Harriet is worth a hundred such.—And for a wife—a sensible man's wife—it is invaluable. I mention no names; but happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet!" [emphasis mine]

What does the last sentence mean? Does it mean "I wish the man who changes Emma for Harriet to be happy" or does it mean "The man who changes Emma for Harriet is happy"?

What does "changes Emma for Harriet" mean? Does it mean "make Emma a better person for Harriet"?

And if you've read the book, who does "the man" refer to? My guess is Mr. Elton because he made Emma see some very good sides in Harriet and appreciate her much more. But I'm not sure if this was what the author meant.

Thank you!

  • 2
    I've not read the book. But it seems to me Emma is modestly saying that a man is better off to marry Harriet than herself. Emma could have Mr. Elton in mind but it could also be any man.
    – asterix314
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 14:15

1 Answer 1


"Happy [is] the man who listens to wisdom." means "The man who listens to wisdom is happy." This is a common proverbial form and is usually used to give advice:

Wealthy is the man [...]

Healthy is the man [...]

Happy is the man [...]

This may be easier to understand if you use "will be" instead of "is":

Happy will be the man who listens to wisdom.

"[...] who changes Emma for Harriet" means "[...] who exchanges Emma for Harriet." To rewrite the entire sentence:

I mention no names; but the man who exchanges Emma for Harriet will be happy!

Since we don't have the entire context, I don't know if the exchange has already happened or if the speaker is suggesting that the man should exchange Emma for Harriet but the gist of the sentence is that whoever is courting Emma would be happier if they were courting Harriet.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.