Most criticism of Emma echoes Jane Austen's powerful moralism. Even feminist critics who find the novel subversive locate its unsettling force in its celebration of female “authority,” a virtue opposed to “literacy” or linguistic playfulness. Austen subverts her own moralism, yet she does so by identifying her heroine, and women in general, with the very figurative language that readers have attempted to discredit or ignore. Wordplay in Emma almost always signals a disruptive counterplot. Emma's strategic misreading of Mr. Elton's riddle is an exemplary disruption, in which the distance between self and text collapses. Extending this principle of the rhetorical self to imagine collective existence as an endless process of reading and writing, Austen reveals a greater linguistic and social sophistication than critics have acknowledged.