Jane Austen & 'Emma'

Hopefully this will be the best month of your year, for you will be reading Jane Austen’s Emma. I hope to persuade you, as we discuss its depth, richness, psychological complexity and humour, that this is the world’s greatest novel.

Come with me on a fabulous reading journey through 2020. Together we will explore a thought-provoking selection of 19th and 20th Century classics. For each novel you will receive an illustrated monograph packed full of intriguing stories about the author behind the book, explaining its themes, tempting you with film versions to watch, and challenging you with discussion questions.

I love to share my passion for great literature. Please consider joining me in this literary exploration.

“What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?”, Mr Weston asks the group at Box Hill. He is not an especially intelligent or astute man, and yet he hits the nail right on the head with this question. For the answer, of course, is “M. and A. – Em-ma”. He means the woman, but his words can also be taken to mean the novel to which she gives her name. For Emma by Jane Austen is the perfect book. In my view, no other novel can equal it for brilliance, depth of psychological perception, understanding of human nature, unrivaled use of language that never wastes a word, and utterly sublime romance and comedy.

No other book has ever meant as much to me – it has shaped my life and way of thinking, provided me with behavioural models (sometimes also teaching me how not to behave), and it has given me such unutterable reading pleasure. My grandmother loved this book. My mother had a little red copy that was never far from her side and often when she came to pick me up in the car, she’d have a big smile on her face because she’d just been dancing at the Crown Inn, or the gypsies had frightened poor silly Harriet, or Emma had forgotten to think of the rights of her nephew Henry. Together my mother and I used Emma almost as a code. After one horrific wet weekend staying with a woman who hardly drew breath, she rang me and announced, “Dear, Miss Bates is alive and well!”, and we both knew exactly what she’d gone through.

“Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly. Her work, as far as it goes, is faultless. She wrote of the times in which she lived, of the class of people with which she associated, and in the language which was usual to her as an educated lady.”
– Anthony Trollope, 1870

In December 1815, the Morning Chronicle announced the forthcoming publication of a novel named Emma, and soon afterwards the world became a better place in which to live – Emma was available.

The novel covers a period of fourteen months, from September of one year through to the November of the next (probably the years 1813 to 1814). Emma was well reviewed, praised by the eminent Sir Walter Scott, and critics almost invariably rank it as her greatest novel.

During her lifetime, Jane Austen made only about £40 from Emma. A copy cost £1, 1 sh. It came out in three volumes. First editions today sell for small fortunes in auction houses. The Americans pirated the English edition and the French brought out a very poor translation as La Nouvelle Emma.

Emma is a book that demands to be re-read at least once a year. It changes lives, it enriches lives, it improves lives, it provides friends. It is “the book of books” and in the world of literature, it reigns supreme.

I adore and worship Jane Austen’s Emma and writing about it has been an utter joy. This is a ‘bumper’ guide as I had so much to say, and I must warn you it contains many superlatives (how can you not use superlatives when discussing that book?). I try to explain its power, charm, brilliance and importance, and attempt to do justice to its perfections. You may not yet have fallen in love with Emma. Hopefully, my guide will persuade you to do so. Discuss this outstanding book with your book group or even with me by leaving a comment below.

Continue the story of Jane Austen’s life and what is, in my view, the most perfect book ever written, in my full-length Literary Readers Guide to Jane Austen & Emma. Will you join me? Leave a comment.


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Header Image credit- ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen. Johnny Flynn, Callum Turner, and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9214832/

Comment (1)

  1. Lynda

    ‘Emma’ is not Jane Austen’s best work, though it is excellent. The characters all have so many personal flaws as to be caricatures! That spineless selfish Mr Woodhouse, ditzy inconstant Harriet, staid Mr Knightly, prim Jane Fairfax… though it has the best mystery of any novel of the period.

    My personal favourite is ‘Persuasion ‘ the product of her maturity. The selfish, foolish and frivolous characters are mixed in with normal kindly people, and it’s a book I could live in. I wouldn’t want to live in Highbury!

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