by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen


Summary / Riassunto

Emma was published in 1816; the author, Jane Austen, wrote it in fifteen months. It is a brilliant comedy about love, or we should say it is about marriage. But with Jane Austen marriage is never a simple matter of social behaviour, it is much of an ordeal, since it is hard to find any character in her novels who succeeds in getting to marriage without facing a series of difficulties before. This is why Emma is referred to as “the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories and a matchless repository of English wit”, as the critic and writer Ronald Blythe points out.

The protagonist of the novel, Emma, is a young girl who is presented to the reader as a vital and witty and beautiful girl devoted to the follies of youth, since she “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her”. She lives with her father, old Mr. Woodhouse, a timid and anti-social man who hates all change, at Hartfield (let’s take note of the names, by-words that contain a piece of information about the soul of characters and places). Her favourite hobby is to ordeal matching and marriages between her friends. She has already succeeded in getting her governess, Miss Taylor, and Captain Weston married, and other marriage ordeals and love affairs – Harriet and Mr Elton, Jane Fairfax and her secret engagement with Mr. Frank Churchill, for example – are to follow.

From the very beginning, it is clear to the reader that Emma and Mr Knightley, the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband and an habitué of Emma’s house, are perfectly suited for each other, but Emma is only interested in other people’s marriage, not in her own, and her progression towards self-consciousness is also a progress towards independence from her selfish father and the dissatisfaction she hides behind her liveliness. So, Emma is also a story of self-deceit and self-discovery.

After a long series of misunderstandings, errors, intrigues coups de théâtre that discover the protagonists’ true feelings, the unconscious unity Emma and Mr Knightley have takes the right direction and the reader is finally given “the perfect happiness of the union”.


Must know / Da sapere

  • Jane Austen was born in Hampshire in 1775, the seventh child of Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. This country background gives much of the material on which she creates her stories, “human nature in the midland counties”, as she explained herself. In a famous letter to her niece Anna, Jane Austen wrote that “three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on”. No doubt that Austen brought the novel of family and everyday life to perfection
  • Jane Austen was an uncompromising worker and her novels were published only after a lot of revision. During her lifetime she published four novels, Sense and sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816). After her death two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published.
  • Jane Austen wrote her books in the years of the French Revolution, but she made a point of keeping the action to scenes and settings and characters that were familiar to her.




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