Jane Austen’s novel Emma was first published on December 23rd, 1815.
Before she began Emma, Jane Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” And that is how “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition… and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her…” was born.
Although Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s most popular novel, many critics agree that Emma is her best work. Irish poet Thomas Moore wrote to his poet friend Samuel Rogers, “Let me entreat you to read Emma ‒ it is the very perfection of novel-writing – and I cannot praise it more highly than by saying it is often extremely like your own method of describing things – so much effect with so little effort!” So much effect with so little effort, I bet all authors on the planet would like others to view their work that way. Scottish author, Susan Edmonstone Ferrier, described it as, “I have been reading Emma, which is excellent; there is no story whatever, and the heroine is not better than other people; but the characters are all true to life and the style so piquant, that it does not require the adventitious aids of mystery and adventure.”
However, others criticized the lack of story. John Henry Newman commented, “Everything Miss Austen writes is clever, but I desiderate something. There is a want of body to the story. The action is frittered away in over-little things.” Other critics were more strict. Yet, readers were mostly enchanted with Emma as much as with Austen’s other works.
My favorite quotes from Emma:
“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control. ”
“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”
“The most incomprehensible thing in the world to a man, is a woman who rejects his offer of marriage!”
“If a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to `Yes,’ she ought to say `No’ directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart.”
“One man’s style must not be the rule of another’s.”
“How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”
“It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”
Which Emma adaptation is your favorite?