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About the Author
Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Jane Austen, (born December 16, 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, England—died July 18, 1817, Winchester, Hampshire), English writer who first gave the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life. She published four novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). In these and in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (published together posthumously, 1817), she vividly depicted English middle-class life during the early 19th century. Her novels defined the era’s novel of manners, but they also became timeless classics that remained critical and popular successes for over two centuries after her death. (From Biography.com)
Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and romantic misunderstandings. It is set in the fictional country village of Highbury and the surrounding estates of Hartfield, Randalls and Donwell Abbey, and involves the relationships among people from a small number of families. The novel was first published in December 1815, with its title page listing a publication date of 1816. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian–Regency England. Emma is a comedy of manners, and depicts issues of marriage, sex, age, and social status.
Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition... had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.
Emma, written after Austen's move to Chawton, was her last novel to be published during her lifetime, while Persuasion, the last complete novel Austen wrote, was published posthumously. (From Wikipedia)
Questions for Emma
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy
disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
It has been said that great novelists introduce the main themes of a book in the first sentence. What themes are suggested in the first sentence of Emma? What does it tell us about Emma Woodhouse? Discuss the use of the word “seemed,” which implies that all is not as it appears. Are the rich without cares? Is Emma as happy and clever as the first sentence states? Examine Austen’s choice of other words and phrases in this sentence.
“Altogether, she was quite convinced of Harriet Smith’s being exactly the young friend she wanted--exactly the something which her home required.”
Discuss Emma’s choice of friends. Why does she befriend Harriet? Does Harriet benefit from Emma’s friendship? Why isn’t Harriet a good companion for Emma? Why doesn’t Emma befriend Jane Fairfax?
Emma discourages Harriet from accepting Mr. Martin’s proposal on the basis of his not being a “real gentleman.” Is this true? Who measures up to being a real gentleman?
What is the importance of Mr. Knightley asking Harriet Smith to dance? How does this dance change the relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma?
What revelations or lessons does Emma experience that contribute to her growing self-awareness? To “thoroughly understand, her own heart” becomes Emma’s “first endeavor.” How has she changed since the beginning of the novel? Compare and contrast her views on marriage at various points in the novel with attitudes of the time.
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