Emma by Jane Austen

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About the Author

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon, England. She was the seventh child of the rector of the parish at Steventon, and lived with her family until they moved to Bath when her father retired in 1801.

Her father, Reverend George Austen, was from Kent and attended the Tunbridge School before studying at Oxford and receiving a living as a rector at Steventon. Her mother, Cassandra Leigh Austen, was the daughter of a patrician family. Among her siblings she had but one sister, Cassandra, with whom she kept in close contact her entire life. Her brothers entered a variety of professions: several joined the clergy, one was a banker, while several more spent time in the military. Although her family was neither noble nor wealthy, Rev. Austen had a particular interest in education, even for his daughters. Although her novels focus on courtship and marriage, Jane Austen remained single her entire life. She died in Winchester on July 8, 1817.

Jane Austen published four novels anonymously during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815). Two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1817. These novels are prominent for her satiric depiction of English society and manners.

Summary of Emma

Jane Austen's Emma is a novel of courtship. Like all of Austen's novels, it centres on the marriage plot: who will marry whom? For what reasons will they marry? Love, practicality, or necessity? At the centre of the story is the title character, Emma Woodhouse, an heiress who lives with her widowed father at their estate, Hartfield. At the beginning of the novel, she is a self-satisfied young woman who feels no particular need to marry, for she is in the rather unique condition of not needing a husband to supply her fortune.

At the beginning of the novel, Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, has just married Mr. Weston, a wealthy man who owns Randalls, a nearby estate. The Westons, the Woodhouses, and Mr. Knightley (who owns the estate Donwell Abbey) are at the top of Highbury society. Mr. Weston had been married earlier. When his previous wife died, he sent their one child (Frank Churchill) to be raised by her brother and his wife, for the now-wealthy Mr. Weston could not at that time provide for the boy.

Without Miss Taylor as a companion, Emma adopts the orphan Harriet Smith as a protégé. Harriet lives at a nearby boarding school where she was raised, and knows nothing of her parents. Emma advises the innocent Harriet in virtually all things, including the people with whom she should interact. She suggests that Harriet not spend time with the Martins, a local family of farmers whose son, Robert, is interested in Harriet. Instead, Emma plans to play matchmaker for Harriet and Mr. Elton, the vicar of the church in Highbury. Emma seems to have some success in her attempts to bring together Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. The three spend a good deal of leisure time together and he seems receptive to all of Emma's suggestions.

The friendship between Emma and Harriet does little good for either of them, however. Harriet indulges Emma's worst qualities, giving her opportunity to meddle and serving only to flatter her. Emma in turn fills Harriet Smith with grand pretensions that do not suit her low situation in society. When Robert Martin proposes to Harriet, she rejects him based on Emma's advice, thinking that he is too common. Mr. Knightley criticizes Emma's matchmaking, since he thinks that the dependable Robert Martin is Harriet's superior, for while he is respectable, she is from uncertain origins.

Emma's sister, Isabella, and her husband, Mr. John Knightley, visit Highbury, and Emma uses their visit as an opportunity to reconcile with Mr. Knightley after their argument over Harriet.

The Westons hold a party on Christmas Eve for the members of Highbury society. Harriet Smith, however,...
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