When her former governess finds happiness as the bride of a local widower, the brilliant and beautiful Emma Woodhouse — one of Jane Austen's immortal creations — flatters herself that she alone has secured the marriage and that she possesses a special talent for bringing lovers together. The young heiress next busies herself with finding a suitable husband for her friend and protégé, Harriet Smith, setting off an entertaining sequence of comic mishaps and misunderstanding in this sparkling comedy of English-village romance. Beneath its considerable wit, the novel is also the story of a young woman's progress toward self-understanding.
Emma abounds in the droll character sketches at which Jane Austen excelled. In addition to the well-intentional heroine and her hypochondriacal father, the village of Highbury during the Regency period is populated by an amusing circle of friends and family — kindhearted but tedious Miss Bates, a chatterbox spinster; ambitious Mr. Elton, a social-climbing parson; Frank Churchill, an enigmatic Romeo; Mr. Knightley, Emma's brother-in-law and the voice of her better nature; and a cluster of other finely drawn, unforgettable personalities.
The author's skill at depicting the follies of human nature in a manner both realistic and affectionate elevates this tale of provincial matchmaking to the heights of scintillating satire. A classic of English literature that has delighted readers since its 1816 publication, the novel is now available in this high-quality, inexpensive edition sure to charm a new generation.
For Emma, raised to think well of herself, has such a high opinion of her own worth that it blinds her to the opinions of others. The story revolves around a comedy of errors: Emma befriends Harriet Smith, a young woman of unknown parentage, and attempts to remake her in her own image. Ignoring the gaping difference in their respective fortunes and stations in life, Emma convinces herself and her friend that Harriet should look as high as Emma herself might for a husband--and she zeroes in on an ambitious vicar as the perfect match. At the same time, she reads too much into a flirtation with Frank Churchill, the newly arrived son of family friends, and thoughtlessly starts a rumor about poor but beautiful Jane Fairfax, the beloved niece of two genteelly impoverished elderly ladies in the village. As Emma's fantastically misguided schemes threaten to surge out of control, the voice of reason is provided by Mr. Knightly, the Woodhouse's longtime friend and neighbor. Though Austen herself described Emma as "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," she endowed her creation with enough charm to see her through her most egregious behavior, and the saving grace of being able to learn from her mistakes. By the end of the novel Harriet, Frank, and Jane are all properly accounted for, Emma is wiser (though certainly not sadder), and the reader has had the satisfaction of enjoying Jane Austen at the height of her powers. --Alix Wilber