English author Jane Austen’s novels employ wit and humour to decipher the sheltered lives of the upper classes in rural England. Her novel Emma explores the baffling collision of emotions and etiquette. Let us revisit this story and see what makes it a classic.

About the author

Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775, in Steventon, Hampshire, England. She was the second daughter and seventh child of Reverend George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen. Her father was a rector and a scholar who encouraged and inculcated a love for learning in his children. The authors mother was a woman of quick wit, popular for her impromptu stories in her circles. Austen shared a special bond with her elder sister Cassandra, who was her lifelong companion as neither of them married. She was mostly homeschooled by her father and brothers due to the poor financial condition of the family. However, as an avid reader, she grew up perusing classics by William Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, David Hume, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Jane Austen began writing at a very young age. She finished early drafts of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in the late 1790s. Her novels shed light on distinct expectations of a woman’s proper role in society and studied the frustrations of her gender, in a society that saw no use for their talents.

Long considered the English authors most perfectly executed novel, Emma is the only one of her books that is named after its heroine. Published in 1815, this titular protagonist is the first and the only one of Jane Austen’s heroines who has something close to power. Emma Woodhouse is generous, smart, rich and in the prime of her youth. She had lost her mother at a very tender her sister is married off, and her father is completely dependent on her. So, she age, runs the household and has the liberty to act according to her will. The novel, many critics argue, is Austen’s homage to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and chronicles Emma’s near-disastrous meddling in the lives of others. Austen famously said this about her heroine Emma Woodhouse “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”.

The mould of a heroine

What is a heroine? All six of Jane Austen’s novels teasingly ask this question. The formulation of a typical heroine of the 19th Century as described by Austen was “Heroine, a faultless character herself – perfectly good, with much tenderness and sentiment, and not the least Wit”. Heroines that dominated the English novel before and in Austen’s time had to be morally impeccable. Breaking away from the trope of the pious heroine, Austen, through her rebellious, mischievous, and flawed female protagonists, broke the unrealistic societal expectations that forced women to lead their lives as pictures of perfection.

The Artistry

One thing about Jane Austen’s writing style that sets her apart from her contemporaries is her way of narrating the story through the consciousness of the characters. Modern novelists call it free-indirect speech. Although Austen didn’t invent this technique, according to Austen scholar Juliette Wells, “she’s certainly the one who took it the farthest and established its primacy, its necessariness.”

According to English critic John Mullon, the most sophisticated use of this technique can be observed in Emma, where most of the novel is seen through the eyes of a heroine who is mostly wrong about everything. So while reading it one is sharing her delusions and misjudgement.

This technique makes us as readers fall in love with Austen’s characters for their humanity and the capacity to make mistakes and learn from them.

Janet Todd, Professor Emerita from the University of Cambridge, said, “Emma is the culmination of her career and it is the cleverest, the most subtle and the one in which she thinks about her artistry as well as putting artistry into the book…. think it is her masterpiece.”

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