Jane Austen was the daughter of a well-connected country clergyman in a small village in southern England, and was distantly related to the aristocracy. She had six brothers and a sister--Cassandra, her best friend and confidante. Although she often wrote about marriage and courtship, Austen never married, nor did her sister. The Austen household was lively, jolly, and bookish, and Jane and her siblings loved performing in amateur theatricals (a pastime which plays a vital part in the plot of her novel MANSFIELD PARK). Jane and Cassandra were taught mostly at home, and learned only the trivial accomplishments necessary to proper young women of the period--music, drawing, dancing, etc.--but Jane was also widely read in literature, including the classics. She began writing her witty, satirical novels to amuse her family, but eventually (1809), when she began writing more seriously, she kept her work secret. All together, she completed six novels that parody the social mores of the time, writing about middle-class provincial life with psychological insight and humor. In 1816, she became afflicted with Addison's disease; she died the next year at age 41 in Winchester, and was buried in the cathedral there. Her gravestone bears a long and affectionate inscription attesting to "the benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and the extraordinary endowments of her mind," but omitting any mention of her career as a writer. Austen is revered for her satirical portraits of English life, and for her use of the interior monologue to convey character--a relatively new device at the time she was writing. Her contemporary, Sir Walter Scott, praised "the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment." Her work is also the prototype for a debased version of it, the perennially popular "Regency" romance. By the end of the 20th century, her work--the reputation of which had fluctuated widely since her death--became popular again, and was the source of several movies and TV adaptations.
"There are novelists, like Tolstoy and Jane Austen, who persuade us that their characters live and are complex by means of their effect upon many different people, who mirror them in the round."
From the Publisher
First published in 1816, Jane Austen's EMMA is about an unconventional heroine--and one whom Austen thought no one but herself would like. Emma Woodhouse is bright, beautiful, and rich; she is also snobbish and judgmental, and she can be cruel, with a tendency to interfere in other people's lives. The novel chronicles Emma's attempts to make a match between a hapless vicar who is, in fact, enamored of Emma herself, and her friend Harriet, a poor and simple young woman in love with a farmer. Unlike many of Austen's heroines, Emma is possessed of very little good sense; her absurd machinations complicate the lives of everyone involved--and, needless to say, get nowhere. Emma, however, learns from her mistakes and gains some badly needed insight into herself as she discovers her feelings for the older, steady, aristocratic Mr. Knightley. The novel moves toward a not unexpected but perfectly satisfying conclusion, and in the process introduces Austen's usual cast of amusing, pretentious, hypocritical, and/or dim-witted characters, including the appalling, nouveau riche Mrs. Elton, and Emma's widowed father, one of the most insufferable (and delightful) neurotics in literature.
Emma is about the perils of misconstrued romance. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of young women and creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters. Her heroine in this novel is "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma loves to match people up in romance but greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; and she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives and is often mistaken about the meanings of others' actions.