`Emma' was written by Jane Austen in 1816. In all her novels, she is primarily a moral writer, striving to establish criteria of sound judgement and right conduct in human life. In Emma she presents her lesson so astutely and so dramatically, with such a minimum of exposition, that she places extreme demands upon the reader's perceptiveness. Emma was her fourth novel. Lord David Cecil described it as `Jane Austen's profoundest comedy'. It has frequently been applauded for its `engaging, dear, delicious, idiotic heroine', moving in `a place of laughter and nonsense', and excoriated because `it does not instruct ... does not teach the modern reader... how to be and move in our world'. In her novel, Jane Austen criticizes the manners and values of the upper-class in English society, she noticed the corruption of society, that money precedence over everything else, so, important values were being undermined.
Emma Woodhouse is the title character of the book. For Emma, Jane Austen took a heroine whom, she remarked, `no one but myself will much like' `And', as one of her ablest critics has said, `many a rash reader, and some who are not rash, have been shut out on the threshold of Emma's Comedy by a dislike of Emma herself.' Emma is a beautiful, wealthy, well-educated young woman who was born and raised in the upper-class society. But also the negative aspects of her character are exposed, she is spoiled, conceited, domineering, wilful, snobbish, and, at times, unfeeling. She lives with her father at Hartfield, their upper-class home. She is the youngest of two daughters, but her mother died long ago and her sister has already been married. She has been the mistress of Hartfield for some time. Emma has led a rather privileged life at Hartfield: `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.'
Her father, Mr. Woodhouse, had hired Miss Taylor as Emma's governess, and the two became more like sisters, Emma being allowed to have things her way most of the time.
For sixteen years Miss Taylor lived with the Woodhouse family, and she became a particular friend to Emma, in spirit more a sister. In chapter I, Miss Taylor has just been married to Mr. Weston, making what was a suitable match for both, and Emma is wondering how she will bear the change of not having Miss Taylor around. Luckily Mrs. Weston will only be half-mile away. Though it was a good match, and Emma had wanted this good fortune for her governess, she could not help but feel sadness.
It is necessary for a 21st century reader of Austen's work to be aware of some of the standards in society which Emma accepted as right and proper, but which Jane Austen realised were changing. Understanding of the society of the period helps you to place Emma Woodhouse and her development as a...