Emma was the last novel which Jane Austen lived to see through the press and is perhaps her most accomplished and representative work, happily combining the qualities for which she has been most praised—irony, wit, realism, vivid characterization, moral seriousness, and faultless control of tone and narrative method.
Emma Woodhouse, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, thinks a little too highly of herself, and entertains herself by meddling in the affairs of others. She is blind to her own feelings and dangerously insensitive to the feeling of others. The results are not always to her liking.
Though, outwardly the story line of Emma appears to be dealing with the subject of young ladies finding suitable husbands, a close reading of the novel would show that it is much more than that.
Within the chosen limits of upper-middle-class society and within even more limited strict feminine point of view for telling the story, Jane Austen is fervently preoccupied with the way the people behave and this is the broad area of the moralist.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was the daughter of a well-off, cultivated Hampshire clergyman, the Rev. George Austen. She was the sixth in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her main education was from her father. As a child and young woman she read widely, including among novelists, Fielding, Sterne, Richardson, and F. Burney; and among poets, Sir W. Scott, Cowper, and her particular favourite, Crabbe. She began her literary career by writing parodies and sketches for the amusement of her family. Some of these were later worked up into the major novels of her maturity. Her life is notable for its lack of events; although she had several suitors, she did not marry. In 1801 the family moved to Bath, in 1806, after Mr. Austen’s death, to Southampton, and 1809 to Chawton, again in Hampshire, where she lived till her death in 1817.
Jane Austen wrote of the provincial life she had seen (she never visited London) and there are no peasants and few noblemen among her characters. But her sense of comedy was aroused by the absurdities of the sentimental and gothic novels that she encountered, and her sharp mind enabled her to write ironically amusing sketches of character and situation; she minutely dissected snobbery, bourgeois morality and hypocrisy in an understated manner that comes as a relief from the excesses of many of her contemporaries.
Though her life was uneventful, placid, and circumscribed, Jane Austen was highly sensitive to what went on around her. Her observations on the manners of her time and of her class are reflected in her novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816).
On July 18, 1817, at Winchester, Hampshire, the author died, as quietly and serenely as she had lived.