top of page

10 Facts About Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’

1. Aware of her growing popularity, Austen had anxiety over how Emma would be received by the reading public, writing: “My great anxiety at present, is that this fourth work should not disgrace what was good in the others… I am strongly haunted by the idea that those readers who preferred P&P it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred MP, very inferior in good sense.”

A copy of Austen's novel Emma lays flat with pearls and flowers around it.
10 Facts about Jane Austen's novel Emma.

2. Lord Byron’s publisher, John Murray, offered Austen £450 to publish Emma in return for the copyrights of Emma and Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park—which would leave Austen with little revenue from the sale of her books. Apparently, Austen called Murray a “rogue”, resolving to retain the copyright herself. While Murray would eventually publish Emma without gaining the copyright, Austen paid for advertising and the initial print run of the novel.

3. Many know that the Prince Regent enjoyed Austen’s novels so much that he had his librarian encourage her to dedicate a work to him. Her dedication on the front of Emma reads:

“To His Royal Highness the Prince Regent this work is, by His Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant,

The Author.”

However, there are a few subversive comments in Emma about the those in the royal court:

  • There is critique of the bathing areas around Britain (where the royal family spent time), with Knightley describing one as “one of the idlest haunts in the kingdom."

  • Brunswick Square in London (where Isabella and John Knightley live) may have been a nod to Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of George IV of the United Kingdom (perviously the Prince Regent). Queen Caroline was a divisive figure, her husband detested her and tried to divorce her, but the public loved her, The Queen Caroline Affair makes for some juicy historical reading!

  • Once separated, Queen Caroline only referred to husband as His Royal Highness—the way Austen refers to him again and again in her short dedication.

  • Some scholars believe that Harriet's sea-themed guesses of Mr. Elton's riddle are more on the mark than originally suspected, insisting that it is a reference to Charles Lamb's satirical poem "Triumph of the Whale", playing on the prince's waistline and his Prince fo Wales title.

4. Unlike Austen’s other protagonists, Emma is financially secure; a detail that spurs a lot of her actions (and those in the novel).

5. It is the only one of Austen’s complete novels that has, as the title, the protagonist’s name—showing us immediately that everything will revolve around Emma. (Note: Lady Susan is considered a novella).

6. Unlike the settings in most of Austen’s other novels where characters and readers alike visit Bath, London, or Northanger Abbey, we never leave Highbury in Emma.

7. Austen pioneered free indirect speech, where she balanced the authors voice within the mind of her characters. In Emma, there are only four instances in the novel where the perspective shifts from Emma, when:

  • Mr. Knightly is speaking confidentially with Mrs. Weston.

  • Mr. Knightley’s voices suspicions about Frank Churchill.

  • Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Elton discuss the strawberry party.

  • Mrs. Weston tells her husband about Emma’s engagement.

8. For a novel about misunderstandings, manipulations, and secrets, the word ‘seems’ or ’seemed’ appears 70 times throughout the text.

9. For characters who move the plot along, both Robert Martin and Jane Fairfax actually say very little throughout the novel.

10. Both Emma and Elizabeth Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) are two active protagonists who end up having equal relationships with their love interests. And both characters have fathers who ‘fail’ to govern their household ‘properly’. Coincidence?


bottom of page