Austen, Jane (1978). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0 19 254704 6.

20 year-old Emma is the younger daughter of worrywart hypochondriac. Famously “handsome, clever, and rich”, Emma has yet to learn the limits of her powers or the consequences of meddling in other people’s lives. Her long-time governess has just married a local gentleman, thanks to Emma’s matchmaking, and there is no one left in the house to temper Emma’s strong will except older (but not old!) single neighbor Mr. Knightley. Emma has a new friend from a nearby boarding school, Harriet Smith, and after manuevering Harriet’s rejection of a worthy young farmer, Emma sets out to make another match, between Harriet, of mysterious parentage, and Mr. Elton, a self-regarding young clergyman. Emma thinks she knows best, but she proves repeatedly that she oblivious, as Mr. Elton clearly interprets all Emma’s matchmaking efforts as evidence that she is interested in him for herself, and he is angered by her rejection. The garrulous Miss Bates is a constant irritant to Emma, and when her niece, Jane Fairfax, returns to Highbury, perhaps under some mysterious cloud, Emma must endure Mr. Knightley’s comments on Jane’s talents and virtues. Fortunately, at the same time Frank Churchill, son of her former governess’s husband, also returns to town, and Emma enjoys the idea that everyone expects a match between them. Mr Elton returns from a stay in Bath with an obnoxious, social climbing new wife, and Emma starts up her matchmaking again, mocks Jane Fairfax in her chats with Frank, and is unkind to Miss Bates. In the culmination of the story Emma must learn how deluded she is about the feelings and intentions of those around her, and especially how little she has known of her own heart.

Reader’s Annotation
20 year-old Emma Woodhouse is the queen bee of her early 19th Century town, but she is so oblivious to the feelings and situations of others that she almost loses what she values the most.

Emma is a masterpiece of English literature for its wit and sharp irony, its use of point of view both to create narrative suspense and to reveal character, and its detailed portrayal of a variety of participants in a small 19th Century town. Rereading it for use as a YA crossover, I found it also however, a fairly accessible classic for readers just making the jump from contemporary YA lit to classic, especially when read in conjunction with the Gwyneth Paltrow film, which was not bad, even though Emma is not a blonde! Not all the teen girls I have wheedled into reading this book were happy with the Emma/Knightley romance, because he’s hella old, but they do usually enjoy the novel. As Clueless proves, Highbury is in many ways like a high school, and kids seem to recognize the patterns: Emma as Homecoming queen with all the latest possessions, Frank Churchill as the cool new kid; the shifting pairings among the young characters, the friction between social realities and human emotion.

About the author
Jane Austen lived 1775-1817. She usually wrote on a small piecrust table in the parlor—when anyone came to visit she would cover up her work. For a century or more she has been considered one of the greatest of British novelists, but in the last 20 years, through her association with the Chick Lit genre, she has become a part of popular fiction and the source of numerous and widely varied spinoffs, including last year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
Going to the Ball—what to wear; how to act
Mr. Knightley’s critical nature
Governesses, and why you wouldn’t want to be one!

Reading Level/Interest Age
10th to adult

Challenge Issues

Why Included?
Success with tricking students into reading it;
To go with Clueless

Selection Tools
Reading Lists for the College-Bound (3rd edition, by Doug Estell, Michele
L. Satchwell and Patricia S. Wright. (2000.)

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