Reading the Classics: Emma

Reading the Classics: Emma

The latest instalment to my ‘Reading the Classics‘ series is Jane Austen’s Emma. I must say throughout my journey of reading classic novels, I have become quite a fan of Jane Austen and Emma is another delightful classic, well written, interesting and full of subtle humour.

Emma by Jane Austen

Widely adapted for TV and film, Emma was the final novel Jane Austen published in her lifetime (her final novel, Persuasion, was published posthumously). Published in December 1815, this novel is very much a product of its time. Yet authors in the pre-Victorian era were more often men. Early eighteenth-century readers were more adept to a male-orientated story written by male authors.

Due to the limited publishing opportunities for women at the time due to restrictions, the author of Emma was noted as ‘the writer of Pride and Prejudice‘. Women had little legal standing and were not permitted to sign contacts, thus Austen’s novels were published anonymously.

Thanks to the success of Pride and Prejudice published in 1813, Austen’s work had drawn the attention of the monarchy. Her works were incredibly popular with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. It was suggested to Austen that she dedicated Emma to Prince George. She accepted this advice, an act which likely increased the popularity of her work. One wonders had Prince George known the author was a woman if he had have made public his enjoyment of Austen’s works!

Prior to writing the novel, Austen wrote: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Emma is one of Austen’s finest heroines who we see develop as a person throughout the novel. Readers can connect to Emma, she is incredibly realistic. Even though two centuries now separate the reader from the central character, Emma is someone we all can connect with.

Central Characters

Emma Woodhouse

Emma belongs to the landed gentry class. She lives with her father, an ageing hypochondriac. Her mother died when Emma was a child. Since her elder sister, Isabella left the family home to marry, Emma has been the lady of the house, Hartfield. Our protagonist is 20 years of age at the beginning of the novel. She is incredibly intelligent, compassionate, sociable and very aware of her position within the rigid class system.

Austen, Emma

Emma cares deeply for her family and friends and has a great affection for and demonstrates utter patience with her doting father.

Mr Woodhouse

Mr Woodhouse was my favourite character in the novel. We all know a Mr Woodhouse! To have called him a hypochondriac above is perhaps unfair, Mr Woodhouse has genuine illnesses. It is the way Austen presents the character who genuinely loves his daughters that adds so much humour to the novel. He refers to his married daughter as ‘Poor Isabella’ and the former governess, recently married as ‘Poor Mrs Weston’. This stems from his genuine affection for these women for whom marriage removed them from the loving care of his home.

Harriet Smith

Harriet is 17 years old as the story begins. Her family origins are unknown having been raised at a boarding school. Emma befriends Harriet and decides to educate her in all social matters. Interestingly, as Emma seeks to teach her young friend how to become more refined, Emma experiences a development in character herself.

Mr George Knighltey

Mr Knightley is a gentleman of equal social standing to the Woodhouses. He is a friend to Emma and her father as well as to many others in Highbury (the fictional town in which the novel is set). Mr Knighltey is everything a Georgian gentleman ought to be – polite, sociable, educated and a good judge of character.

Mr Frank Churchill

The son of Mr Weston and the stepson of Mrs Weston (Emma’s former governess) is the charismatic Frank Churchill. The impending arrival of Mr Churchill who was brought up by his mother’s side of the family causes much excitement at the opening of the novel.

Jane Fairfax

The character of Jane Fairfax becomes more intriguing as the story develops. She is the Grandaughter of Mrs Bates, a friend of Mr Woodhouse. She has social standing but not wealth and she had known Emma from childhood.



Emma gives us an interesting insight into the class system of the English in the early eighteenth century. Indeed all of Austen’s’ novels are based around commentary and even criticism of class in Austen’s world. The class system is explored in a number of ways.

Snobbery is a theme throughout the novel. This manifests as the character of Mrs Elton is introduced. A moderately wealthy woman who lacks the refined manner of Emma and her peers. Austen uses the character of Mrs Elton to produce some incredibly humorous scenes.


The importance of family and family love is a running theme. The relationship between Emma and her father and Emma and her sister Isabella gives us an insight into the early 18th-century family. But, as now, family doesn’t end in blood – Mrs Weston and, by virtue of his marriage, Mr Weston become members of the Woodhouse family.

Isabella is the female counterpart of her father, and her relationship with her physician is comparable to that of her father with his physician.

Mr Woodhouse is continually concerned about the women in his life, a doting father and grandfather.


Emma is in some respects a romantic novel. Emma considers herself a match-maker, however, she is overly confident in her abilities in this regard. Quite often her friend, Harriet Smith is the unfortunate benefactor of Emma’s match-making skills. But while Emma is so concerned with the romantic entanglements of others, will she neglect her own feelings?


For me, this is perhaps the most important theme. The notion of friendship is a central theme of the novel. Emma has a number of important friendships, such as that with Mrs Weston and Harriet Smith. These women prove influential in Emma’s development as a person. Mrs Weston proves to be a guiding force even after her tenure as governess has ended at the opening of the novel.

Jane Austen’s Emma – A Recommended Read!

As with the other Austen novels I have read, Emma is a must-read. Austen has the ability to draw you in with her effective use of characters. We can connect to them in a way that many other authors are unable to do. The characters in this novel are incredibly realistic, human and versions of them walk amongst us in our own lives.

Jane Austen's novels
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels


  1. January 18, 2020 / 8:50 pm

    I really love how you write, it’s easy to read and understandable even for someone like me who never read a book like this. Also really liked how you shared the main characters and themes!

    xoxo Simone |

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 7:42 pm

      Thank you so much Simone!xxx

  2. January 18, 2020 / 9:09 pm

    As someone who has never found the classics inspiring, your well-written account of the book has inspired me to read Emma. With a simple name and pages that contain themes of family, love, and class (things I am always interested in), I hope to enjoy the book!

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 7:45 pm

      Thank you Jaya xxx

  3. nortoncharity
    January 19, 2020 / 12:51 am

    This was such a great review! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Michelle
    January 19, 2020 / 3:49 am

    I’ve never read anything by her, but now you’ve got me wanting to run to the library! That’s neat that she dedicated the book to the king.

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 7:53 pm

      Her dedication is so sweet xxx

  5. January 19, 2020 / 9:13 am

    I’ve never been able to get through the classics, but after reading this, you’ve made me want to give them another attempt. Fantastic review!

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 7:54 pm

      Good luck with the second attempt Lindsey xxx

  6. January 19, 2020 / 9:51 am

    I’ve never read Emma but I watched it with my mum on Netflix the other day and absolutely LOVED it! It reminded me a lot of Clueless, which my mum commented was like a modern take on it. I would love to read it!

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 7:58 pm

      Oooh I haven’t watched Clueless – I’ll have to give that a watch xxx

  7. itsareadlief!
    January 19, 2020 / 10:24 am

    I really enjoyed the format of your blog!

    Also, I love Emma. I also made a review about it. It’s my first Jane Austen book and I fell in love with her humor and writing!

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:00 pm

      How kind, thank you for reading! xxx

  8. January 19, 2020 / 11:54 am

    I don’t know why but I’m just so bad at reading classics! I’ve started a few of Austen’s books but I’ve never successfully finished one! This review has made me think maybe I should give Emma another try though! x

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:05 pm

      I’ve only started reading the classics, but I’ve fallen in love with them! xxx

  9. January 19, 2020 / 12:01 pm

    I love Austen’s works but I think Emma is the only one which I haven’t read at all and never had any interest in picking it up either – I think that maybe because I didn’t know much about the book but now I think I may pick it up and try giving it a read.

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:08 pm

      I hope you fall in love with it as I did! xxx

  10. Kayleigh Zara
    January 19, 2020 / 1:22 pm

    I actually love this book so much it was definitely one of the first classics that I ever read, I loved some of the characters and the theme of classism was an interesting one x

    Kayleigh Zara ?

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:12 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  11. January 19, 2020 / 2:17 pm

    I want to read/reread all of Austen’s books this year, and Emma is on the top of my list!

  12. aspoonfulpofvanilla
    January 19, 2020 / 5:38 pm

    I love Jane Austens novels but I have never read Emma. One reason I haven’t read it is because I have heard people say that she is the least likeable characters but after reading your post I think I will give it a go.

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:15 pm

      I hope you love Emma and the character of Emma as much as I did xxx

  13. Asra
    January 19, 2020 / 6:14 pm

    This was such a nice review! I’ve been meaning to read more Jane Austen after loving Pride and Prejudice and this sounds like a great book to read!

    • Lellalee
      January 19, 2020 / 8:17 pm

      Thank you so much xxx

  14. January 20, 2020 / 4:27 am

    I don’t think I’ve actually read any Jane Austen. I have really enjoyed some adaptations of Bronte, especially Wuthering Heights and am a long time fan of Thomas Hardy. Have been meaning to get around to Northanger Abbey. From what I’ve heard it was technically written as a satire of Gothic lit but doubles as a pretty decent Gothic itself.

  15. meredithdent
    January 20, 2020 / 10:14 am

    This is such a great post to introduce people into classic literature! I haven’t gotten the chance to read Emma, but now I think I may just have to!

  16. January 20, 2020 / 6:09 pm

    In honesty I’ve never been one of the “classics” throughout education and even into my degree and beyond, as they just aren’t my “thing”, but you write so wonderfully about Emma, it’s almost making me want to give them another go! X

  17. Natasha
    January 21, 2020 / 6:29 pm

    Thank you for writing this beautiful review.

    • Lellalee
      January 22, 2020 / 11:21 pm

      And thank you for reading! xxx

  18. January 22, 2020 / 10:45 pm

    This has been so helpful been looking for a new novel to read! Love Jane Austen can’t wait to read this, great post! Which is your favourite so far? Xxx

    • Lellalee
      January 22, 2020 / 11:20 pm

      I’d definitely say Pride and Prejudice is my favourite so far, but all of her novels are amazing xxx

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