A Critical Edition
There was nothing of the literary woman in the external affairs of her life and its conduct. Born on 16 December, 1775, at Steventon in Hampshire, of which her father was rector, and dying at Winchester on 18 July, 1817, she passed the intervening years almost entirely in the country. She lived with her family in Bath from 1801 to 1806, and at Southampton from 1806 to 1809. Later, she paid occasional visits to London where she went not a little to the play; but she never moved in “literary circles,” was never “lionised” and never drew much advantage from personal contact with other people of intellect. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote three additional novels, Lady Susan, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, all published posthumously, and began a forth, which was eventually titled Sanditon.
Emma, the fourth and last novel which Jane Austen published in her lifetime, was begun in January, 1814, and finished in March, 1815, to appear in the following December. Jane Austen was now at the height of her powers. The book was written rapidly and surely; and the success of her previous novels doubtless encouraged her to express herself with confidence in the way peculiarly her own. Emma is a tiresome girl, full of faults; and yet, far from not being “much liked,” she has called forth more fervent affection than any other of Jane Austen’s characters. Jane Austen herself admired Elizabeth Bennet; she loved little Fanny Price; Emma, she both loved and admired, without a shade of patronage or a hint of heroine-worship. That Emma should be loved, as she is loved, for her faults as well as for her virtues, is one among Jane Austen’s many claims to the rank of greatness in her art.
Quarterly Review, 1817 - The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader. The merits of the author consist much in the force of a narrative conducted with much neatness and point, and a quiet yet comic dialogue, in which the characters of the speakers evolve themselves with dramatic effect.
The British Critic, 1816 — Whoever is fond of an amusing, inoffensive and well principled novel, will be well pleased with the perusal of Emma. It rarely happens that in a production of this nature we have so little to find fault with. In few novels is the unity of place preserved; we know not of one in which the author has sufficient art to give interest to the circle of a small village. The author of Emma never goes beyond the boundaries of two private families, but has contrived in a very interesting manner to detail their history, and to form out of so slender materials a very pleasing tale.