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What’d she say? Jane Austen on ‘Emma’

First edition  "Emma" ( Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University)
“Emma” ( Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University)

Last week we had a roundup of what critics, readers and Jane Austen’s friends/family had to say about Emma when it was first published. But what did Jane Austen herself think about her work?

In a Dec. 31, 1815 letter to the Countess Morley: “Accept my Thanks for the honour of your note & for your kind Disposition in favour of Emma. In my present State of Doubt as to her reception in the World, it is particularly gratifying to me to receive so early an assurance of your Ladyship’s approbation. — It encourages me to depend on the same share of general good opinion which Emma’s Predecessors have experienced, &  to beleive that I have not yet — as almost every Writer of Fancy does sooner or later — overwritten myself.”

In December 1815, she wrote to Mr. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian: “My greatest anxiety at present is that this 4th work shd not disgrace what was good in the others … I am very strongly haunted by the idea that to those readers who have preferred P&P it will appear inferior in Wit, & to those who have preferred MP. very inferior in good Sense.”

To John Murray in a letter dated April 1, 1816: I return you the Quarterly Reveiw with many Thanks. The Authoress of Emma has no reason I think to complain of her treatment in it except in the total omission of Mansfield Park. — I cannot but be sorry that so clever a Man as the Reveiwer of Emma, should consider it as unworthy of being noticed.


  1. “Jane Austen: A Life,” Claire Tomalin

  2. “Jane Austen’s Letters,” collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye

  3. “Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels,” Deirdre Le Faye


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