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The Novel

Before writing Emma, Jane Austen once expressed, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like" (James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen, p. 158). Most believe that the author was at least half-joking when she said this, as Emma Woodhouse is often a great favorite among readers. The character aside, however, the story itself is simply brilliant. Part romance, part comedy, part drama, and part "detective novel," there's an element to please anybody in this book.

Austen wrote the novel over the period encompassing January 21, 1814 - March 29, 1815. At his request, she dedicated Emma to her most high-profile fan, the Prince Regent. This is a bit strange, considering that she didn't care much for him, his conduct towards his wife, or his personality in general. He received a special first edition of the novel (one of twelve "presentation" copies issued by the publisher), in three volumes, which is kept at the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. For more on the presentation edition, see this description of Anne Sharp's copy (Bonhams auction site). Novelist Maria Edgeworth - a favorite of Austen's - also apparently received a presentation copy of the novel.

First published in the year 1816 (late 1815, though the frontispiece is dated 1816) by John Murray, Emma was the last work Austen lived to see released. The first edition consisted of 2000 copies. Oddly, the book did not sell well, so the second printing/edition didn't happen until 1833. For more information on the initial publication of the novel, look here.

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