Emma was published two hundred years ago in 1815. Yet appreciation for the work only grows more and more with time. Its appeal is timeless. In fact, the 1995 film Clueless starring Alicia Silverstone, Justin Walker, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash and Brittany Murphy, is based on Emma, Jane Austen's fourth novel.
Emma is about courtship. It is the story of a determined young woman living in early 19c England who spends her time matchmaking for friends and neighbors. Emma is self-confident, and often domineering. She has a strong sense of what is right and wrong. But Emma's village life is small and society is limited. Perhaps as a result, or perhaps not, Emma is somewhat of an "imaginist." She constantly distorts reality to fit her own schemes and preconceptions. Emma meddles in the affairs of others and risks their happiness as well as her own. There are always discrepancies between Emma's view and the actual situation. This is especially true when it comes to herself and her relationship with Mr. Knightley.
As the story unfolds, a series of humiliations will reveal these mistaken feelings. Her union with Mr. Knightley will be possible only if she achieves insight. Mr. Knightley is the moral center of the novel, and so it is he who will offer Emma the knowledge she needs to achieve self-realization. But what will Emma do with this knowledge? Does she learn from her mistakes? Can she give up imagining? Will she ever learn to work within the society and not rebel against it?
Emma inspires us to take a look at our own lives and the influences in it. In terms of our own self-development, what is our capacity for change? Can we ever really know ourselves?
Listen to chapter 1 of Emma: