Emma Questions and Answers
by Jane Austen

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What are the setting and atmosphere of Jane Austen's Emma?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The setting of Emma is the village of Highbury and its environs, where Emma has lived her entire life. Major settings within or near Highbury include Hartfield, the grand home Emma shares with her invalid father, nearby Randalls, where her former governess lives with her new husband, and the rooms above a shop in downtown Highbury, where Miss and Mrs. Bates live and Jane Fairfax comes to stay. Emma and Harriet walk on Parsonage Lane, which contains the parsonage where Mr. Elton lives, as well as some miserable hovels where they visit the poor. Emma and her friends make up a "party" to go to Box Hill seven miles away, as far as Emma has ever been from home, and they also visit nearby Donwell Abbey. A ball takes place at the Crown Inn, Harriet and Emma's shop, and children look in the window of the bakery.

As the above description indicates, this is Austen's fullest depiction of life in a small country village. The story is told through Emma's point of view, so although the surface may be idyllic, we receive the setting through her snobbish eyes and fraught emotions as she tries to steer Harriet and, later, herself to a suitable husband.

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jane Austen's Emma is set in the countryside around London in a small town called Highbury during Regency England. Hartfield, the house where Emma and her father live, is separated from Highbury by "a lawn and shrubberies," but their estate is part of Highbury (page 9). In Highbury, "The Woodhouses were first in consequence there," meaning that they are the most important family in town (page 9). Emma is part of this cloistered world, and she does not often stray far from home. Mr. Knightley lives only a mile away from Highbury, and he comes to see the Woodhouses nearly daily. The atmosphere is one of provincial neighborliness. Everyone knows everyone else, and also knows their business, and an outsider or visitor makes quite a stir. An outsider is often quickly befriended, such as Harriet is by Emma, because the people in Highbury want to find new companions. 

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