Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Although not as widely read as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Emma is frequently cited as Jane Austen’s finest novel. Written at the height of her literary powers, the work manages to evoke a vivid picture of rural and village life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries while dealing with perennial questions about growing up and choosing a life partner; as a result, Emma is frequently included in surveys of English literature and in courses that stress domestic relationships or themes of maturation. Emma Woodhouse has been the subject of hundreds of critical studies; the author’s ability to probe the psychological dimensions of her heroine and the supporting cast of characters has been cited as a special strength of the novel, and Austen is often classified as a precursor to the great novelists of psychological realism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: George Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf. In recent decades, Emma has received significant attention from feminist critics, for whom Austen is a seminal figure in women’s literature. Austen is one of those rare writers whose works appeal to audiences of all ages; accessible to young adults, her novels are ranked among the major works of English literature.