“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition,” was first launched on the world two centuries ago.
Jane Austen’s only eponymous novel, Emma was published on December 23, 1815, as announced in The Morning Chronicle newspaper. However, the frontispiece, pictured below, displays a publication date of 1816—so I have no compunctions about celebrating the 200-year anniversary now, in 2016.
This way, we can celebrate all year!
Emma was Austen’s fourth published novel, and was the last to be released during the author’s lifetime.
Per her letters, Jane Austen was very fond of the name ‘Emma’. I discovered this, and more delightful tidbits, in the book Jane Austen and Names*.
Author Maggie Lane looks at the popular names of Regency England, as well as those Austen deliberately chose for her characters. Lane even chronologizes the used of diminutives (nicknames) such as ‘Lizzy’. I was amazed to read, “Jane Austen uses 26 boys’ names and 55 girls’ names. These she repeats and distributes among the one hundred and fourteen male and one hundred and twenty-seven female characters on whom she bestows a [first] name.”
Austen tended to stick to the most basic, believable, and widespread names. There are two notable exceptions to this: Pride and Prejudice’s famous brother-sister pair, Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy. Luckily for readers, we hardly ever encounter Mr. Darcy’s first name, which helps prevent confusion with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Lane offers the following helpful tip for the lovely name Georgiana—it was probably pronounced Jor-jane-a. I never knew that, and the discovery was really interesting!
Apparently, it became all the rage to end names with the letter ‘a’ during the eighteenth century. Which brings us back to ‘Emma’. This made me wonder if there’s a particular style of name that’s common right now, and we just can’t tell. After another century or two, will they look back on us and say we liked names … that are two syllables … or begin with ‘M’? I don’t know, but the name ‘Emma’ doesn’t seem to have lost its popularity.
There have been several retellings and screen adaptations of Emma. Do you have a favorite?
Emma meets high school, in California.
* The version I read had some minor typos, but provided a wealth of Jane Austen nomenclature.