“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” — Jane Austen, Emma (1815)
Though its copyright date on the title page read “1816,” the fourth novel by Jane Austen (and last to appear in her lifetime) actually came out on this day 200 years ago from her new publisher, John Murray.
In a memoir that appeared in 1870, Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen Leigh wrote that she was preparing for a rougher critical reception than had greeted her earlier books: “She was very fond of Emma, but did not reckon her being a general favourite; for when commencing that work, she said, ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.’”
That did indeed prove the case in much of the 19th century, as some literary critics did not take too kindly to the eponymous busybody protagonist. But our own time has embraced this more complicated character far more enthusiastically, not only in print but onstage, onscreen (Gwyneth Paltrow, pictured here), TV (several adaptations, most notably in a 1996 film starring Kate Beckinsale), and even more covertly but waggishly, in the form of the contemporary cinematic retelling Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone as “Cher.” (See my prior post on the latter.)