– Juliette Wells, from the introduction of Emma
If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. So says humble Mr. Knightley to the spirited heroine of Jane Austen’s fourth published novel. Yet for readers and enthusiasts of Austen, Emma has been both well-loved and well-discussed in the centuries since the world was first introduced to a heroine whom Jane famously said “no one but myself will much like.” Now, on the two-hundredth anniversary of its publication, Penguin Classics has released a stunning new commemorative edition that celebrates all the joy that disastrous matchmaker Emma Woodhouse has single-handedly brought to generations of readers.
With new cover art specially designed by Dadu Shin (Instagram) – including front and back flaps – Penguin Classics’ bicentennial edition is “a reader’s edition, not a scholarly one” according to Juliette Wells, associate professor of English at Goucher College. Wells, who is involved in the college library’s Jane Austen Collection and writes widely on the author, helms this new annotated edition with an exemplary introduction and an array of extras designed to heighten the contemporary reader’s experience of the novel. Included are maps of Jane Austen’s England, tips for reading, guides to the language of the time (this is especially helpful to American readers), essays on the culture and customs featured in Emma, as well as illustrations from early- mid- and late-nineteenth century editions of the novel.
Wells’s introduction to Emma is a delight, delving into Austen’s history during the period of writing the novel rather than simply putting forth colorless facts. After briefly covering the basics of Austen’s life and that of her family (for the convenience of newer readers), she proceeds into the territory that directly relates to Emma: an in-depth look at Austen’s reluctant dedication of the book to the Prince Regent, the process Emma would have gone through to see publication, its legal (and presumably unknown to Austen) reproduction in America, and the responses to the novel from her family and friends. Utilizing what remains of Austen’s letters, Wells uses much of Jane’s own language to illustrate the history of Emma from its first writings to its publication and beyond. Austen’s advice on writing is even featured, with excerpts from her letters to the aspiring novelists in her family.
To give the reader an uninterrupted experience of Emma, Wells offers a glossary and essays which serve to replace sometimes obtrusive footnotes, all neatly situated at the back of the book along with the maps. “In spite of Austen’s great popularity,” Wells writes, “Reading one of her novels for the first time isn’t necessarily easy or enjoyable.” Yet the user-friendly additions to the book build a superb platform for readers, and their stylish execution allows for the book to be vividly detailed without becoming cumbersome. Much more than simply a new printing of a tremendously well-established classic, this edition is in many ways a tribute to everything Emma has contributed to the lives of its readers, and a special addition to an Austen enthusiast’s collection.
The folks at Penguin Classics were kind enough to offer a copy of the new deluxe 200th anniversary edition of Emma to one lucky winner; the giveaway is open to US residents only and the winner will be contacted via e-mail on October 9. Good luck!
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