Emma is a novel by Jane Austen, first published in December, 1815. Ostensibly a story about the perils of misconstrued romance, in fact the author treats with two of her more common themes, namely: the concerns and difficulties of women's lives in Georgian-Regency England; and, a 'comedy of manners' among her characters, each of whom would justify him/herself as behaving always of the highest standards of polite manners --even when, for some, their actual behaviours appear otherwise.
In the opening paragraph the main character, Emma Woodhouse, is described as "handsome, clever, and rich". Also, it turns out, she is rather spoiled; and, she overvalues her personal judgment and skills at human match-making; and, she is naive —clueless, even— about the effects of her social machinations on others. Prior to starting the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like."
Emma Woodhouse is a young, beautiful, and witty woman in Regency England. She lives in Surrey in the village of Highbury with her father, a hypochondriac who is excessively concerned for the health and safety of his loved ones. Emma's friend and only critic is the gentlemanly George Knightley, her neighbour from the adjacent estate of Donwell, and brother of her elder sister Isabella's husband. As the novel opens, Emma has just attended the wedding of Miss Taylor, her best friend and former governess. Having introduced Miss Taylor to her future husband, Mr Weston, Emma takes credit for their marriage, and decides that she rather likes matchmaking.
Against Mr. Knightley's advice, Emma forges ahead with her new interest, and tries to match her new friend Harriet Smith, a sweet but simpleminded girl of seventeen—described as "the natural daughter of somebody"—to Mr. Elton, the local vicar. However, first she must persuade Miss Smith to refuse an advantageous marriage proposal from a respectable young farmer, Mr. Martin, whom Emma believes is too socially inferior for Harriet.