First edition: Emma

Text by Jane Blandy, Volunteer Steward at Jane Austen’s House

First edition, Emma, 1816, in three volumes. Written by Jane Austen and published in 1816 by John Murray. Vol.1 Inscribed “George Augustus Frederic Dawkins July 1820”. Volumes II and III inscribed “F.W. Austen” – possibly Jane Austen’s brother Frank Austen. One of the twelve recipients of the novelist’s presentation copies. The cover consists of leather spines and marbled paper pattern front.

Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel, is concerned with marriage, social status, secrets and mistaken judgements. Jane Austen allows the reader to know more about the other characters and their secrets than Emma. She is rich, at the centre of her social circle but decides to match make for her friends and acquaintances and helps to spread unkind rumours about others. It does not help that she is motherless and her father is a self-centred hypochondriac. She is saved by the friendship and love of her friend Mr Knightley and Emma finally realises that she loves him and cannot live without him.

This is also a beautifully constructed detective novel. Emma fails to see that Harriet and Mr Martin are made for each other, that the socially ambitious Mr Elliot wants to marry her and not Harriet, that Jane and Frank Churchill have a secret relationship and most importantly That Mr Knightley is in love with her.

Although Emma was ready in March 1815, Jane Austin’s publisher Thomas Egerton delayed publishing  so Henry Austen negotiated for her with John Murray, a well known and very successful  publisher. Murray offered only £450 for the copyrights of Emma, Mansfield Park, which was ready for a second printing, and Sense and Sensibility. Henry resisted pointing out “the sum offered … is not equal to the money which my sister has actually clear by one very modest edition of Mansfield Park.” They agreed that Jane should publish at her own expense and John Murray would receive 10% of the profit and the publication of Emma was finally announced in The Morning Chronicle on 23rd December 1815.

Henry’s physician (doctor) introduced him to the Prince Regent’s librarian, James Stanier Clarke, who told her that the Prince Regent had copies of all her novels in his residences (palaces). Jane thought privately that this did not mean the Prince Regent had read them! He invited her to dedicate Emma to him, Although Jane hated the Prince Regent she had no choice but to obey. John Murray, pleased that more copies would be sold, printed 2,000.

Jane had 12 copies of the first edition give to family and friends. This is believed to be her brother Francis’s copy which he took to sea with him and read many times. He became Admiral of the Fleet in 1863.