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Austen's romantic, comic classic has timeless appeal.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers of Emma will learn about attitudes regarding gender, marriage, and class in England's Regency period (late 18th century to early 19th century). They'll also find details about daily life, such as food and drink, social customs, transportation, communication, and pastimes of the period.

Positive messages

Emma learns that gossip and matchmaking can be hurtful and damaging. She also learns, and shows, that people who have personal and financial advantages should show compassion and help those who are less fortunate.

Positive role models

Emma makes plenty of mistakes, but she learns from them, and on the whole is a model of thoughtfulness and generosity. The aptly named John Knightley displays chivalry and compassion in many ways: e.g. he dances with a wallflower, and is always fair to his tenants.


Thieves ("gypsies") assault two young characters on a country road, but others rescue the victims without anyone suffering physical harm. 


There are lots of romantic feelings, but the only kisses are between friends.

Not applicable
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Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Guests drink wine at several social gatherings. Emma suspects a man's strange behavior may result from drunkenness, but she's mistaken.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Jane Austen's beloved 19th century novel Emma endures over time because, despite some dated manners and ideas, its romantic story and charming characters remain endlessly entertaining. Subtleties of language and character make Emma most accessible to teens and up, but while younger readers may miss some nuances, there's no cause for parental concern on any other level. Characters drink wine moderately in several social situations, and a couple of women have a brief encounter with thieves ("gypsies"), but the real suspense here is all about romantic love. Emma has inspired adaptations for the big and small screen, including a couple of BBC-TV versions, a very good 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the hilarious teen favorite Clueless.

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What's the story?

Jane Austen's classic novel EMMA begins with the marriage of the title character's former governess, Miss Taylor, to Mr. Weston. Readers learn that Emma's mother passed away long ago and her only sibling, a sister, is married and living in London. Emma and her nervous father are sad to lose Miss Taylor's constant presence in their household, but Emma congratulates herself on her own matchmaking skill, as she apparently encouraged the Westons' pairing. In need of a new project, Emma befriends Harriet Smith, a young woman of unknown parentage supported by Emma's friends and neighbors. Determined to match her with an upper-class husband, Emma begins to manipulate relations between Harriet and the local vicar, Mr. Elton. Meanwhile, two newcomers arrive in town: the beautiful and frustratingly private Jane Fairfax, and Mr. Weston's high-spirited son, Frank Churchill, who seems to be interested in Emma. Though her trusted friend John Knightley warns her that she overestimates her talents as a matchmaker, Emma forges ahead. The comic and unfortunate misunderstandings that result help to reveal, however clumsily, characters' true feelings for one another.

Is it any good?


Funny and highly entertaining, Emma is full of romance, plot twists, and comic confusion. With relations among young people in this book as misguided and snarky as those of high school kids in any era, Emma not only has timeless appeal, it was a perfect foundation for the movie Clueless, on which it was loosely based.

Austen's brilliant wit and deep empathy resulted in some of the world's most enjoyable books, and Emma is one of her most memorable characters.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Jane Austen's novels remain so popular. Have you read any of her other great works, such as Pride and Prejudice? What themes come up in her novels? Why do people still care about them?

  • If you've seen Clueless, match up the characters in Emma with their counterparts in the movie. In what ways are the Clueless characters altered for a modern audience?

  • Why does Emma resent Jane Fairfax? Why does she find it easier to befriend Harriet?

Book details

Author:Jane Austen
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Barnes & Noble
Publication date:December 1, 1815
Number of pages:544
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Teen, 13 years old Written byPortia0623 May 10, 2014


I loved this book. The stories were great, the characters were great, the writing was great. I think it's definitely worth reading even if it seems a bit boring at first.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


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