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Emma: A Novel. In three volumes.

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest writers in English literature, both by academics and the general public. In 2002, as part of a BBC poll, the British public voted her No. 70 on a list of "100 Most Famous Britons of All Time." 1.


Despite her status as a significant author the Library did not hold a first edition of any of her works. We have just filled this gap with the acquisition of a first edition of Emma, published in 1816.

Emma was first published in three volumes. Each volume is a ‘duodecimo’, meaning that the pages are exactly one-twelfth of the size of the original paper that went through the printing press. The pages are roughly cut and held together with grey-blue paper boards, white paper back-strips and printed paper spine labels. This is the original binding in which the bookseller would have distributed the novel. 


The set that has just been acquired was once owned by Frank J. Hogan, a New York based book collector. Each volume contains his morocco bookplate pasted into the front cover of the book. Frank J. Hogan (1877 - 1944) was an attorney, president of the DC bar association and founder in 1902 of the firm Hogan & Hartson. He was a dedicated collector of English and American literature. On his death Hogan decided not to bequeath his collection to an institution but to disperse the collection through auction to allow other collectors the opportunity to develop their collections.


Austen’s first works, including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park were published by Thomas Egerton of Whitehall, London. Austen had fallen out with Egerton over the publication of Mansfield Park and transferred to Murray, who published the second edition of that book and the first edition of Emma. Each title was published at the author's expense, with profits to the author after payment of a ten per cent commission to the publisher. In keeping with Murray's stated views on edition sizes, 2,000 copies were printed. When it was first published in 1816 the three volume set sold for 1£ 1s. Of the 2000 copies printed in 1816,  1250 were sold within the first year. Emma also includes a dedication to the Prince Regent, a great admirer of Austen’s work.

Emma is set entirely in the county of Surrey where Emma lives in the large village of Highbury, seven miles from Box Hill and nine miles from Richmond-upon-Thames. It covers a period o 14 months and is probably set in the years 1813–14. Jane Austen once told a niece that ‘three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on’ and that is what she does in Emma. 

Jane Austen’s novels brought her little personal fame during her lifetime. Like many female writers, Austen chose to publish anonymously and it was only among members of the educated or higher classes that her authorship was known. Though Austen's works were considered fashionable by members of high society at the time of their publication, they received few reviews and were not best-sellers. Despite her works being re-published several times during the nineteenth century and remaining in print ever since, her ‘reading public’ between 1821 and 1870 was small compared with the known audience for Charles Dickens and his contemporaries. Those who did read Austen were largely members of the elite who claimed their appreciation of her work as a mark of culture.

Between 1832 and 1833 London publisher Richard Bentley republished the Austen novels in a standard series - each novel was published in a single volume with an engraved frontispiece. This series was widely circulated amongst readers in the nineteenth century. The first significant Austen biography, ‘A Memoir of Jane Austen’, was written by Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh in 1869. This biography introduced Austen to a wider public and dramatically increased her popularity and critical standing. In this memoir Austen-Leigh recounts his Aunt Jane’s comments before she began writing Emma: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Austen in Australia

Booksellers' advertisements for the sale of Jane Austen novels appear from the 1840s in Australian newspapers. The biography of Jane Austen, published by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh in 1869, was widely reported in Australian  including articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Argus and the Adelaide Observer. The following report was included in the Saturday 7 October , 1871 of the Adelaide Observer.

'There are some people who cannot see anything in Miss Austen's novels — " common-place stories about common-place people!"—while there are others who have gone so far as to divide the world into two parts—those who do and those who do not admire them. And this division is not so arbitrary as might at first be imagined, for it is only the cultivated mind that can thoroughly appreciate the truth of her minute delineations, and the exquisite humour that pervades every line of her writing. Literary men are warmest in their admiration, such as Coleridge, Southey, 'Scott, and, in later days, - Macaulay and Thackeray. Scott says of her:—"That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big how-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary common place things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me”.'