- Emma: a novel. In three volumes. For John Murray, 1816
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"The authoress of Pride & Prejudice has been so good as to send me a new novel just published, Emma" (letter by Maria Edgeworth, to her aunt Mrs. Ruxton)
The famous copy of "Emma", arguably the author's finest work, sent by Jane Austen to her admired fellow novelist Maria Edgeworth, uniquely bound in limp paper wrappers.
Emma, of which no part of the manuscript survives, and no presentation copy inscribed by Jane Austen herself is known to exist, was published on 23 December 1815. The publisher John Murray's ledger records twelve author's presentation copies sent to various recipients (chiefly chosen by Jane Austen in her letter to him of 11 December) just before Christmas: these include nine family members (including Jane herself), the Countess of Morley and the author's governess friend Miss Sharpe (recently re-discovered and sold at Bonham's London, 24 June 2008). Also apparently also among these twelve is the dedication copy bound in red morocco, sent to the Prince Regent on or before 21 December. Another copy, James Edward Austen-Leigh's set, inscribed "From the Author", apparently in James Austen's hand, is recorded as being held by the family by Gilson (p.435).
Gilson also records the present copy: "Maria Edgeworth received a complimentary copy of E from JA (not one of the twelve presentation copies as listed in Murray's ledger, but another copy, apparently that which Mrs. Marilyn Butler now possesses...) and wrote to her aunt Mrs. Ruxton: 'The authoress of Pride & Prejudice has been so good as to send me a new novel just published, Emma' (Frances Anne Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth, London 1867, Vol.1, 317)." (David Gilson, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, p.71). Gilson remarks that this "copy of Vols.1 and 3 only in the possession of Mrs. Marilyn Butler, bearing the signature of Maria Edgeworth on the title of Vol.1, is unique in being in limp paper wrappers" (op.cit., p.66).
It is also unique in being the only known copy of Emma given by Jane Austen to a fellow writer.
The Austen and Edgeworth families were connected through Jane's aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots, who for a while were neighbours of Richard Edgeworth near Hare Hatch in Berkshire after 1766. Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) is now regarded as the creator (in Castle Rackrent) of the first true historical novel in English, leading the way for Sir Walter Scott (who also greatly admired her work, calling her "the great Maria" : see The Oxford Companion to English Literature, seventh edition, 2009, ed. Dinah Birch). Jane Austen's equally strong admiration for her older contemporary, who was the far more successful writer in her lifetime -- is well documented. In Northanger Abbey, for instance, in the middle of a parody of the gothic novel, the narrator ironically defends the reading of good novels in general by alluding to works by Fanny Burney and Maria Edgeworth:
" 'And what are you reading, Miss-?' 'Oh! it is only a novel!' replies the young lady, while she lays down her books with affected indifference, or momentary shame. 'It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda'; or, in short only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the livliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language" (Northanger Abbey, chapter 5)
On 28 September 1814 she wrote to her niece Anna Austen that "I have made up my mind to like no Novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, Yours & my own" (Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen's Letters, third edition, Oxford, 1996, p.278). Equally well documented, however, is the apparent lack of reciprocal admiration. In the Times Literary Supplement of 29 February 1968, and subsequently in Maria Edgeworth: a literary biography (Clarendon Press, 1972) Professor Marilyn Butler published a letter by Maria to her half-brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth, commenting on her reading of the present copy of Emma:
"There was no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own--& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow--and smooth, thin, water-gruel is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth thin water gruel!!"