Education Week 2019: Appreciating “Emma”

Professor Jane Hinckley presented on one of Jane Austen’s famous novels Emma to inspire audiences to form a deeper relationship with the text. 

PROVO, Utah (Aug. 20, 2019)—In the first session of her 2019 Education Week lecture series on Jane Austen’s novel Emma, adjunct professor Jane Hinckley (English) stated, “My goal today and through the rest of this week is to help you all really appreciate Emma.” Austen wrote Emma from 1814 to 1815, and Hinckley argued that it’s a masterpiece worth re-reading. 

Throughout the week, Hinckley covered Emma’s path to publication, similarities to the national tale, and use of games and riddles. As the last novel to be published in Austen’s lifetime, Emma gives scholars valuable insight into her growth as both a writer and a social critic. 

Although Austen published anonymously, her books were all attributed to the same author, and she was a well-known and respected writer. Her popularity facilitated Emma’s publication at a prestigious publishing house owned by John Murray. As Hinckley mentioned, one benefit to using a popular publisher was “its publicity machine.” To generate interest in the new book, Murray invited Sir Walter Scott to review Emma for the Tribune and he “advertised Emma in various magazines.” These advertising tactics were used to sell copies of Emma both in England and, a couple years later, in America as well.  

Hinckley also addressed the different perspectives scholars have on Emma as a “national tale.” While Emma certainly modeled “Englishness that is healthy and vigorous,” Hinckley noted that “unlike other [national tales] that focused on distinct natural features, Austen describes just enough for her reader to get the sense of a small English village.” Austen’s unique style of crafting an English national tale included analyzing “the relationship between power and responsibility —one that ideally should promote the comfort of others without oppression.”  

In her Thursday session, Hinckley detailed how games and riddles played a significant role in Emma. She explains that in one scene of the novel, a riddle is stated to which the answer is “Emma.” Hinckley stated, “That Emma’s name can be made into a riddle, and that the novel is named for her should inform the reader that in Emma, Austen is playing games with us.” Austen describes not only which characters favor certain games but also how they play games with each other throughout the story. 

Along with countless others, Hinckley is convinced that “Jane Austen is a genius.” And it would be hard to argue with her. Austen overcame countless hurdles of her day in order to produce her novels, and they have become some of the most widely read, recognized, and adapted stories in the English language. 

Heather Bergeson (’21, English)