Jane Austen’s Originality: Emma

  • T. B. Tomlinson


If Jane Austen belonged, as I believe she did, to a literary age and class that had to be rather guarded as far as politics, at least, were concerned, there are lots of other ways in which her writing, particularly in Emma, is the reverse of ‘guarded’. I once began a lecture to second-year students: ‘Whatever you may have heard to the contrary in First Year, the English novel begins with Jane Austen.’ With some regrets, I no longer begin lectures this way: partly because the habit of dragging first-year students through a lot of eighteenth-century novels is happily declining, but mainly because phrases like ‘the first modern novelist’, or ‘the first great novelist’, are clearly too simple-minded to do justice either to what went before Jane Austen or to what came after her. If and when such phrases are relevant at all, it must be in a spirit very different from simply asking, Who came first in such-and-such a tradition or genre?


Eighteenth Century Good Sense Double Charge Characteristic Tone Great Novelist 
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© T. B. Tomlinson 1976

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  • T. B. Tomlinson

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