Places: Emma

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1816

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHighbury

Highbury. EmmaEnglish village sixteen miles southwest of London. Although Jane Austen says it is a populous place, readers find it quite small indeed. A short walk away from the village center are Ford’s, a clothing and fabric store; a bakery; the Bates apartment, over a place of business; a church and a vicarage; the Crown Inn; and Mrs. Goddard’s school. Less than a mile from Emma’s home is Randalls, a little estate belonging to the Westons. Adjoining Highbury is Donwell and its most important estate, Donwell Abbey, the old-fashioned home of Mr. George Knightley and the center of his large farming enterprise. Located on his land is Abbey Mill Farm.

The novel tells of Emma’s growth into adulthood. The isolated and restricted village in which she lives reflects her own initial isolation. For the first twelve chapters, she never strays far from home, which she shares with her unmarried father. Besides Mr. Knightley, her most frequent visitor is a silly school girl named Harriet Smith. Soon Emma’s horizons begin to expand, until, by the end of the novel, she has learned a great deal about many other people–and herself. This movement is expressed geographically. Sometimes Emma makes journeys from home. She socializes more with the people of Highbury, even attending a party given by her social inferiors. She goes to Randalls on Christmas Eve; she visits Donwell Abbey. More often, however, Emma’s expanding horizons are suggested by people coming to Highbury from other parts of England.


*London. Capital and largest city in Great Britain. Emma’s sister Isabella and her family live in Brunswick Square and travel often to Hartfield. Frank Churchill rides to London, ostensibly to get his hair cut.


*Bath. City in the southwest of England, about one hundred miles from Highbury. After he is spurned by Emma, Mr. Elton travels to Bath, where he meets and marries Augusta Hawkins, who lives with her sister Selina at Maple Grove near Bristol. These places suggest the less-than-admirable nature of Mr. Elton’s marriage: Bath was a fashionable and racy pleasure resort, not the place to contract a serious engagement. Maple Grove was situated in a part of England which did not have the social standing of Hartfield.


*Weymouth. English seaside resort slightly more than one hundred miles southwest of Highbury, a place suggesting youthful frivolity. Frank Churchill saved Jane Fairfax’s life in a boating accident there. Both these characters complicate Emma’s life.


Enscombe. Yorkshire estate located perhaps two hundred miles north of Highbury, belonging to the Churchill family. Like Bristol, any place in Yorkshire is a long way from this novel’s favored locations. The Churchills, including Frank, show their restive nature by traveling. Near the end of the novel they live in Richmond, a town nine miles from Highbury.


Balycraig. Estate of Mr. Dixon somewhere in Ireland, far away from Highbury and the woman Emma suspects is the object of his passion.

*Box Hill

*Box Hill. Famous high hill near Dorking in Surrey, about seven miles from Highbury. Near the end of the novel, Emma’s widening perspective is shown when she makes two journeys. At Donwell Abbey she learns more about two of her friends and admires the expanse of the English countryside. The next day she and others take a picnic to Box Hill, where one of the climaxes of the novel occurs: Emma insults Miss Bates and is reprimanded by Mr. Knightley.


Hartfield. Emma Woodhouse’s own residence, in which many indoor scenes are set. Hartfield combines civilization and nature: a comfortable large mansion is set amid pleasant walks and shrubbery–a good place for a proposal of marriage.


*Southend-on-Sea. English seaside resort thirty-six miles east of London on the bank of the Thames estuary. Mr. Woodhouse objects to the Knightley family’s bathing there.

BibliographyAusten, Jane. Emma: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews, and Criticism. Edited by Stephen M. Parrish. New York: W. W. Norton, 1972. An excellent beginning for the student first reading Emma, this collection brings together the definitive text, the background materials that Austen may have used, and important critical articles. A selected bibliography is included.Bloom, Harold, ed. Jane Austen’s “Emma.” New York: Chelsea, 1987. In this representative selection of criticism, Austen scholars focus on aspects such as Emma’s imagination and Austen’s power of understatement. Also includes consideration of Emma in terms of feminist literary criticism. Index and bibliography.Burrows, J. F. Jane Austen’s “Emma. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1968. A detailed study of the novel considering important critical interpretations and the use of language and comic style. A selected bibliography is included.DiPaolo, Marc. Emma Adapted: Jane Austen’s Heroine from Book to Film. New York: P. Lang, 2007. This work offers an enlightening look at several film adaptations of Emma and the ways in which they differ from and are similar to the novel. To do this, DiPaolo categorizes the adaptations by their genre and purpose, and discusses the statements that the films make about the novel. The result is an excellent resource for anyone who hopes to gain a better understanding of the novel.Dwyer, June. Jane Austen. New York: Continuum, 1989. A good basic reference for the general reader. The chapter on Emma gives a reading of the novel and discusses the novel’s focus on the problems that life poses for someone like the title character. Includes a bibliography.Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1986. Kirkham asserts that Austen’s viewpoint on such topics as the status of women, female education, marriage and authority, and women in literature is strikingly similar to that of eighteenth century English feminists. Includes a twenty-page chapter on Emma.Lascelles, Mary. Jane Austen and Her Art. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. A classic study of Austen’s life and fiction, with emphasis on how she developed her literary taste and style. Refers to specific novels to show her evolving art and her mastery of the novel form.Lauber, John. Jane Austen. New York: Twayne, 1993. The chapter on Emma gives a reading of the novel with special attention to the title character. It also discusses the novel’s place in Austen’s canon. The novel is also considered in the chapter “Austen and Her Critics.” Includes a chronology, annotated bibliography, and index.Lodge, David, ed. Jane Austen: “Emma.” 1968. Rev. ed. London: Macmillan, 1991. Part of a highly regarded series of critical studies on well-known authors and their works. Includes reviews and critical readings by Austen contemporaries and more recent writers that were collected from books and journals. For the seriously interested reader.Monaghan, David. Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1980. This critical work examines the moral ideas presented in Austen’s novels and considers their sources in the traditional social values and the new individualistic ethics of her time.Sherry, Norman. Jane Austen. New York: ARCO, 1969. A general introduction to Austen’s works, this critical review offers a balanced approach to her work, covering background, themes, characterization, style, and tone.Watt, Ian, ed. Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963. A collection of critical, interpretive essays on Austen and her works, focusing on her style and themes with reference to broader human values and conditions.
Categories: Places