Jan 082016


“Happy those, who can remain at Highbury.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

It has become my tradition these last three years to read an annotated edition of a Jane Austen work during the holiday break. After thoroughly enjoying the experience with Harvard University Press’s Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition in 2013, I decided to give another Harvard University Press edition a try. And this year my choice must definitely be Emma, after all we did just celebrate its bicentennial!

My rating of 4 stars is for the annotations and comments provided by Bharat Tandon, for Jane Austen’s novel alone my rating would be 5+ stars. I think Emma is a brilliant masterpiece and, depending on my mood, often designate it as my most favorite Jane Austen novel.

Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading Bharat Tandon’s’ annotations:

  • Bristol Means Something Very Significant: When Jane Austen says that Miss Hawkins was a daughter “of a Bristol – merchant, of course, he must be called” she is implying to her audience what she presumes they already know. That if you were working in Bristol at this time you were most assuredly involved with the slave trade. The dash she uses after Bristol and the inclusion of “of course, he must be called” confirms that she is hinting at something she cannot say outright. For me, this was a jaw-dropping disclosure! Never in all my previous readings of Emma did I make such a connection! Wow!
  • Definitions, Etymology, and References: With this edition there was a lot of annotations devoted to Jane Austen’s word choice. The editor canvassed the definitions of the words she chose (and how they differ from our usage today), the history of word origins, and how some of her turns of phrase may be in reference to another work or author. Understanding the older meanings of words and phrases helped provide a stronger understanding of what Jane Austen was trying to convey. I also liked being “in” on some of the allusions and “inside jokes” she was imparting to her audience.

Compared to the other two annotated works I read, I felt this edition was a little sparse and light with the overall amount of notes and insight. There were so many pages completely free from annotations. So I’m afraid the new-insights and discoveries didn’t reach the extent for which I was hoping. In addition, I did feel that there seemed to be more emphasis placed on language and less on the overall themes and analysis. I am curious to see if I like David Shapard’s The Annotated Emma better.

For readers who are looking for an attractive edition of Emma to display and and peruse, this would be a great choice. The layout is elegant and all the images are stunning and appropriate to the text. This edition is also beneficial for readers who want to learn a little more about Jane Austen’s Emma but not spend much time reading a lot of scholarly notes and text. For readers already familiar with a lot of history and context of Jane Austen’s time, this edition may not be as illuminating and edifying as desired.

Since rereading any Jane Austen work (even without annotations) is like a new experience, and readers often make new discoveries on subsequent re-readings, I thought I’d share some of mine here:

  • maxresdefaultThe Knightley Brothers Are Indeed Most Snarky!: (First heard this label applied in Emma Approved, and it fits well!) I never realized some of the sarcastic digs and instigating remarks both brothers make. They definitely aren’t afraid to speak their true mind!
  • I Shall Always Love Emma: I first read Emma before I heard she was an unlikable character, and established no impression of dislike towards her myself. And even on this reading I still cannot summon any dislike towards her. I love Emma. I love that she is very flawed, that her flaws are real and understandable, and that she strives to improve.
  • My Dad is Starting to Resemble Mr. Woodhouse: When visiting my parents (who live 25 minutes away) my dad always tries to talk me into spending the night and laments my driving home and all the “dangers.” He also protests when we travel: “I don’t know why you need to go the Dominican Republic. What is there for you to do? The beach? We’ve got beaches right here. Why can’t you just stay here?” I laughed out loud at the similarities!

Emma: An Annotated Edition is a beautiful and engaging edition that would suit a first-time reader as well as an ardent admirer. I definitely recommend this edition for readers, who like me, always long to be in Highbury!

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~ Reviews of Past Annotated Editions ~

2013 – Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition (Edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks)

2014 – The Annotated Persuasion (Edited by David Shapard)

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22 Comments on "Emma: An Annotated Edition – Jane Austen (Edited by Bharat Tandon)"

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Carole in Canada
The reference about Bristol is indeed interesting finding out that one does not mention it. Thank you for that Meredith. I must say though, that ‘Emma’ is not my favourite and it may be due to the ‘whiny’ voice of Gwyneth Paltrow! I loved Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly though. I did enjoy ‘Clueless’ and the portrayal of Emma in other versions by Kate Beckinsale and Romola Garai. Maybe, I just need to read it as Jane Austen has written it to appreciate it better. You are lucky you went in not being influenced by other’s opinions and portrayals.
Teresa (Broderick)

I have the annotated edition of Persuasion which I still have to read and having read your review on Emma annotated it’s definitely up next to be read. Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel. Unfortunately Emma is my least favourite. But it’s some time since I read it so maybe I’ll give it a go again soon. This edition, you reviewed might be a good idea.

Abigail Bok

I never knew that about the Bristol reference, either! I really appreciate your insights on the annotated editions, in particular because I am trying to decide which editions might be considered the “standards” today, to use for citation in a project I have percolating. I had sorta thought the Harvard UP editions might do, but maybe not . . . I’ll have to look up and see if you’ve reviewed the Northanger Abbey one, which is the only one I have.

High Priestess

I liked Emma, I liked all the 6 novels pretty much the same. Anyway, about Bristol, where exactly in the book is Jane talking about this? and also who is she referring to was involved in the slave trade? thanks.


Thank you, I learned new things from your post. 🙂 I think in my re-readings of Austen this year, I will read annotated versions–I haven’t (read annotated versions) since college! I enjoyed your post, and I too love Emma.

Sheila L. M.

I didn’t know about the Bristol reference either – always something new to learn. But can’t say Emma is a favorite of mine. Too much unfulfilled potential. Thanks for the review. I only have one annotated edition and it is not Emma.

Sophia Rose
I just finished the Annotated Pride & Prejudice with David Shapard so I know what you mean about getting to be ‘in the know’ now with stuff the author mentions or quotes and her contemporary audience would have gotten, but flew right past me in earlier reads. I had heard that there was a slave owner reference years ago when it came to Emma, but didn’t realize what it was. Interesting to know that now. Sorry this one wasn’t as full of notes as you were expecting. Maybe another annotated version will offer that. Love what re-reading does to bring… Read more »
Michelle H.
Happy New Year to you Meredith, and your merry band of followers. I have lusted after these gorgeous HUP annotated Austens for a long time now. I do love Shapard’s works though, and have several. So sorry M., to say Emma isn’t my fave, well, to read that is. But then, honestly, when any of Jane’s heroines are being most themselves, their own individual flaws can really shine forth in the most aggravating way. But what makes us like our own favorite best? That’s the interesting thing. Ooo, I am so pleased you said what you did about Bristol!!! I… Read more »
Stephanie L

I completely enjoyed Mr. Shapard’s version. I have all of Jane’s annotated by him (with the exception of Mansfield Park which isn’t available yet). I haven’t managed to get through all of them but I did read Emma because she, and Mr. Knightley, are my favorites. I have always loved Emma. It is my favorite, followed by P&P and S&S equally. I love Mr. Knightley and he and his brother’s snark. LOL

Cat Commons
I’m very late in making a comment, due to the revelation of the “Bristol-merchant” annotation above sending me off on a quest to find out how David Shapard annotated this hyphenated work. He missed this subtle reference. He noted that Bristol was the second largest port in England and heavily involved in the slave trade (page 323). He even referred the reader to a later notation (page 529) about the slave trade. He took this paragraph as referring to the social rank of Miss Hawkins father. I’ve now ordered the annotated version you rated. I love annotated JA works for… Read more »
Cat Commons

A little annotation to my comment above. 🙂 In the first sentence I meant hyphenated word, not work.

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