This was the first novel Austen published. Like all her novels published while she was alive, the cover of the first edition stated only "BY A LADY," since apparently a book written by a woman was so unheard of that it didn't matter which particular woman wrote it. Austen labored over the story of the Dashwood sisters for more than fifteen years.
For many people, this is the favorite of Austen's works. The electric exchanges between fiery Elizabeth Bennett and smoldering Mr. Darcy make for some of the best flirting in literature.
The title character brilliantly illustrates one of Austen's favorite themes: how damaging a lack of self-awareness can be. Emma Woodhouse's blundering, unsuccessful attempts to make matches for others while bungling her own love life can teach a lesson to all of us who have been "clueless" at one time or another.
This was actually the first book Austen ever sold, though it wasn't published in its final form until after her death. Originally entitled Susan, this satire of Gothic fiction was purchased by a London publisher in 1803 for £10. It was never published, and Austen angrily demanded to buy it back.
This is often cited as the best biography out there on Austen. Tomalin is a great writer who brings the details of Austen's biography to life. Her pointed notes on the cultural differences between eighteenth-century Regency England and our modern era help place Austen's books in context.
This memoir by Austen's nephew launched the phenomenon of Austenmania that we know today. This was the first biography written of the novelist, and it reignited interest in her works. Austen-Leigh's depiction of his aunt leaves out some of the sharper (and funnier) aspects of her personality, but it is a kind and interesting portrait of a woman he admired very much.