Emma, by Jane Austen, Read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Emma, Jane Austen’s fourth novel was published in 1815 and dedicated to the Prince Regent, later King George IV.  The dedication was a request by the Prince and not Austen’s idea. She privately abhorred the Regent for his treatment of his wife Princess Caroline, and his abhorrent dissipated lifestyle. In 1813 she wrote to her friend Martha Lloyd, “I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband.” She did, however, recognize the value of his Royal name and agreed to the dedication.

Lacking Incident, Romance, and Story?

Upon publication, Emma had its own share of critics. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked “incident and romance,” and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

Emma Woodhouse, Rather a Pill

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”?

A Small Village Filled with Endearingly Flawed Characters

During the course of the novel, we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she matchmakes for her friends with disastrous results. It is no wonder that Maria Edgeworth gave up reading Emma after the first volume. At that point, we have met most of the characters in Emma’s insular world and are coming to fully understand her ignorance and misguided perceptions in relation to them. She is truly exasperating. Austen tests our endurance fully as the novel progresses and her heroine continues to make mistakes. It is a testament to her skill as a writer and deft comedian that she holds our fascination with the “busy nothings” of every-day country life in Highbury, a small village filled with endearingly flawed characters.

Austen’s Remarkable Skill at Characterization Shines

The transformation of the heroine from spoiled and insufferable into a contrite, mature and likable young lady that you want to root for, is nothing less than remarkable. It is truly a shame that Edgeworth could not recognize the genius of Austen’s sly sashay of characterization into a world that could be your own neighborhood. We can only account that, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Narrator Juliet Stevenson is Perfection!

If you liked the new BBC/PBS miniseries Emma (2009), enjoy the original novel with all of Austen’s resplendent language in this expertly produced audio recording. Superbly read by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, viewers of the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma will remember her superb portrayal of the vulgar a vacuous Mrs. Elton and know you are in for a treat. Adding an equal measure of energy and humor to each of the characters, Stevenson’s perfect blending of a classic novel and a sensitive interpretation enhanced my enjoyment greatly. Add this to your audiobook collection for your  commute to work, while exercising, or as the sole center of attention while sipping tea on a Sunday afternoon. I highly recommend it. “It is such a happiness when good people get together — and they always do.” Ch 21

5 out of 5 Stars


  • Emma, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson
  • Audile.com (June 06, 2008) 
  • Naxos AudioBooks, Unabridged, 16 hours and 39 minutes
  • ASIN: B001AWVS08
  • Genre: Classic Literature


We received a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Audible.com © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, austenprose.com. Updated 2 April 2022.

40 thoughts on “Emma, by Jane Austen, Read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos AudioBooks) – A Review

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  1. My favorite character is Mr. Knightley. Throughout the book, he seems to be one of the few around Emma who can see through Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill’s. He’s also one of the few who can put Emma in her place without coddling.

    As for movie adaptions, Clueless will probably always be my favorite, but Romola Garai ‘s version is trying to unseat it. I’ve really enjoyed the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I, too, love Mr. Knightley. Emma is the Austen novel whose adaptations I am least familiar with, but I did really enjoy the Romola Garai version. I especially loved the ending!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a hard one, but, i thought i would give it a try. This is my first encounter with a Jane Austen novel (confession: i am thirty-three). I might as well have grown up under a rock, and, from there persued a career in medicine, sadly amazing literature was lost a long the way! My 90+ year old aunt recommended the PBS special to me, and, was appropriately horrified that i had never read Emma. How could i dissappoint her?!?! So i watched and am now in love with the story and can’t wait to finish Emma and read more (if only grad school would cooperate).

    I have to say, so far, my favorite character has actually been Harriet (of course i am not very far in to the novel, so, i reserve the right to re-think this one). While it is hard to resist choosing Mr. Knightley (how can you not love him in the novel or on screen), Harriet has been the one to make me pause and think. I can’t help but wonder if she doesn’t know, suspect, etc. more than she lets on. I am not sure if i like her because she is actually the “innocent” in what i have read so far, or, if it is because she has almost (but not quite) convinced me that she appears innocent in all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL Claire! John Knightley is hilarious. In the scene at Randalls for the Christmas eve party he knows that Mr. Woodhouse is fretting over the snow and purposely proclaims it’s snowing it rile him!

      I love this quote by him.

      “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does.” John Knightley Ch 34


      Liked by 1 person

  4. How fortuitous! I just downloaded this audiobook to my iPod last week, LA! I love Juliet Stevenson, so I know I’m in for a great treat. 

    As to my favorite character, it would have to be Emma… you nonsensical girl.  As to adaptation, Northam and Miller’s portrayal of Mr Knightley is still fighting it out for top position. 

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mr. Knightley is definitely my favorite character. He’s just what a man ought to be, and I love everything about him. I think he’d be a much a better boyfriend than Mr. Darcy. My friend and I always used to say we were looking for our own “Mr. Knightley.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, such a treat of a giveaway and I lurve Juliet’s voice! Oh Lord please let this one be me!!!!

    My favorite character is George, aka Mr. Knightley!! He reminds me of Henry Tilney in N A novel too. Mr. K is just mature enough to wait for Emma to come into her own feelings while guiding her into being a woman. I swoon & sigh, to read such devotionif his character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Janeen, hmm? Yes Mr. Knightley and Henry Tilney are similar in that they both are more experienced with the world than the heroine and offer advice and corrections. Henry is just more charming about it.

      Thanks for visiting. Hope you win. LA

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In the recent miniseries version of Emma, Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton was my favorite. Much more interesting than boring Mr. Knightly. He’s just what Highbury needs to wake it up a bit. And I loved his hair.

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with Mr. Knightly. I find it creepy he’s almost 20 years older than Emma and watched her grow up, just waiting for her to get old enough to marry. The fact that his younger brother is married to her older sister adds to my unease.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My favorite character is Jane Fairfax. She is clearly an excellent, talented young woman. She must have suffered so watching Frank Churchill flirt with Emma. I think she is charming and her secret is the best surprise in the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lynnae – I too admire Jane and think her quite excellent. Her biggest flaw is over-looking Frank’s flaws. How she could watch him flirt outrageously with Emma and still want him is unforgiveable to today’s relationship standards. In 1815, a women did not really have a choice. Jane even more so because of her financial dire situation. I do not imagine her made her very happy in marriage and envision him engaging in daliances.

      Thanks for your comments. LA

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My favorite character is Emma. I love how the begining of the novel gives you this smart (although spoiled) child who has all this social power, and then you get to experience her struggle to become an adult worthy of that power. I think he recent mini-series did a nice job bringing some of this out She’s actually my third favorite Austen heroine (after Anne & Catherine).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I adore Juliet Stevenson and I loved her Mrs. Elton–and pretty much anything else she’s ever done; “book” Emma is my favorite character and the dog sitting by my feet is named after her (and she has as high opinion of herself as does Miss Woodhouse)!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I like Mrs. Taylor and both of the Mr. Knightleys. I also like Mr. Woodhouse because even though he is foolish and overprotective, he loves his daughters dearly. I enjoyed this miniseries adaptation of Emma more than the movie. This is the first of the PBS Austen adaptations I have gotten to watch, and I am looking forward to the next two weeks. I enjoy Jane Austen’s work so much!


  12. I adore Mr. Knightley, and I’ve especially loved Jonny Lee Miller’s take on the character. Just the right balance of frustration and romantic angst! :)


  13. I have lately become hooked on listening to audiobooks. I love Emilia Fox’s reading of Pride and Prejudice. Juliet Stevenson is amazing and I’ve listened to her reading of Persuasion and I love it! I’m sure her Emma is just as wonderful.

    Not to sound like a broken record, but I adore Mr. Knightley (Northam or JLM). I also love Mrs. Weston, she is such a humble and steadfast friend to Emma. I have loved her character in each adaptation.


  14. I really like all of the characters in Emma—they are each delightful in their own way—however, I have a particular fondness for Mr. John Knightley. He entertains me greatly and has some of my favorite speeches.

    “A man,” said he, “must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. …” &c. &c.


  15. The 2009 Emma adaptation is my favorite version. (It comes in second after the ’95 Pride and Prejudice adaptation) I believe that the cast was chosen well. I will watch this version again and again! Bravo Sandy Welsh!!


  16. Oooh, I’d love to listen to this audiobook! My favorite character is Mr. Knightley, but in the lastest adapatation I found Rupert Evans’ Frank Churchill such a perfect scoundrel, I almost couldn’t resist him!


  17. I like Miss Bates. What a busy body. Oddly enough I relate to her on basic level. Chatty, rambler but went she’s dissed by Emma, Bates is so hurt. However, she means well.


  18. I would have to say just as almost everyone else…Mr Knightley…sigh…but I do like Mr. Woodhouse and his cake! In the last adaptation I must say Mr. Elton did delight me in his wickedness as well! Thanks for the wonderful giveaway!


  19. Emma found her life to be oher than what she planned as do we all. Too bad that none of us know what really good people are together,even if most of them are not.


  20. I love Miss Bates too! To me, the genius of Jane Austen is the way she introduces personality and character weakness into all of her creations. I see myself in everybody, but no one quite so much as Miss Bates. God bless her chatty little heart!


  21. Way too hard to decide!! More than any other Jane Austen novel, I love every single character in Emma. They all are quirky, hilarious, and unique. If I had to pick one, it would have to be Mr. Knightley/

    Thank you for the wonderful opportunity, Laurel Ann!


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