The story takes place in the fictional village of Highbury and the surrounding estates of Hartfield, Randalls, and Donwell Abbey and involves the relationships among individuals in those locations consisting of "3 or 4 families in a country village." The novel was first published in December 1815 while the author was alive, with its title page listing a publication date of 1816. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian-Regency England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters and depicts issues of marriage, gender, age, and social status.
Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." In the first sentence, she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich."Emma is spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray.