‘Emma... was certainly not revolutionary because of any intellectual or political content. But it was revolutionary in its form and technique. Its heroine is a self-deluded young woman with the leisure and power to meddle in the lives of her neighbours. The narrative was radically experimental because it was designed to share her delusions. The novel bent narration through the distorting lens of its protagonist’s mind. Though little noticed by most of the pioneers of fiction for the next century and more, it belongs with the great experimental novels of Flaubert or Joyce or Woolf. Woolf wrote that if Austen had lived longer and written more, “She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust”. In Emma, she is.’
John Mullan, author of What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, discusses Austen’s invention of a radical new way of presenting narration that became known as the free indirect style. It’s a technique that’s now so common that most people don’t even realise that it has a name, but it allowed Austen to slyly manipulate both her hero and her audience.