Emmeline was so spectacularly successful when it was published in 1788 that by June of the following year, it was well into its third edition. Emmeline Mowbray, the ostensibly illegitimate orphan who grows up in an ancient castle in a remort part of Pembrokshire becomes engaged to her wealthy cousin Delamere only because he threatens to kill himself unless she consents to be his future wife. But the same instability and emotional excess leads him to doubt her honour and, although she is a virtuous and modest young woman, Emmeline then decides to set the terms of her own life.
Charlotte Smith's first novel caused something of a sensation because of the dangerous code of conduct it appeared to condone; not only was she writing about illegitimacy, broken engagements, dishonest aristocrats and a dissolute husband, she also failed to punish her guilty characters. Yet the Bluestockings Mrs Carter and Mrs Montague sang the author's praises and sent her their best wishes, hoping that the income from the sales of Emmeline would secure Charlottes Smith's freedom from her vile husband - which indeed, it did.