Friday, 16 September 2011

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen follows the story of intelligent, but prejudiced, Emma Woodhouse in the various machinations of Highbury. I’ve only read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen so I can’t personally compare it to all her other works, but I’ve read that she departs from the typical story of a lady trying to find love (a husband) and also financial security. The reason I decided to read this was because I read Pride and Prejudice and loved Austen’s writing. I intend to read everything she wrote now.

The story in Emma is not really there, but that didn’t bother me. The main chunk of story was looking into Emma’s head and seeing what she thought about events and how she planned to react to each of them. The romance of the story is the most important because Emma considers herself quite the match-maker originally. And even when she turns away from this, we can still see how she can’t help herself just a little. Though it is not overstated humour, I genuinely found this extremely amusing to read- especially when she catches herself doing something she shouldn’t.

The characters are strong in the book, as they have to be to make up for plot, but some of them are a bit too perfect. Harriet is the soul of love and innocence, Mr. Knightley (who, only late on, I realised his name was George) is the perfect gentleman. But otherwise, most have some depth, if only a little. I’ll talk about Emma, because she is easily the most important.

Emma is, in Austen’s own words, “…a heroine whom no one but myself will much like…” and though her potential lack of likability shows through, I liked Emma. And I saw myself in her, which is understandable considering these are quite realistic characters, but I could understand everything she did. This is a little bad, but it led to me really liking Emma. She is quite funny, and insightful, but mostly spoilt. You can see how, as clever as she is, she’s a bit dense because she judges everyone by her very high standards. Her influence is that she can inspire gentility, but also makes people believe they are of a much higher standing and expecting too much. Emma herself said she won’t marry because she has everything and doesn’t want to leave her father- who is much too concerned about herself which was amusing, but kind of annoying as well. Despite adding the conflict in some of Emma’s choice and a bit of humour, he was a little useless and I found him a tad tiresome. Obviously, I am not overly suited to be a Georgian Gentleman.

Jane Fairfax was also quite an interesting character, probably because of Emma’s ideas about her and their reconciliation. I think I may look at getting Joan Aiken’s Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen's Emma.

The time of the story is in the nineteenth century but no more specific than that. In my experience with Austen, there is a sense that the local community, some other near areas, plus London comprises the entirety of their worlds, so any events at the time are irrelevant because the people do not connect with it. Anyway (revenons à nos moutons), I was going to say that I really like this century, it turns out.  The manners and politeness (as well as the implied ‘cattiness’) always make for interesting reading and, luckily, I’m doing the 1800s for my History A-Level which means I can defend reading this as ‘revision’, kind of. The most interesting thing to read is a woman’s response to how life was.

The romance between Emma and her ‘sweet-heart’, putting it so to avoid spoilers, was always there, but even I was convinced by his apparent friendliness that was nothing more, and a supposed alternate attraction. It was the kind of couple that I thought would actually work. Personally, I think that this type of more classical romance is much more believe than a lot of romance in books I read. I accept that I don’t really read romance anyway, but I think that I’m a bit more of a traditional romantic and like the way it used to be done compared to nowadays. And it isn’t that skin-crawling instant love I’ve come to hate. It dawns upon characters, and what follows is restlessness until their other halves return. It’s much more pleasant and readable for me.

NB. I just smiled writing that last paragraph, so I hope this demonstrates how much I prefer this romance.

I can’t think of much more to say, because I really love Austen and what would follow would just be gushing about inconsequential things I liked, and the nonsensical reasons why I love them. The only thing (since there must be one) that I would say bothered me is that everything always works out in these books. As much as I like classic novels, I sometimes wish everything was so well-ending. It just doesn’t happen.

Emma is a fantastic book for anyone who likes classic romances, and any one who has read Austen should like this book. I am incredibly biased, and would have given the book an easy five, but I feel that that is just my fanatical Austen-obsessed side show too much. The story is believable, well characterised,  but perhaps a bit too fortuitous sometimes.

EDIT: Look at the pretty word cloud! Emma Review


  1. Emma's my favorite heroine of Austen's because she's actually flawed. She's a delightful person, but she is outright wrong-wrong-wrong on some issues, unlike Lizzie, who is just mistaken.

    I used to hate Jane Fairfax for being so mild, but now I beleive there's a lot more to her--she's a silent sufferer, and the guy she ends up with is a self-serving jerk, so even though she loves him, I don't think she got as good a deal as Emma.

  2. You say her characters weren't flawed, but surely at the time people might have thought so? Lizzie refusing marriage: preposterous! As Mr. Collins said, it made no sense to people of that era. Admittedly, Austen probably set out to make her quite faultless to make her likeable and because classical protagonists tend to be a bit like that, at least in the few (maybe 10-15) I've read.

    I don't think I would have thought much about Jane, except that I happened to stop reading for about an hour after I read her little story. I dwelt a bit on what was going on with her and realised I was really interested. I think I always expected Jane to be hiding something: how couldn't she be when she was so bland? I might even argue that she presents a more lady-like woman than Emma, who seems to just be polite within reason and her temper.