Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Emma - Jane Austen

EMMA, first published in 1816, was written when Jane Austen was at the height of her powers. In it, we have her two greatest comic creations -- the eccentric Mr. Woodhouse and that quintessential bore, Miss Bates. In it, too, we have her most profound characterization: the witty, imaginative, self-deluded Emma, a heroine the author declared "no one but myself will much like," but who has been much loved by generations of readers. Delightfully funny, full of rich irony, EMMA is regarded as one of Jane Austen's finest achievements.

I remember reading Emma when I was in my teens and thinking that she was very annoying with her plans to manage everyone else's life. I still feel a bit that way and Emma will never be my favourite Austen heroine but I also see how far she goes towards realizing that her influence might not be a good thing and that she was so busy directing everyone else's life that she almost didn't see her own chance at happiness. Not sure if Knightley will keep her in line after the wedding though or if she won’t be able to resist a bit of matchmaking in the future...

Emma is the story of a young lady, secure in her fortune and position in society, who spends her life running her father's household, helping the poor of the parish with baskets of food, visiting with friends and, believing  to know human nature and to have a gift for matchmaking, trying to arrange other people's relationships. There are no bif problems to deal with, Austen keeps this a light and entertaining story where, although some live modestly and have to work, they all seem to have a measure of happiness in life.

To me Emma lacks the wit of Elizabeth Bennett or the depth of character of Anne Elliott. She doesn't even read as much as Knightley and Miss Taylor would like her too (what a sin!) and she is so carefree that she even hurts her friends without knowing it as is the case with Miss Bates. She assumes that she knows best about what's better for the ones below her station and so leads her young friend Harriet Smith to refuse a man and creates in her expectations about another. She joins Frank Churchill in a mild flirtation never realising, as Mr Knightley does, that there is more to his attitude towards Jane Fairfax than what she believes. In the end Emma does see how wrong she was and how without her help everyone has found the right partner.

I particularly liked how Austen describes the awful Mr Elton and his wife, they provide the humourous side of this story, with their airs and behaviour considering themselves better than the others and Mr Woodhouse, always overly worried about sickness and being left alone. Mr Knightley is the voice of reason, the one that keeps trying to help Emma see things as they are and not fearing to tell when her thinks she is in the wrong. Emma is a slower read than other Austen novels but it’s definitely worth a read.

Grade: 4/5


  1. It's always a pleasure to read a good reader's impressions of one of my favourite novels. Emma is a comic novel so Emma must be funny and amusing and her fawls must make us laugh so she can't be anything like Lizzie or Anne. What I can't agree with is when you say that she hurts Miss Bates carelessly... Even worse, she does it on purpose, to catch Frank Churchill's attention and approval. She is tremendously self-centred and immature, but she improves and changes, in the end.
    When she was writing EMMA, Jane said in one of her letters: I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like!

  2. Yes and for most of the book Emma is really not very likeable, but you are right. She does improve.

  3. Oh, I love Emma! She is such a well-written character - so human with all her faults, and yet with a good heart.

    I always have a soft corner for her :)


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