Back to the Classics 2014 Reading Challenge

(updates in blue)

I looooove challenges…they make things so much more fun! Even reading, which I already find such a thrill in :) I’m already participating in The Classics Club reading challenge, but I’ve found another challenge that I can combine with it to knock off some more novels. So, here is my tentative list for the Back to the Classics 2014 reading challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate:

  • A 20th Century Classic – Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (1904/1911) (finished 10/19/14 – review here)
  • A 19th Century Classic – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847). My read along for this novel starts Sunday!! (finished 1/22/14 – review here)
  • A Classic by a Woman Author – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) (finished 4/9/14 – review here)
  • A Classic in Translation – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862), which I plan on trying my hardest to read in French! Maybe I should get started on that novel right away… Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864). Les Mis was too long and I started reading this Verne classic instead, and in French too! (finished 12/28/14 – review here)
  • A Classic About War War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898) (finished 11/21/14 – review here)
  • A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868), which I can’t believe I have never read before. (finished 5/24/14 – review here)

Optional Categories:

  • An American Classic – For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940), better get one of my dreaded Hemingway novels out of the way…perhaps I’ll enjoy it this time? I tried!! I decided to go with A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959) instead (finished 12/19/14 – review here)
  • A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817), the only Austen novel I have yet to read! (finished 2/25/14 – review here)
  • A Historical Fiction Classic – The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844) The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1883) (finished 11/3/14 – review here)
  • A Classic That’s Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series – North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855) (finished 12/14/14 – review here), I’m really excited about this one because it’ll give me an excuse to watch the mini-series for the…
  • Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4 – North and South, obviously :) (finished 12/14/14 – review here)

This is just a tentative list…I may just change the novels I read, or I might not even complete the optional categories. We shall see :)

Jane Austen’s Emma

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I wish all books were this pretty!

Emma by Jane Austen
Published Dec 1815 by John Murray
Classic/Romance
Format: e-book; 456 pages
Also From This Author: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: 4/5

This summer I was on a Jane Austen spree; I read Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and finally Emma. It was my first time reading it, although I was already familiar with the story because of the 1996 film version (featuring the worst period-era wig ever, courtesy of Ewan McGregor).

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Seriously, he looks like the Mad Hatter.

But I never really liked Emma as a character. She’s snobby, meddlesome, and rather immature (like when she gets upset at not being able to decline an invitation because she wasn’t even invited…ugh). However, after finally reading the novel I actually came to *like* Emma, or maybe I just really liked Mr. Knightley ;) His speech near the end was so sweet, and I love this little excerpt afterwards:

He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery. (Chapter 49)

So there were great, swoon-worthy parts of the novel. But the worst, the worst part about Emma is the Box Hill picnic, when Emma maliciously makes fun of Miss Bates in front of all their friends. Because I had already seen the 1996 movie before reading the novel, I was dreading, absolutely dreading that chapter the entire time. And while I was watching the movie again after finishing the novel, I even muted the TV for a good minute and a half during that one excruciating part. There are a handful of books that contain chapters which I dread reading that much, but at least we are able to truly see Emma’s repentant heart afterwards.

Jane Austen’s novels frequently convey the motif of misunderstandings, and Emma is stock-full of them. She misunderstands the attentions and actions of Mr. Elton, Mr. Frank Churchill, and if that isn’t enough, Mr. Knightley as well. Clearly Emma does not possess an appropriate skill-set in order to be a successful matchmaker. Each of Emma’s misunderstandings add to the humor and drama of the plot, but they also help Emma to mature before the reader, and while I started the novel with the opinion of Emma being vain, selfish, and snobby, I ended it admiring Emma for her kind heartedness, compassion, and humility. There were two instances in which I loved Emma the most, the first being after Mr. Elton’s proposal, when Emma feels worse for her friend Harriet than she does for herself:

Every part of it brought pain and humiliation, of some sort or other; but, compared with the evil to Harriet, all was light; and she would gladly have submitted to feel yet more mistaken—more in error—more disgraced by mis-judgment, than she actually was, could the effects of her blunders have been confined to herself. (Chapter 16)

I absolutely admired her selflessness in this passage, and it added greatly to my sympathy for Emma in the second instance, near the end of the novel, when she suspects Mr. Knightley is about to confess his feelings for Harriet. At first Emma silences Mr. Knightley, but then, seeing how she has pained him, puts her duty as a friend over her own heartbreak, and pleads for Mr. Knightley to speak of anything he would like to. That must have taken immense courage.

I am very glad I gave Emma another chance. Even though I would not consider it my favorite Jane Austen novel, nor would I consider any of the characters my most favorite or least favorite, it was an enjoyable read with memorable themes and humorous indirect dialogue, without which I doubt I would have been able to laugh at or sympathize with our headstrong heroine.