Emma by Jane Austen
Published Dec 1815 by John Murray
Format: e-book; 456 pages
Also From This Author: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion
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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).
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.