Sunday, July 24, 2011

Emma by Jane Austen

The summer  lit-fest continues! July 10-16 was spent with Emma, my third Jane Austen novel of 2011. Austen isn't the only author I've revisited this year; she and Charles Dickens are tied so far with three novels each. I've also read two each by James Fenimore Cooper and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So far Dickens and Austen are two of my favorites, so I haven't minded reading multiple works by them, but these choices are more a reflection of what I had on hand than of anything else.

Emma Woodhouse is in many ways a different sort of heroine than Elizabeth Bennet or Marianne Dashwood. If you have only read P&P and S&S and you fear that Austen only retells the same story under different names, read Emma.  There are, of course, many similarities, but both the characters and the plot are unique. Emma Woodhouse has no sisters, is very well-off with no financial worries, and she doesn't wish to marry. Rather, Emma prefers to set up romances for other people, and throughout the novel this results in many situations that are alternately hilarious and awkward.

That said, Emma does have similarities with other Austen heroines, and with Austen herself.  Emma is an intelligent young woman without the ability to change her living situation or her everyday life. She doesn't have much to do, and she has few companions her own age. Critics who point out that Austen's heroine's often live lives of little substance should thank Austen for accurately transcribing the safe but meaningless fate of middle- and upper-class women in the early 19th century.

Spoiled but smart and lovely: Emma
Aptly named dark horse: George Knightley
Juvenile flirt: Frank Churchill
Nemesis turned friend: Jane Fairfax
Airhead: Harriet Smith
Love to hate: Augusta Elton
Don't eat that!: Henry Woodhouse
There was a lot of: parties, calling, outings, letters, notes, coach rides
There should have been more: descriptions of food. Fluffy novels never talk enough about food.
This book makes you want to: examine the evidence a la Sherlock Holmes, not a la Emma, surround yourself with people and activities of substance
This book makes you glad you don't have to: go calling on people, adhere to severe social protocol, eat thin gruel every night with Mr. Woodhouse


bren j. said...

Ah yes, the "gru-el." If you see the old BBC version of this, the way Mr. Woodhouse says gruel just never gets old.

You have yet to read "Persuasion", easily the best Austen novel.....

Sarah said...

Just a note - Emma does have an older sister, Isabella, who is married to Mr Knightley's younger brother, John! :)