Emma

The world really doesn't need another book review of Emma by Jane Austen.  I'm sure I can't do justice to the many literary critiques that have already been composed for the novel and as someone who went through high school when the movie Clueless was all the rage, I hardly feel the need to summarize Austen's plot.  Yet amid my frenzied writing last month, I managed to finally make my way through this novel. Though it was a rather slow read, I did find that I enjoyed it quite a lot. 


The writing is typical Austen.  Occasionally I find that the flowery prose of classic literature can bog down the pace of a book.  Sometimes with verbose writers, I tend to enjoy the book more if I know the story ahead of time.  Some readers would argue that it's more enjoyable to not know the ending, but for me, having at least a framework of the plot helps me keep the characters straight in my mind.  Knowing ahead of time which couples will marry, which friends are related, and which aunt and cousin and in-law are to be loved, liked, and hated, respectively; allows me to enjoy the words and descriptions more than if I had to constantly pause and redefine the relationships in my head every few chapters.  I can bet that this sentiment will earn me some rotten tomatoes from Austen purists who insist that the movie can never be as good as the book, but I really do find that watching a story beforehand increases my enjoyment of the literature.

With that said, I have to highlight a few of my favorite Emma moments.  First off, I should mention that I read this book on my Kindle.  I know I haven't been singing Kindle praises on this blog as much as I have in real life, but if ever there is a genre to recommend the device, classic literature is it.  Not only are most works available for free, but the dictionary function is a grand and awesome feature.  For example, at one point Austen refers to one character as a "valetudinarian".  I can't say it's a word that I had ever encountered before, but one click of the Kindle cursor and I was informed by the New Oxford American Dictionary that the word refers to "a person who is unduly anxious about their health".  See?  Thanks to Jane Austen and my Kindle I now have a delightfully distinguished way to call someone a hypochondriac!

Another interesting quote I was intrigued by was the comment,

"Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of."
I think my jaw dropped a bit when I read that one.  It seems rather callous to group marriage and death in one small observation, but it made me realize that Austen was a bit fearless in her writing.  This is just one of many critiques of society that is peppered throughout her writing and I admire her technique of saying something so biting in such an innocuous manner.  I can almost see her contemporaries reading that passage plainly and then hopping back to it after a pause to wonder if indeed they had just been insulted. 

And since I can't resist highlighting the title character of this novel, let me comment briefly on Miss Emma Woodhouse.  I don't know that I ever fully decided if I liked her charcacter.  She is privileged and talented, a lady of good society; but in a way, that polish makes her slightly less accessible than say, Elizabeth Bennet.    As the story evolves and the reader sees Emma making mistakes, weaving her own little comedy of errors, she does become a bit more endearing.  Her wit and wisdom were gradually revealed and one of my favorite lines was when she declares,
"I am very sorry to be right in this instance.  I would much rather have been merry than wise."
I think this statement of ignorance is bliss, brought a bit of humility into Emma's character and in this and other similar pieces of dialog, I did come to appreciate her as the heroine of the novel.  Knowing that she would end up with Knightley in the end made it no less joyful or satisfying.  If anything, the anticipation of them finally recognizing their mutual admiration for each other only added to its sweetness.

I know many Austen scholars consider Emma her finest work.  For me, Pride and Prejudice still remains my favorite, but I'm a long way from reading the Austen cannon so my sample size is limited.  Persuasion will be the next Austen I pick up, but those that voted in my sidebar poll over the last few months, determined that my next classic read will be The Count of Monte Cristo.  With 13 votes, it edged out Persuasion's 10, but the Austen fans may have been a bit divided as Northanger Abbey tied Frankenstein for third place with 8 votes each.

So what are your thoughts:  Have you read Emma?  Are you ever a movie before the book person?  Do you have a favorite Austen work?

4 Response to "Emma"

  1. Tif says:
    December 7, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    This has nothing to do with your review, but I have to comment anyways! I'm going to start reading The Count of Monte Cristo in the next few weeks too!! Can't wait to compare notes! :)

  2. Sam says:
    December 7, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    Clueless was big when I was at school, I loved that movie!

    I very much enjoyed your review. I read Emma quite recently and agree that it's not as enjoyable as Pride and Prejudice. Like you, I couldn't decide whether or not I liked Emma and found there was a bit too much discussion of social status and gossip. Still very enjoyable though.

  3. Casey (The Bookish Type) says:
    December 7, 2010 at 8:42 PM

    I'm usually a total purist, but the Paltrow adaptation of Emma wasn't too terrible =) I definitely agree - I'm not a huge fan of Emma as a character -- but I think that was kind of the point. Austen said, in writing Emma, she was writing a character that no one but herself would much like. The greatest thing about this book is the biting social commentary of which Austen was such a master. She makes me laugh out loud all the time. You hit the nail on the head with this review. I adore Austen and have read her works multiple times -- I think Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey are my favorites. P&P is the romance to end all romances, and Northanger Abbey is the most hilarious satire I've ever read. I'm also a huge fan of Persuasion though -- oh, I just can't choose! I hope you love them all! I can't wait to read your reviews!

  4. curlygeek04 says:
    December 11, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Emma is my favorite Austen book, I think because she's so strong and independent a character, and so flawed. Elizabeth Bennett is more perfect so as you say, less endearing. Also I love the idea of a heroine who doesn't care if she falls in love or gets married.

    I know a lot of people love Persuasion, and that one just did nothing for me. I still need to read Northanger Abbey.

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