Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Jane Austen's excellent Emma has been sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years - I'd started it and hated it, and never picked it up again. In my quest to complete all the books that we currently own, I picked it up. I have no clue why I didn't love it the first time. It is an excellent book, and both fun and fast to read.

The title character was once described by Austen herself as a heroine who "no one but myself will much like", but Emma Woodhouse must be the most interesting character she created. Emma is flawed and self-delusional but charming and witty, causes harm where she means only good, captivates everyone around her though committed to never marrying. Her father is a comical eccentric, an extreme hypochondriac who hates changes to his comfortable life. The other people in her circle are robust characters so well written they leap from the pages: simple Harriet Smith, stalwort Mr. Knightly, dashing Frank Churchill, dear Mr. and Mrs. Weston, boring Miss Bates, irritating Mrs. Elton.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has either read other Austen novels or seen the movie Clueless. Emma lives with her father on an estate some miles from London. She has taken Harriet Smith, a sweet girl from a lesser societal rank, under her wing and commences matchmaking. After convincing Harriet to reject a marriage proposal that Emma believes to be beneath her, she lands Harriet head over heels in love with a young man who falls instead for Emma. Frank Churchill comes to town and has most everyone convinced he is in love with Emma, though that relationship also fails to pan out. By the novel's end, everyone has managed to find their perfect match and everything is tied up neatly. This pretty much sums up the action, though there are countless social visits, balls, people calling on one another, letters sent all around, and other early 19th Century hijinks.

Emma is witty and intelligent, a great read even without considering it was written nearly 200 years ago.

Next up: The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It's supposed to be one of the best Russian novels of all time, and a masterpiece of the 20th Century. I'm really looking forward to it.


Da Matic said...

hey ang! so i read emma a couple of summers ago when i was on this classics kick and i have to say i hated her. she was such an annoying, snobby busybody. i found it had to finish the book. its funny but i liked her character more in film (the gwyneth paltrow version more than the kate beckensdale one) than in book form. i think in written form she lacks the charm that most people associate with the idea of her. maybe i'll give her another go at some point but i've still got a couple of austen books to read so that i've read them all.

Angie said...

Yes, the character Emma is all of those things, but I found her charming in spite of it. The character is one of Austen's more "real" characters, and certainly one of the most memorable. Emma is the only Austen heroine I can think of (though I haven't yet read Persuasion or Mansfield Park) who isn't hell-bent on marrying for money, so that's refreshing, too. I can certainly appreciate your perspective, but would encourage you to give Emma another shot if you have the time!