Commentary: Emma

Posted 27 January, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

By: Jane Austen

Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.

I’m going to be honest here: Emma is my least favourite from Austen’s books. I had the hardest time getting into it from all her books and when I finally got around to reading it from start to finish, it just dragged (and Emma honestly irritated me but a good half of the novel) until the last five chapters.

But here I am, re-reading it again (for the first time). Maybe I missed something reading it the first time; maybe I wasn’t in the mood for the novel then. Let’s see if this re-read changed my experience with reading this book ^_~ Contains spoilers ahead!

Re-reading it this time around, I guess you could say that I’ve understand Emma’s character a bit more. She’s a clever girl that has lived a sheltered life in Highbury, I think it’s no wonder that she’s taken to the idea that she can match-make people in the area, believing that her judgment is right. I appreciate how this idea of her is challenged over time especially her perceptions of other people; she comes off as snobbish/elitist but fundamentally she is a good person and she does try to set things right whenever she does cross the line (i.e. the Bates). But that doesn’t mean my toes still curl whenever she starts meddling in other people’s affairs and love lives, especially when the results are just disastrous. I still get a bit annoyed but it’s not to the same levels as when I first read the novel.

Story-wise it still reads rather slow, though I guess this reflects the way that life runs in Highbury with all the gossip and the insular community they have in the area. I noticed that the dialogue sometimes run rather monologue-ish, which can be a little tiring after a while, but there’s also a lot of hearsay, especially when it’s about Frank Churchill.

What’s interesting this time around is how some of the other characters have caught my attention. I felt particularly sorry for Jane Fairfax and the way she was treated for a good part of the novel. Out of all the characters in this book I probably identified with her the most because she was so reserved, unsure of how to settle in and associate with the people around her and got rather defensive when people complained about how quiet she was. I am honestly still wondering about how Frank Churchill ended up with Jane…She was totally right to call off their secret engagement at one point given how appalling his behaviour was =S She’s certainly a far more stable character to Frank’s more open and vibrant personality but it’s still a head-scratcher to me.

What also intrigued me this time around is Emma’s relationship with her sister’s husband, John Knightley. I wish we saw more of it in the novel; John isn’t like his brother George in terms of how close he is to Emma (which makes sense, but I think Emma mentioned at one point that they’re not exactly on each other’s favourites list either) but he does possess the same powers of observation and sombre advice. I wish I had written my exact thoughts when I was reading about it because I thought their exchange was very interesting, with Emma was reluctant to consider John’s advice but later she begrudgingly admitted to herself that John was aware about Mr. Elton’s attentions towards her. I thought the whole exchange was just very interesting and it does show a contrast between the two Knightley brothers.

As always, the following things amused me: Mr. Woodhouse’s fretting, the deal with the wedding cake at the beginning of the novel, Frank Churchill travelling all the way to London for a haircut (lol, seriously now) and the issue with the chickens at the end. This has to be the only Austen novel I’ve read where the most strangest/wackiest things have happened…

Anyways, two quotes I wanted to share:

“I cannot make speeches, Emma,” he soon resumed, and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” – p. 391

Mr. Knightley is just so <3 For a man who's pretty grumpy, firm and not one for embellishment per se (for lack of a better word to explain him, really--you know how he is =P), this is such a poignant phrase. In fact, it's probably what makes it so <3, the fact that the reader knows he's sincere because he's not one to say such things lightly.

What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. – p. 392

Funny thing about Jane Austen, she never tells you how her heroine responds after the hero declares his love for her. I love how she phrases how they respond though–like this one =)

Overall my experience re-reading Emma wasn’t as dragging and painful as it was the previous time. Emma still irked me a bit with her insistence in meddling a bit with Harriet’s love life and her perspective on people’s feelings and actions and some of her behaviour but some of the other characters fascinated me a little bit more than before. It hasn’t moved up or anything on my list of favourite Austen novels but it isn’t as bad as it was the first time.

In the meantime, I guess it’s time to watch the recent BBC adaptation with Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller (I stalled on it because I had wanted to re-read the book…and because Jeremy Northam is still Mr. Knightley to me). I caught bits of it (the end of it really, haha) and it looks lovely so…

Anyways, is Emma one of your favourite Austen novels? Why do you love it? Maybe I’m still missing something in my re-read of the novel…but anyways, let me know what you think of the book! =)

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2 Responses to “Commentary: Emma”

  1. Yay, I’m glad you warmed up to Emma a little bit this time around. You have a treat ahead of you with the Romola Garai adaptation! The one with Gwyneth Paltrow is probably still my favorite, but the new one is good too.

    • The production design and cinematography looks lovely in the new adaptation! =) I think I like Romola Garai’s Emma the best but the Gwyneth Paltrow version holds a special place in my heart <3

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