Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Emma

Book Details
Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
2005, Barnes and Noble Classics
Originally published in 1816
ISBN: 1593081529

Summary (from
Emma Woodhouse is a wealthy, exquisite, and thoroughly self-deluded young woman who has "lived in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

Jane Austen exercises her taste for cutting social observation and her talent for investing seemingly trivial events with profound moral significance as Emma traverses a gentle satire of provincial balls and drawing rooms, along the way encountering the sweet Harriet Smith, the chatty and tedious Miss Bates, and her absurd father Mr. Woodhouse–a memorable gallery of Austen's finest personages. Thinking herself impervious to romance of any kind, Emma tries to arrange a wealthy marriage for poor Harriet, but refuses to recognize her own feelings for the gallant Mr. Knightley. What ensues is a delightful series of scheming escapades in which every social machination and bit of "tittle-tattle" is steeped in Austen's delicious irony. Ultimately, Emma discovers that "Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common."

My Review
Whew! It took me months to read this book and two attempts. This does not mean I didn't like it though. I honestly think that if I didn't have a toddler and could have just sat down and read this book through, I would have had an easier time. But, if you are easily distracted or have a lot of other thing going on to interrupt your reading, this may not be the best book to read.

Emma has A LOT of characters. There are the main characters, Emma and Mr. Knightley. Then there are loads of secondary characters, Harriet Smith, Mr. Woodhouse, Jane Farifax, Mrs. and Miss Bates, the Eltons, Mr. and Mrs. Weston, John and Isabella Knightley and Frank Churchhill. Then there are even more lesser characters that are mentioned throughout the novel. Almost all of the above named characters have their own sub-plots going on in the midst of Emma's main one. This is why I was so confused the first time through and actually ended up watching the BBC's Emma movie before making my second attempt at reading the book. I usually hate watching the movie before reading the book, but in this case, it helped me to connect the who's who and not get the characters confused.

I really enjoyed the story of Emma. She is a smart girl, but a little too full of herself and her own importance in the world. She doesn't think she needs anyone and has decided against every marrying - because she doesn't need too. She lives with her father, who is sickly, and takes care of him. She is always trying to be a matchmaker and through a series of blunders figures out that she is maybe not quite as smart as she thought. Mr. Knightley, through the book, is giving her advice, warning her against what she's thinking or doing and she is ignoring it all. I love this line by Emma, "I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other."

I think that most people can relate to Emma Woodhouse - at least in some way. One of my favorite quotes was near the end of the  book when she realizes that she and Mr. Knightley had both completely misinterpreted each others feelings for each other, "Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken." Very true, is it not? This are not usually the way they seem on the surface and feelings are not usually completely open and honest.

So, if you have a lot of time to devote to a novel, this is a great story. Apparently it has been said that Emma Woodhouse is one of Jane Austen's most perfect creations, although Jane Austen herself said that Emma was a character that, "no one but myself will much like." Obviously that's not true - I think she's just a very human character.


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