Emma (1815) by Jane Austen is a wonderful classic read.
It follows the story of the title character Emma Woodhouse who is playing Cupid with everyone in her life. She has just made the match between her governess Miss. Taylor (now Mrs. Weston) and Mr. Weston when the book begins. She is living at home with her father when she takes up a new subject in seventeen-year-old Harriet Smith and begins to search for Harriet’s husband. Harriet is in love with Robert Martin who feels the same and proposes to Harriet. However, Emma has other ideas and tries to get her interested in Mr. Elton. Harriet takes her advice and turns down Robert’s proposal. We also meet Jane Fairfax who lives with her aunt Miss. Bates and her grandmother Mrs. Bates. Her love life is something of mystery throughout. Emma’s plans go a bit AWOL when Harriet begins to have feelings for Mr. Knightley who Emma is in love with but doesn’t realise that she is.
The book deals with a lot of important issues like class, gender roles and the ‘Irish Question’. Austen’s writing is so great because she deals with issues like this in an inwoven way with the conversations. She doesn’t make them some far off thing but then in the same instance she does. It’s intriguing how she does it. Romance and love are obviously themes of the book and she weaves a lot of these issues into these themes as well as the theme of society. Her books are like a study in people done through fiction. Some of the more dramatically, soppy sentiments I can’t see people saying even in the time but I could be wrong. But I will admit I find it hilarious, like a guilty pleasure to read them all going overboard about everyone. Even those they don’t know that well. But at the same time, the characters are recognizable too. For example, we all know a Miss. Bates. Someone who never shuts the hell up but is super adorable at the same time. We all know a Mr. Woodhouse who hates the parties and is super health conscious bordering on the obsessive. We all know an Emma Woodhouse who interferes in everybody’s business or a Jane Fairfax who is shrouded in mystery.
I think my favourite characters were Harriet and Jane Fairfax. I wasn’t overly invested in their stories but for most of the book my favourite character was Mr. Knightley. I liked his opinionated nature. He was the only one who seemed to actually be himself and not be trying to people please and he was interesting. But near the end, he made a strange comment about been in love with Emma since she was thirteen at least and considering he is quite a bit older than Emma that put me very much off him. It came so late in the novel that I found myself thinking that Jane Austen created an amazing character and then totally destroyed him at the end. Emma is not a character I like but who I totally think was the best person to be the protagonist. She is interesting, complex and involved in everybody’s business so there is lots of story to tell there. But I do find her selfish and so into how people appear in society that she forgets that these people have feelings. It feels like she is moving people around on a chess board in order to create a soap opera she can watch. That’s fantastic if you are a writer, not so fantastic with real people. The way she treated Harriet and Robert was really awful.
This book is really great. You can tell that Jane Austen was very invested in the characters and that she had fleshed out their backstories very well including many of the minor characters. You really get to know these people. I liked how she had a Miss. Bates in a book of all these people obsessed with marriage. I liked the subtle mystery in the story about Jane’s story. I liked how she wrote Emma’s ‘reality’ versus the actual realities and I liked the attention to detail. You can literally see the scenes before you.
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