Saturday, March 19, 2011

Emma -- Jane Austen

 Emma by Jane Austen. 1815.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

I have a love-hate relationship with Emma. You see, I don't like Emma, the character. On the other hand, Emma is a fun treat because she's so very clueless. She is unaware of herself. She's unaware of the world around her. She just doesn't get it. Once the reader is aware of this, knows that Emma is the joke of the book--an inside joke shared between the reader and the author, then it's a fun book. The reader has a clue while the heroine is helplessly stuck on herself and her misconceptions about reality. Emma may think she's wise in matters of the world, of the heart, of the home. But the reader knows better!

The plot of this one is relatively simple: Emma thinks she's good at matchmaking. Pairing up single men and women. But the fact that she misreads signs of affection and devotion left and right mean that the unfortunate soul she's trying to do good by is in for a messy few months. Emma is the last person who should be giving out advice. In a way, the relationship between Emma and Harriet reminds me of that of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Emma is promising Harriet a fine match with a good man, a man of some means, a true gentleman, and handsome too. Just like Don Quixote keeps promising Sancho that he'll reward his service by making him a governor of some province (or the like). But in reality, the faith that their loyal friends place in them is hopelessly misguided.

Of course, the book is more than just about Emma and Harriet. It also features the much-praised Jane Fairfax and the mysterious Frank Churchill. I don't have an opinion of Jane Fairfax really. She's much more patient than I would expect any girl to be under the circumstances. But since we only see her through Emma's eyes, it's hard to know what she's really like. Frank Churchill, I definitely have an opinion of...I think he was awful...and I really have no sympathy at all for him. I think both Emma and Jane have reason to be ticked. And he wouldn't have gotten off that easy if I'd been Austen. Then there is the true hero of Emma, Mr. Knightley. If there is redemption in Emma it is found in the character of Mr. Knightley.

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