Sunday, February 24, 2013

A look at Jane Austen’s Emma

(Disclaimer: This blog contains spoilers, so if you have not read or seen Emma, or other Jane Austen works, proceed with caution.)
You may have guessed that I recently finished reading Emma by Jane Austen, which is known to be one of the top favorites of her works.  I did quite enjoy it myself and I agree that it is entertaining for being generally uneventful.  As I was reaching the conclusion, I realized that each novel I read before this one had some disastrous event occur before the end.  In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood falls terribly ill and everyone is in fear of her not recovering.  Pride and Prejudice, Lydia Bennett runs off with Mr. Wickham and shames her family.  Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford, supposedly in love with Fanny Price, runs off with her married cousin, Maria Rushworth.  Mostly scandal, but always exciting in some way.  Emma lacks this exciting turn of events, unless you count the discovery of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax’s secret engagement.  Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable read.
Most of the characters have their own distinct faults, Emma and her father being the delusional ones, but they are still charming and lovable.  From the get-go, I found Miss Bates terribly annoying and I hated reading her one- and two-page long dialogue of absolutely nothing; it was taxing on the brain.  As it happens with most who read this, I felt more sympathy and kindness for her when she was shamed terribly by Emma at Box Hill.  Yes, she talks incessantly about the menial nothings, but that is why we love her. There weren’t really any truly spiteful characters in the story, except for Mrs. Elton, but we can gloss her over in the end.  Unlike Wickham and Miss Bingley (who is just unpleasant) in P&P, and Willoughby in S&S, the characters in Emma are mostly kind-hearted and well-meaning, truly thoughtful of the neighbors around them.  Excepting Mrs. Elton and her husband, Emma is probably the one with the most fault.
Normally you go into a Jane Austen novel expecting a near-perfect heroine who always does the right thing and you cheer for her at every turn, and usually you do.  You cheer and hope for Emma when she endeavors to aid Harriet, or when she realizes her love for Mr. Knightley, however she is the one heroine you follow with whom you find yourself disagreeing or wanting to slap some sense into her.  She has her own perspective and her own idea of how things should be, and it’s no wonder where she gets it when you see Mr. Woodhouse go on about the proper weather for this and that and the correct way to prepare a leg of pork.  No one should ever bother to think otherwise to him, and that’s almost exactly how she acts herself. Indeed they are still charming characters with warm hearts, but sometimes you want to slap them.
I don’t know what there is to say about Jane Austen and her writing style that she has not already shown herself.  On the surface, her novels are romantic and sometimes empowering, but if you know enough of the time she lived in and the people involved, you could start to see the satire in her work.  The forewords in my books allude to this and I have yet to really see it as I’m reading.  I’m still adjusting to the language, I suppose.  One thing to touch on in regards to Emma are the movies made, because why wouldn’t you discuss those?  The favorite, of course, being “Clueless” and is really well done when you know the book it modernizes.  I’ll have to watch it again for greater enjoyment.  I have made it a habit to watch the movie adaptation after finishing the book to better grasp the plot, and I chose to watch the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse.  I was so excited at the beginning to discover that Ewan McGregor and Alan Cumming were in it as well, but suddenly disappointed when I realized Cumming would be playing Mr. Elton.  Overall I don’t think the movie was that great; it followed the book well enough, but each event moved into another quite dully and the movie was over before I knew it.  It was as if they didn’t even try to liven up the characters or the happenings.  The gypsy scene was ridiculous.  One minute they see the gypsies in the woods, the next Harriet is on the ground surrounded by starving gypsies and suddenly here comes Frank Churchill like he used his Jedi-trained body and mind to arrive in the nick of time.  It would’ve been more entertaining if he’d used his Jedi powers to throw the gypsies back into the trees.  If only he could’ve been Obi-Wan just for a minute.  In conclusion, I’d have to say the most satisfying part of the whole movie was the fact that Frank Churchill looked far too much like Willy Wonka.
Next up is Northanger Abbey!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taking a new direction

So I recently met up with an advisor at school and he told me I should write about what I read, or read about what I write… One of the two, whichever makes more sense. Anyway, he also asked me what it was I liked so much about the books I read, and it stumped me. The best possibly answer I could think of was escape. Escape from reality, open your eyes, look up to the skies and see… Sorry got a little Queen there. Basically it’s the escape from reality and a headfirst jump into someone else’s world for a short time, living vicariously through their life, experiencing an adventure you wouldn’t normally have on your own. I can see that as being the main reason most people read fictional stories, but I hope to find more answers for myself as I continue reading.
This new direction I want to take is solely for this blog. I started this blog with no real purpose in mind, except to improve my writing and maybe get feedback from my readers. Since I have such a difficult time with devoting time and energy (and real thought) into this, I thought a genuine purpose would help motivate me, and that purpose is to write about what I read. This could also help to keep me on track with my readings; I have a list of 30+ books to read and I’ve just worked through six of them in the last year. If things work out and I read a chapter every day, then I will possibly have finished a book by the end of the month and will have a new blog post to share. Enough of my explanations, though, I think it’s time I started what I came here to do.
My latest read was The Hobbit by the ever famous J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it mostly because the movies were starting to be released and I had forgotten much of the details from the first time. I am very glad I re-read it because I barely remembered a thing. The basics were still there, but it was mostly the ending and the bits with the dragon and such. I don’t want to give anything away for those that have not read the book, but I was certainly surprised at how a few things came about. It all worked out in the end, but not quite how I was expecting.
I began to wonder how critics could interpret this book; I feel most would take the religious approach for Tolkien’s Christian beliefs, but I am curious to know if anyone has used a feminist or psychological criticism to this book. You may notice there are virtually no women mentioned whatsoever, but at the same time there is also no distinction between sexes. It’s all race; man, dwarf, elf, wizard, hobbit. There is rank, where the eldest and wisest hold the highest authority of their respective races. Even in the lowliest races like the goblins, they had their goblin king. The eagles had their eagle lord. I doubt the existence of a hobbit “lord” or “ruler” of any sort, they all pretty much just sit around and mind their business, and I think a lord of wizards would be all too powerful and uncontrollable so that is probably avoided at all costs, but what do I know? There was racism, but most of it was due to greed and jealousy, considering there was a whole dragon horde of treasure at stake and everyone wanted to get their hands on it. No one needed a reason to hate the goblins; they’re just terrible creatures in general.
I’m still not very strong in criticism and analysis, but if I were to truly get something out of this, I would have to read it cover to cover a thousand times to find it. If anyone has anything interesting to say about The Hobbit, their likes and dislikes, analysis, interpretation, etc., I would be more than happy to hear about it. =]

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