(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!