Sunday, March 12, 2017

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen
Published 1815

This is not a review of Emma as much as it is about what I thought of my first reading of Emma.  This one I enjoyed easily because it was light-hearted and humorous, and of course had a glorious, happy ending.  

Emma, the character, reminded me of one of those perfectly popular girls in high school who has a lot of friends - one could not avoid being friends with her because she asserted herself into your life, and always for a good cause.  She is the rescuer-type because she always knows what is best for everyone else; hence Emma invests a lot of personal time on others in the story, though curiously not on herself.  

Since Emma thinks she is already perfected in many aspects of her life: social status, wits, intelligence, beauty, family, home, she does not want or need much else in her life; therefore, she dedicates her remaining free time to helping everyone else, such as her little protégé, Harriet, the plain, awkward nobody whom Emma takes under her wing. 

Emma is known for her character makeovers and matrimonial matchmaking - she thinks - and she also thinks that she is superior at it.  She is going to change Harriet and marry her off to someone she thinks is good for Harriet (and vise versa).  But Emma's meddling turns into one humorous, embarrassing fiasco after another.  Lucky for her, after each debacle, she has a moment of recovery in which she is able to save face.  Unfortunately, at some point, her assertiveness catches up with her, and her foolishness goes a little too far.  Even for the reader, one could not help feeling uncomfortable for Emma.


The good news, though, is that Emma is extremely likable.  She is veritable, attentive, and introspective.  It is easy to forgive her, especially because she knows when she deserves rebuke for her behavior, and she is genuinely remorseful. 

In addition, Emma has a conscience, and his name is Mr. Knightly.  (I couldn't help but think of him in a knightly way.  At first I thought he was a jerk, but even I had to admit he was right, all of the time.  He is also the perfect gentleman.)  Mr. Knightly is one of those people who never second guesses an opportunity to tell you where, when, or how you stepped in it; and he does that a lot with Emma because . . . she is . . . often stepping in it. He could have been called Mr. Rightly, and that would have fit, as well.  Mr. Knightly and Emma have been true friends forever, for no matter how often he rebukes Emma or she disagrees with him, they always reconcile.  Always.

So Emma spends the whole story trying to change everyone and every situation, but in the end everyone and every situation takes care of its own.  The wonderful ending to this story is really Emma's change.  It is as if she realizes for the first time she has her very own life to live; it is about time she stopped looking for other lives to manage and starts tending to her own personal and private affairs.  

Emma is perfectly flawed, but we like Emma because she means well and she knows when she is wrong.  She is not permanently arrogant; she is fixable.  And we know that she is going to make a decently fine individual as she takes all of her exceptional qualities and applies them to her own business, exactly where she should.

P.S. I am super excited to have won a film version of Emma from Heidi @ Along the Brandywine during "I Love Austen Week."  Now if I can just find five minutes to watch it.  


Cleo said...

Emma is certainly a favourite of mine and while her meddling can have negative consequences, her intentions are honourable as she wants to bring happiness to others in spite of her shortsightedness. My favourite version is the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. Even though they do take liberties with the text, I think she displays Emma's spirit admirably. Hmmm ...... I might just even try and watch it this week .... thanks for the inspiration! :-)

Ruth said...

I just watched it last night - that version. I felt like they lost the impact of Mr. Knightly's jealousy at the end. Either I missed it or I didn't hear his admit his anxiety that he thought he lost Emma to Frank, and that was the cause of his jealous rants about the guy. But otherwise, it captured the humor and foolishness of Emma and every character.


Carol said...

Enjoyed reading your character sketch of Emma. I prefer the 2009 Romola Garai version of the movie. It's been a while since I read Emma and I have to say it wasn't my favourite Austen book but I always feel differently on a second reading so I could change my mind.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

You're making me like Emma better. I get very irked with her meddling -- I want her to just leave people alone already! But you're right, she's very well-intentioned. But I do really love the Gwyneth Paltrow version, which I think is the one Heidi gave away? In fact, it's my favorite Austen movie adaptation. I hope you get a chance to watch it soon!

Ruth said...

Thank you. I'll have to give the 2009 version a shot, too.

I would rank Emma number three of the four that I have read. Still need to read Northanger Abbey.

Ruth said...

I just watched it last night; and yes, it was the one Heidi sent me. I found all of the characters to be very effective. I was telling Cleo that I wished they used more of the dialogue from the book regarding Knightly's jealousy of Emma and Frank. I got a kick out of that, but I felt like it was missing from the film.

Paula Vince said...

I enjoy Emma, for the fun of all her good intentions going awry, as you say :) I like Jane and Frank too, as a totally different type of couple, since Emma's a meddler and Knightley a know-it-all (who always is right). It took me a while to get used to Gwyneth Paltrow's blonde hair though, since Jane Austen described Emma quite differently.
I chose Charlotte Bronte's Shirley for my romance choice in Back to the Classics, which was a lot heavier!

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Yes, Mr. Kinghtley mostly just looks annoyed when Frank is around, and only really mentions him in the whole "Time will heal your wound" speech. But I'm okay with that, because Frank is just a silly puppy in that version, not quite worth Mr. Knightley's jealousy the way he is in the book.

Ruth said...

I didn't catch that about the physical characteristics of Emma. But I guess Paltrow worked well enough, personality wise.