I honestly cannot believe it took me this long to read “Emma” by Jane Austen. This is especially true when you consider that Jane Eyre is one of two favorite books and it was written around the same time. If you want to know truly how neglectful I have been of my personal education in reference to the classics, I had not read any Jane Austen until I graduated from college. Back to the point – I finished reading “Emma” this week. I actually started reading it on vacation, but it is a bit thicker than I initially realized and I watched a lot more junk on television while on vacation than spent time with my nose in a book. Unusual all around really.
I did not realize at first, but “Emma” was (loosely) interpreted into a movie that I’ve seen a bunch of times. It in itself is a classic in my book. The movie? Clueless, staring Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, and Paul Rudd. Really, Clueless is more of a parody of Jane Austen’s classic, but that is neither here nor there. Anyway, while I was reading the actual classic, I kept picturing people from the movie. Kind of a strange mixture. I think for this review, I will compare the movie to the book.
“Emma” is a lighthearted novel about a silly girl with a strong desire to play matchmaker. The novel begins shortly after her governess is married – a match that Emma believes is all her doing. Now that her governess is happily paired off in marriage, Emma looks about for her next project. She meets a new friend and decides to adopt her. Emma then proceeds to teach Harriet all about high society. What and whom to avoid when necessary, the proper manners, the proper talents that a well brought up young woman should have. All of these things Emma decides to team Harriet. I couldn’t help but picture the scene in Clueless when Cher is teaching Tai about the ‘buns of steel’ exercise. “And my buns, they don’t feel nothing like steel”. Quite entertaining.
There were a lot of different characters featured in Emma, some of whom I very much liked and others who I couldn’t stand. One character who seemed nice but I just wanted to yell at would be Emma’s father. He is so panicky about everything. Oh, we can’t eat dinner in that room because there is a draft and you’ll catch cold and die. Oh, you shouldn’t eat any wedding cake because it might disagree with you and you’ll die. Oh, you shouldn’t walk around outside because you’ll die. Oh, you shouldn’t dine at someone else’s home, you’ll die. Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit on the subject, but he really was a bit much to take sometimes. He was a difficult character although you knew he really did have the best intentions. Mr. Knightly was an amusing character – I especially enjoyed watching him and Emma bicker back and forth.
I think part of what took me so long to read “Emma” by Jane Austen was the fact that Emma is not the kind of character who rises up out of disadvantages, but rather comes from a comfortable home, has a strong desire to never marry, and does not feel the need to have a man in her life in order to define her. So in that sense, you could say that she is strong. But if you compare her with Jane Eyre, she is brought down to a whole different level. Jane has neither parent, is sent off to school, and takes hold of her own destiny. She refuses to settle for being a wife – she doesn’t want to be in a position such as that without really being needed. This is part of what makes Jane Eyre both a favorite of mine, and a great example of early feminism. “Emma” was a great read, but she certainly is not someone you’d aspire to be.
Would I recommend “Emma” by Jane Austen? Yes, but it isn’t for everyone. I very much enjoyed the book, but it is a bit of a heavier read just because of the language difference. It was fun seeing the approach Jane Austen has to writing. Her flexibility with syntax alone was intriguing. That being said, I believe anyone who is a reader of the classics would enjoy “Emma”.