Newest Review: ... what had been happening in the village of Highbury like I was gossiping about old acquaintances of my own. A couple of chapters in, I ... more
"A heroine whom no one but myself will much like"
Emma - Jane Austen
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
Emma - Jane Austen
Advantages: Strong characters, witty, readable
One of my Christmas presents was a complete set of Jane Austen novels, so I've been refreshing my memory of them. Inspired by the recent BBC adaptation, I chose to reread Emma first.
Emma, first published in 1815, is the story of a young, rich, and attractive girl of whom Austen said "no one but myself will much like". The book opens with the marriage of Emma's governess - a match Emma is sure she helped to make. Buoyed by her perceived success, she sets out to manage and influence the love lives of many of the people around her - with varied results. Along the way she realises that she has been so busy prying into other peoples' romances that she cannot recognise her own feelings...
This is one of Austen's most accomplished stories, told with her usual wit and observation. It is a mark of Austen's skill that Emma, who with all her wealth, beauty and advantages, isn't irritating or dislikeable but is actually very appealing, despite Austen's claims to the contrary. Her constant misinterpretations of the other characters' motivations provides much of the narrative force of the book, starting with her new friend Harriet Smith and Mr Elton and finishing with the shock surrounding Frank Churchill.
Comic relief is provided throughout the novel by the poor, good-natured but talkative Miss Bates and Emma's hypochondriac father. Austen is fantastic at creating memorable characters with traits you recognise in people you know. This is all the more remarkable considering the novel was written nearly 200 years ago. There might not be very many gentlewomen of leisure these days, but in terms of story and characterisation there is a freshness still surrounding the book.
During the course of the story it is Mr Knightley, an old friend of the family, who acts rather like Emma's conscience, a stable, plain-speaking influence in her life. He is the only character who really sees her faults and has the guts to tell her when he feels she has made mistakes. I must admit he is not my favourite Austen hero, there is a little too much of the father and rather too little of Darcy or Willoughby-esque passion in him, but I know plenty of people who think differently.
This is one of my favourite Austen novels for it's excellent characterisation and strong insights. If you haven't read any of her work before I think this is a good place to start. I suspect most people will start with Pride and Prejudice so in that case, this would be a good second choice!
As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent BBC adaptation starring the excellent Romola Garai as Emma, in fact it's my favourite adaptation of the novel yet and I recommend it too.
Summary: One of Austen's best