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Emma, by Jane Austen

with 14 comments

Emma is the third Jane Austen book I’ve read this year, and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. So far, I’d say Emma and Sense and Sensibility are vying for favorite status. Sorry, P&P backers, but I think my dislike of Darcy puts it just a bit behind the others in the fave race!

Anyway, maybe it was that I’ve become more accustomed to Austen’s style or maybe it was really something about the book, but I found this to be the quickest read of them all so far–and not because of length (it isn’t shorter). It just feels lighter, somehow. It’s not so heavily laden with lingering glances and quiet suffering, though surely those things exist in this story.

Emma is the most spontaneous and impulsive of Austen’s heroines I think, save Marianne Dashwood, in that she doesn’t really take the time to think through the likely repercussions of her actions. She gets a hunch and goes with it. And since match-making is her preferred hobby, when she makes mistakes they are rather large and painful to all those involved. She is vain and overly confident, and befriends Harriet, a girl much “below” her in class and elegance. She does her best to provide proper influence for Harriet, so that she’ll turn out more like herself, and find her a suitable match. Harriet is grateful for the attention of the widely admired Ms. Emma Woodhouse, so takes her advice and turns down her first suitor, with whom she is rather in love, in favor of pursuing  “better” prospects. But things become confusing and unpleasant for Emma when Harriet begins to resemble herself a little too much and encroaches on the male attention that Emma finds she wants for herself.

Emma is selfish and misguided, sure, but I still found her remarkably endearing. She is not as consistent or self-aware as Austen’s other protagonists seem to be, but she does come to realize the parts of her character that she needs to work on and begins to come to terms with them toward the end.

Given the fact that all of Austen’s novels end with marriages (or so I’ve heard, and found to be true so far), I find it really interesting that Emma initially, and throughout most of the book, is very vocal about her desire to remain unmarried. She would much rather see all her friends and acquaintances settled down than engage in courtship herself, is somewhat ambivalent about falling in love, and feels she has all the stability in life that she needs. Even more interesting is her father’s complete disregard for the institution of marriage altogether which, to him, is a malignant force that draws his daughters out of his house and away from him, who loves and needs them. Without giving away too much about the ending (stop here if you really don’t want to know and can’t guess), I was pleased that though Emma does end up married, their arrangement is a bit untraditional and healthy compromises are made that would have been unusual at the time, but benefits all parties equally.

So many more characters from this book stick out to me, too, in comparison to S&S and P&P. The snobby Mrs. Elton, the annoying Mrs. Bates–she can talk, that lady, can’t she!–the too-smooth Frank Churchill, and Mr. Knightly, perhaps the first of Austen’s male love interests I’ve found at all appealing.

Clearly, I enjoyed Emma quite a lot and would recommend it to anyone who has yet to try Jane Austen. Of course, if you have, you’re probably already hooked and don’t need the recommendation. Right? 🙂

Written by Emily Jane

November 18, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Posted in Novels

Tagged with ,

14 Responses

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  1. It’s interesting to me that you found this a quick read as I have tried to read it several times and can’t bring myself to finish!


    November 19, 2010 at 12:11 am

  2. Huh, maybe it’s just that I was craving Jane Austen, as her books have come to be sort of like comfort-reading to me. I’m sorry it didn’t work out so well for you!

    Emily Jane

    November 19, 2010 at 12:36 am

  3. Wow, I can’t believe there’s someone else out there who would rate Emma, S&S, and P&P in that order! I couldn’t believe that an Austen book could actually make me laugh out loud so much.


    November 19, 2010 at 4:03 am

    • Same! Wow, I didn’t think there would be anyone else who would rate them in that order either. Awesome! 🙂

      Emily Jane

      November 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm

  4. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this and are enjoying reading the Austen books. Maybe I should try re-reading one of them at some point 🙂


    November 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm

  5. Right!

    Didn’t Austen say of Emma (the person), “no one will love her but me”, or something or the sort? She is endearing and she learns, just like many of Austen’s heroines.

    My top 3 order is: Persuasion, P&P, Emma


    November 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm

  6. Yeah, she did say that. She was so wrong! Persuasion is my next Austen pick 🙂

    Emily Jane

    November 19, 2010 at 10:40 pm

  7. I don’t know. I am one of those Austen fans that loves Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice (Persuasion is, I think, my favourite) but Sense and Sensibility has never really been a perfect read for me. And Emma.. I have only read it once, just like Mansfield Park, and I am looking forward to rereading both. I have a weird feeling I might like Mansfield Park better than Emma..


    November 21, 2010 at 8:49 am

    • Interesting! I know the least about Mansfield Park, but of course I’ll get to it eventually.

      Emily Jane

      November 23, 2010 at 5:52 am

  8. I love Emma. It’s been a while since I read Persuasion, but for the time being, I think Emma is my favorite of Austen’s books. I am very fond of P&P, but Emma’s such a delight, and the book is so funny, that Emma comes out ahead. By a bit. This might change when I reread Persuasion.


    November 21, 2010 at 11:52 pm

  9. […] Emma, by Jane Austen […]

  10. […] about Having read three of her books so far (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma), it’s hard not to evaluate each new-to-me Austen novel through any method but comparison. […]

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