I read this book as a part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge, the Rory Gilmore Challenge, and also because of my personal goal to try and read more classics this year. This is the second Jane Austen book I have read, the first being Pride and Prejudice, but I enjoyed this one much more! Emma was quite a different experience because I had no prior knowledge of the plot, and I think this led to a much more rewarding read.
Emma Woodhouse, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition’ thinks a little too highly of herself, and entertains herself by meddling in the affairs of others. The results are not always to her liking.
The blurb doesn’t give you much of a taster of the book, so here’s my expanded version, as always, no spoilers. 🙂
Emma Woodhouse lives with her eccentric/hypochondriac father and her governess Miss Taylor. Life is good. She lives in the beautiful estate Hartfield, has everything she wants, and has no desire to marry. However, when her closest friend and steady companion Miss Taylor is wed to Mr Weston and moves out, Emma finds herself with a lot of solitary leisure time. Holding herself in high esteem from being the one who first introduced Miss Taylor and Mr Weston, she decides to take up matchmaking, much to the dismay of her friend Mr Knightly. She finds her perfect mission in Harriet Smith, a beautiful but naive young girl who is easily led. She quickly befriends her and sways her in the direction of Mr Elton, a well mannered man she believes is in need of a spouse. But Emma’s scheming doesn’t go to plan, and soon she finds herself in a flurry of unforeseen events, tumbling in a downwards spiral of confusion and mayhem.
I am the first to admit that I am not the best at reviewing/analyzing classics and picking out the most important points (speaking of which thoughtsonmybookshelf did a great review of Persuasion by Jane Austen you should check out, and Jillian also did a great post about her thoughts on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë and I really enjoyed reading both of these!) but bearing that in mind, on with the review!
As with Pride and Prejudice (you can check out my review here.) this book at first glance appears to be a love story; but it is so much more than that. At the root of Emma, are various discussions, ponderings, and analysis into 19th century behavior which is still just as relevant today. To me personally, I perceived this novel to be mostly about misunderstandings. The confusion of how one conversation can be interpreted two, or even three different ways and cause a variety of knock on effects. Jane Austen is so accurate in her perception of human nature it makes me envious, and the way in which she subtly integrates it into her books is even more inspiring. She comments on how we see what we want to see, and as soon as we get one idea into our head, we often become consumed by it, believing it must be true even if it goes against all common sense or overlooks something right under our nose.
These are a couple of quotes that jumped out at me, I just had to make note of because they were so insightful:
‘She looked back as well as she could; but it was all confusion. She had taken up the idea, she supposed and made everything bend to it.’
‘Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.’
Other noticeable themes in this book were arrogance and meddling. Emma often makes it her business to meddle in others affairs and she is not the only character guilty of this. However even though she usually has a friends best interests at heart, her arrogance and self worth often gets in the way. It was very interesting to see the progression of this as it continued throughout the book.
However, in terms of the plot I was somewhat less impressed, this is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did! But I often felt I was three steps ahead of what was going to happen, and therefore this made the novel feel increasing slow at points, and this was emphasized even more by the fact that Jane Austen’s novels tend to have slow pacing anyway. Right at the end of the books she revealed something as if it was going to be a shock, when I had guessed it within the first third of the novel. Although I don’t think it was ever Austen’s aim to hide the outcome of the plot, I did feel it dampened my enjoyment of it slightly.
I loved all of the characters in Emma, I either loved them, or I loved to hate them! Something about Jane Austen’s writing just makes them leap off the page. I’m not even entirely sure how she does it, but before I realize it’s happened I’ve become utterly invested in the characters. I would never get on with the character Emma if she were real, and yet, the author makes her so compelling to read about. Harriet Smith, Mr Elton, Mr Knightly, Isabella and Frank Churchill, all of them are so well developed; interesting and quirky. One character in particular (avoiding spoilers) even made me get what I like to call fluffy bunny feelings *sigh* just….I’m gone, I’m a goner, I’ve never been a Mr Darcy fan, in all honesty I don’t really see the appeal, but this guy? Yes! *Swoon*
I’m in two minds about Jane Austen’s writing style. At times I really love it, she can have such an elegant way of stating things, like the quotes I used above. Her writing also (as I said before) creates such fantastic characters. And yet…..at some points when the story seems to be going very slowly it begins to grate on me. She also seemed to do a lot of telling rather than showing. But this may just be a reflection of the period it was written in, I’m not sure. Maybe someone with more knowledge of the classics could give me some insight?
This book was very close to getting a five out of five from me, but something about Austen’s work (that I’ve read so far) just doesn’t quite seem to satisfy me. I found the same with Pride and Prejudice as I did with Emma. Maybe it’s just the fantasy loving part of me, but while reading I often wished a swarm of vampires or a dragon would appear at one of their social gatherings and scare them all silly. It would be so interesting to see how they would react. Would Mr Darcy stay calm? Or would he run away screaming like a girl? Would Emma Woodhouse be clever enough to find an escape route? The randomness that is my brain people! 🙂 Although, I suppose not that random. I imagine that train of thought is how books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were created. Not that I’ve read any of them, but you should check out Summer’s great review here!
I would recommend this book to females or males who are interested in social commentary on the way we perceive events and people around us, and how they can be misinterpreted. I would suggest it for ages 16 and up, not because of anything to do with it’s content but just because I think people of this age will be more appreciative of the messages within the story.
To anyone who has read Emma, please feel free to comment on other themes, background information on the novel, or any interesting thoughts you have about it in the comments section. I would love to find out more about this novel, and I’m sure there are some important details I managed to miss! 🙂
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes, and I would recommend it over Pride and Prejudice!