It took me quite a while but I finally finished reading Jane Austen’s Emmajust before I flew off for that family vacation.
Emma Woodhouse may be witty and imaginative, but she’s spoilt and snobbish to a certain extent, and so wasn’t easy to warm up to. There were quite a number of occasions when I felt like smacking her on the head for being so blind, self-centred and impetuous. I was quite disappointed with her for deliberately hurting the garrulous Miss Bates who, although she really annoys with her endless chatter and appears quite without any opinions of her own, is quite a harmless but kind-hearted spinster, with barbed comments about Bates’ talkativeness in a display of wits. Emma redeemed herself in my eyes when she expressed regrets over that uncalled-for attack and tried to make amends for it.
It wasn’t easy trying to guess Emma’s heart too. She’s so busy trying to match her new-found friend, Harriet Smith, with the available local gentry that she hardly knew what was in her heart. She never stopped to examine her feelings for her dear Mr Knightley until Harriet professed her love and admiration for him. Only then did she realise that she had been in love with him for quite a while and that he was the only man she’d marry.
Throughout the book, I couldn’t help marveling at the lengths women of her time go to, just to hide their emotions. The other love affair in the novel, that between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, was never discovered until almost the end of the story. The diversion tactics Churchill used threw their Highbury society off the trail, causing one and all to suspect that he favoured Emma and created quite a bit of misunderstanding. It’s no wonder Knightley was hesitant about telling the self-deluded Emma his feelings towards her. I shudder to think what this comedy of errors would have led to, if both pairs didn’t come clean in the end. It would have been the greatest tragedy to see Emma stuck in a disastrous marriage of her own making.
Austen wrote this book at the height of her powers, and you could easily see why this book is regarded as one of her finest achievements by the delicate irony, the sharp yet elegant prose and engaging characterisation that has become hallmarks of her works. Reading her novels is akin to reading an entertaining social commentary. Her vivid description leaves you with a very fascinating knowledge of Georgian England and her masterful portrayal of the men and women of that era overturns any notions that they are a suppressed, cold people devoid of emotions.
If anything, I find their impassioned declarations, when they do make them, much more eloquent and touching. Mr Knightley’s, for example, leaves you in no doubt of his sincerity:
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me.”
If you have the time, hop over to the Austen Blog for more little known facts about the author and her novels, as well as reviews of her books and other Austen related works.