By Jane Austen
Hardcover, 512 pages
2010, Penguin Classics
From Amazon: Beautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protégée Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.
What I liked:
This is the first time readers are given a heroine who is well-off. I don’t think that the Bennets or the Dashwoods were meant to be shown as truly poor, because they probably never would have married as well, but maybe middle class. But Emma Woodhouse is very well off and isn’t a heroine that’s striving to be part of the upper echelon (even if it’s just to take care of her family) like we’ve seen before. She doesn’t even desire to marry, which felt refreshing. Other Austen heroines do seem to strive for a little something better, and I like to see them achieve that, but Emma has everything she needs in life and would rather see others happily married than herself. I like Emma as a character – she’s confident (maybe overly so), lively, and talented, and watching her matchmaking schemes unfold was amusing.
There seemed to be more over-the-top characters in this book. Mr. Woodhouse, the Eltons, Miss Bates, Harriet, and Mrs. Churchill. Miss Bates was especially ridiculous, with her never-ending speeches. I think we’ve all met someone like that before – you can hardly get a word in edgewise and if you do it’s ignored, because they simply want to talk about themselves or what they know. At one point, Emma says something rather cutting to Miss Bates about all the stupid things she says, and while it was mean, there was a bit of justification. After having to read through so many pages worth of her nattering, I had a little “oooh burn!” moment. Don’t we all want to tell someone off? It was less passive aggressive than most of Jane’s insults, so it felt fresh.
Emma grows as a character and begins to notice her faults as a matchmaker after repeated blunders. She’s a bit of a silly girl as the book begins, and it was nice to see her mature by the end. Her relationship with Mr. Knightley was different too – most heroines happen to meet the man they marry at a party or something, and then develop a relationship from there. Emma and Knightley have grown up together and are already fast friends when we’re introduced to them.
What I didn’t like:
At first I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. There seemed to be so many more “main” characters in this book than any other Austen book I’ve read. There 5 main couples in this book, plus additional characters like Mr. Woodhouse, and Mrs. and Miss Bates. I actually went on wikipedia to look up who some characters were, because they were being mentioned in the book, yet with no detailed information on who they were, leading me to believe I had missed something. They were later introduced to readers, but I feel it would have been more helpful to have that information early on.
Also, Miss Bates drove me up a wall. I know that was intentional, but her monologues were so boring that I ended up skipping over most of them – if she actually said anything important to the plot, I missed it.
Overall, Emma is another enjoyable Austen novel. Now that I’ve read all her completed novels, I can say that I don’t dislike any. Pride and Prejudice is still (and always will be) my favorite. I think maybe Sense and Sensibility and Emma rank equally for second place, with Mansfield Park and Persuasion in third. I’m not sure where I class Northanger Abbey – as when I read it, I just didn’t understand what she was going for. I have a better understanding of the plot and her intentions now, and I think if I read it again, it would be right up there with Emma.