Emma Woodhouse is a wealthy, exquisite, and thoroughly self-deluded young woman who has "lived in the world with very little to distress or vex her."
Jane Austen exercises her taste for cutting social observation and her talent for investing seemingly trivial events with profound moral significance as Emma traverses a gentle satire of provincial balls and drawing rooms, along the way encountering the sweet Harriet Smith, the chatty and tedious Miss Bates, and her absurd father Mr. Woodhouse–a memorable gallery of Austen's finest personages. Thinking herself impervious to romance of any kind, Emma tries to arrange a wealthy marriage for poor Harriet, but refuses to recognize her own feelings for the gallant Mr. Knightley. What ensues is a delightful series of scheming escapades in which every social machination and bit of "tittle-tattle" is steeped in Austen's delicious irony. Ultimately, Emma discovers that "Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common."
Virginia Woolf called Jane Austen "the most perfect artist among women," and Emma Woodhouse is arguably her most perfect creation. Though Austen found her heroine to be a person whom "no one but myself will much like," Emma is her most cleverly woven, riotously comedic, and pleasing novel of manners.
Moreso than some of Austen’s other works, it seems, Emma gets a lot of mixed reviews. With this being my fourth Jane Austen novel and being somewhat different from her other work, it was almost a shock to the system. Yet much like with every other Austen novel I’ve read, I loved it. Austen’s wit may be more subtle in this one, and the humor sometimes mean, but the more serious subject matter made me both sympathetic and empathetic towards the characters and their situations.
Emma focuses heavily on how other people treat each other, on what kindness is and how to be kind. I started of this novel with a mixture of like and dislike for Emma. It was undeniable that she was a little snobby, and perhaps her matchmaking advice wasn’t always the best, but I could tell that her intentions were to make other people happy. There is still humor throughout this book, but Austen also makes us think about humor and its context. When is humor more hurtful than funny? How does one’s use of humor affect how others judge that person? Even without as much witty banter or parodying as some of Austen’s other novel, I still found myself chuckling at some of the characters.
As this is my fourth Austen novel, some aspects of the romance were a tiny bit predictable for me, in the sense that right away I could tell who scumbag guy would turn out to be and who might later end up with whom. However, this didn’t make the book any less enjoyable for me. In fact, it may have even made me like it more. What is it that made this guy bad? I must say that even moreso than other Austen novels, this one had me guessing how everyone was paired off, especially because there were two characters I was dying to see together.
Like many of the Austen heroes I meet, I adored Mr. Knightley. He was a very gracious and generous character, but he also stuck me as gentle. He teaches Emma a good deal about how to be a more compassionate person, but was never too harsh in his reprimands.
Austen is often known for her wit, and I think Emma showcases a more reflective side of her writing. I admit that this was a slower read my first time around, but I know that it’s a book which I will grow to love. Emma satisfied my need for some more Jane Austen on every level.
Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book.