Emma by Jane Austen (1815)
Fiction | Romance
“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 protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.”
pooled ink Review:
Today I’m writing about Emma, a Jane Austen novel that I love. It’s not my favorite, which remains Pride & Prejudice (and I don’t care if you feel like that’s cliché or basic. It’s amazing. So hush). However I think that Emma is an excellent book nonetheless. Although, I might be a biased judge since I love all the Austen novels that I’ve read (Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice).
I know that some people don’t enjoy trying to read the older style of English and if that’s you then the BBC mini-series of Emma is actually quite good in my opinion.
So, now to talk about the actual story.
Well, Emma is so meddlesome, particularly towards the beginning, that it’s almost ridiculous. Thank goodness for Mr. Knightley knocking her down a peg or two when, just as he warned her, her meddling backfires dreadfully. Her vanity diminishes very slowly throughout as situations help her mature and realize her own feelings. But not once does she lose her characteristic unwavering confidence – if she did then she simply wouldn’t be Emma.
It’s almost difficult to spoil an Austen novel since it’s generally pretty obvious who is going to marry whom. So I don’t mind talking about how I feel that Mr. Knightley and Emma are perfect for each other. While Emma brings laughter and life, Knightley provides sense and stability. They balance each other wonderfully. In my opinion it speaks highly of Mr. Knightley’s character that he does not scream in Emma’s face upon several opportunities…then again I suppose he rather does, now doesn’t he? Well, he elicits an occasional dignified outburst that sets her straight anyhow.
If you could combine Mr. Knightley with Mr. Darcy I daresay he would be nigh on perfect. Mr. Knightley is sensible, kind, patient, understanding, polite, humble, warm, hard-working, and gallant. Mr. Darcy (spoiler alert?) is intelligent, loyal, caring, handsome, dark, and wealthy. The swoon power of such a combination would be insane.
In this story Emma’s governess gets happily married (Emma’s influence is at least partially to thank) and even though she has only moved down the lane Emma finds herself a bit lonely and at once pounces upon poor pretty Harriet Smith, reeling her in as her new companion. Harriet is quite pretty but has the scandal of an unknown parentage. Emma turns a blind eye however and instructs her in all of the finer things a lady might be, insisting that surely her parents were of noble birth. And, as is unsurprising, Emma turns her matchmaking eye from her now married governess to her very single friend.
My first, and lasting, opinion however is that Harriet is a very sweet girl but undeniably silly and sadly not one whom could ever rise particularly high above her given station. Emma gives it a stubborn go, of course. But Mr. Elton? Please. Mr. Elton is a self-loving fool. And later when he does wed I find his wife is simply awful and just as vain. I’d have to sit on my hands to keep them from punching her.
A little mystery is coiled within the plot revolving around Frank Churchill. He has not been back to visit his father since his mother died when he was a little boy and taken away by his aunt. We keep hearing about this Frank but it’s not for a while before we finally get to meet him. And not only do we meet Frank but the greatly adored Jane Fairfax also rolls into town. Jane and Frank both pose such interesting mysteries with their character and where their stories go I admit myself quite surprised the first time I read this novel.
Overall this book is typical of all Austen’s novels. It provides a glimpse into the middle and upper crusts of English society in the early 19th century. Romance, wit, heartbreak, dancing, and the union of unlikely characters fill these pages aplenty. Emma is a fun outspoken girl of wealth and the whole story circles in a natural but whimsical way that can only come from an Austen novel.
If you like any of Jane Austen’s works then you probably will enjoy all of them, and if you don’t then this probably won’t win you over. It’s just a romantic slice of life that I happen to enjoy.
Something that many contemporaries laugh at, but I love dearly, is how Austen’s novels always work out for the best in the end. Her characters indeed go through quite the tumultuous sea of troubles and obstacles, but at the very end true happiness wins. I honestly don’t care how realistic or not such endings are and I don’t care that such predictability sort of takes away any mystery about how things will conclude. I do not always read to absorb harsh realities, particularly not with fiction. If I want hard depressing truths then there are plenty of sources for such, both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes you just need a good wonderful romance that ends with happily ever after.
Arguably Austen’s works are almost as influential as Shakespeare’s in terms of the influence they have ignited within the literary, theatrical, and film communities. Almost any book or movie you pick up has strings that go back to Shakespeare and/or Austen. I’m not complaining. If it’s good then steal it, change it, and make it yours, right?
Suffice it to say I’m an Austen fan and I’m cool with it.
P.S. If you haven’t seen Austenland or watched Lost in Austen then you should because they’re absolutely hilarious.
Purchase here: Emma
Meet Jane Austen!
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.
Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about 35 years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.
Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture.