Emma, Jane Austen, 1815
I have three more Jane Austen books to review and I’m running out of deep thoughts to share about this author. This post is going to be brief. As far as Austen’s oeuvre Emma is solidly middle of the road. The characters are better developed than in Sense and Sensibility, but not as vivid as in Pride and Prejudice. The dialogue and plot are both more engaging than Mansfield Park, but not nearly so tight and exciting as P+P.
Austen spends a lot of time enumerating and illuminating her characters’ flaws. Fortunately for her leading ladies they inevitably realize the error of their ways in time to win back the hearts of their beloveds. Emma has more personality defects than her compatriots, including a massive ego that slows down her self-reflection and self-improvement. Hence, Emma is one of Austen’s longest novels.
My favorite thing about Emma is “Clueless.” Still holds up after all these years. Reimagining frivolous, useless Regency aristocrats as 90s Beverly Hills teens works so well. The changes to the central love story make it more adorable and less. . .creepy. By turning the male lead into Cher’s step-brother the writers retained the somewhat familial relationship between the lovers, but decreased the age difference. The love between Emma and Mr. Knightley is bizarre. Mr. Knightly is something of an uncle to Emma. He is sixteen years older, has known her since she was very young and openly admits to trying to mold her character. He constantly criticizes and lectures her. Essentially, he has been raising her in lieu of her dead mother and over-indulgent father. Then she grows up to be a hottie and he decides to marry her. Gross. The union doesn’t make sense for either partner. Knightley shouldn’t want to marry her, because she has a crappy personality. In his own words “she will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience.” Who wouldn’t want a lazy, impatient wife? Emma shouldn’t want to marry him, because he will clearly make a terrible father given that he raised her and she did not turn out well.
You might like Emma if:
- what you enjoy about Austen is her sharp-witted critiquing of her characters.
You might not like Emma if:
- what you like about Austen is romance.
Final thoughts: Emma, the character, is an annoying, self-righteous, lazy, useless busybody, which is what Austen intended. She didn’t necessarily want her readers to like Emma or to root for her romance with Mr. Knightley. That’s a perfectly valid choice for an author to make. For me, that choice makes Emma, the book, less lovable than certain other works by Austen. Emma is tedious and Emma is tedious. It’s not bad, it’s just not very fun.