Here’s another classic surprise. Again I gravitated toward a classic story to read, this time because I watched the movie and liked it so much that I wanted to try the book.
Well, not only did I complete the book and understood what I read, but it was a Jane Austen book and I liked it too! Something weird must be going on with me this year for me, of all people, to like a Jane Austen book.
It’s all about a young woman named Emma Woodhouse playing matchmaker to everyone and causing a bunch of confusion while doing so. There’s also a lot of classism thrown in. (Goodreads)
I am so amazed that I like this because I was convinced that I wouldn’t like Austen’s books, simply because I didn’t get on with Pride & Prejudice, which is most popular and most loved and most discussed.
But I immediately took a liking to Emma, the book and the character. She almost comes across as a modern character. Because of her situation, she’s quite independent. It’s just Emma and her father living in their manor. I don’t remember if it’s mentioned what happened to Emma’s mother — I assumed she died — and Emma’s older sister is married and living in the city with her own family. And I believe shortly before the story began, Emma’s governess got married and moved down the street. So it’s just Emma and her father, with frequent visits from their neighbor, Mr. Knightley. As such, Emma is considered the woman of the house, and sometimes seems to act as head of household since her father is very anxious about his health and the well-being of others.
“Poor Miss Taylor—I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!”
The only thing I didn’t like was her interactions with Harriet. I thought it was a bit controlling at times, and I wondered if Emma’s focus on matchmaking and interfering in Harriet’s life was an attempt to distract herself from her own life, how lonely and dull it would probably become since she is committed to remaining unmarried in order to care for her father, and how lonely and dull it sometimes already is since her governess moved away.
I enjoyed the rest of the cast, too, who helped to make this a fun read, mostly Emma’s father and Mrs. Bates, who were both included for comedic effect. Emma’s father is probably my favorite character. His constant worrying about everyone’s health is included to add humor, but I couldn’t help warming to him and wanting to assure him that everything is fine. I sometimes found Mrs. Bates’s long-windedness as annoying as Emma did, but I liked her as well. I just wish her rambling on was indicated by the use of ellipsis rather than including everything she says.
I also liked how the romances developed. Those were entertaining as well, especially the missteps in Emma’s matchmaking. I enjoyed reading the passages where Emma and Mr. Knightley interact, especially later in the book, and once we found out what’s up with Frank Churchill, I felt like rereading the story with that knowledge in mind. But that feeling didn’t last long because reading this book was a challenge for me.
I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I sometimes have a hard time puzzling out the language in Austen’s books. It’s partly why I dislike Pride & Prejudice. Surprisingly, I had an easier time reading and understanding Emma, but I still sometimes needed to use Shmoop and SparkNotes to help me understand what I read, especially in parts heavy with dialogue. Shmoop and SparkNotes were basically my translators. Thanks to them, I was able to understand enough to get the humor and even see where Austen poked fun at other types of books, like romances with dashing heroes who rescue a young maiden and they immediately fall in love.
The illustrations were another reason why I enjoyed this book. How lucky was I to borrow this edition from the library? The illustrations aren’t many, but they were a welcome break whenever they appeared, usually at the beginning of a new section (like after a bunch of chapters).
Emma was fun, and I’m glad it changed my mind about Austen’s books. I’d be willing to try another.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Quotes from the book
“It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.”
“A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.”
“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.”