Earlier this year, I decided to deviate from my usual reading material and go for something a bit different. I got a copy of Emma through a free book something-or-other, and decided- why not? I had been inspired to start reading Jane Austen because of Gwyneth Paltrow, The Mother Daughter Book Club series, and just because it sounded like something that would be more interesting to me. I figured that if I was going to finally start to brave literature from the early 1900s, why not start with something a bit gossipy and love triangle oriented?
You’ve probably heard of this book before. It was the last book that the famous Jane Austen published in her lifetime. Its heroine is the witty and intelligent but extremely nosy Emma, a member of the higher branch of English society from around the eighteen hundreds. As the publisher description adequately describes her, “she was beautiful, clever, rich, and single.” She is set apart from her peers (and, I think, other heroines of her time) by being content to remain perfectly clever and single. As she says in the book, “’I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature, and I do not think I ever shall.’” Certainly, the main plot point of the story is her delightful nosiness.
In the very beginning, she sets out to match her new charge/protégé, the young Miss Harriet, an orphan of unknown parentage, to the handsome, young, and wealthy Mr. Elton. Emma decides she must take Harriett under her wing after her main companion, the former Miss Taylor turned Mrs. Weston, is married. Making matches and getting into people’s business is our dear protagonist Emma’s favorite pastime. The story evolves to include the interesting twists and turns of Emma’s scheme, with some things extremely unexpected, and others that could be guessed from the beginning – for, really, what is a Jane Austen novel without romance?
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I noticed how Jane Austen seemed to use some facts of English society in the story, remark about them in a clever prose, and then (very subtly) make fun of them, as if to say, through her characters and their actions, that some aspects of society were just plain stupid. To give a specific example I have in mind would spoil some of the book, so I’m just going to leave it at that.
Another thing I liked about this book were all the different characters. There is the disagreeable friend of Emma’s, Mr. Knightly, her father, Mr. Woodhouse, who seems to have a rather stalkerish obsession with their town doctor, Perry (and health), the young, slightly dimwitted Miss Harriet, and the dapper Mr. Elton.
I also love her use of language. It was the kind of book that you are bursting at the seams to read in a British accent, and cuddle up with a cup of mint tea, a blanket, and a small dog by the fireplace.
There were things about this book that I wasn’t as fond of. First, there are spaces in places they simply shouldn’t be. The same can be said of the letter u, and other odd things that appear in places that they don’t in American English. The book, while much more interesting, than, say, The Scarlet Letter, is still a bit tedious and hard to read at times. The plot as well, or at least parts of it, was extremely predictable. For example, I knew that ______ would end up with ______ and that ______ would, like, NEVER work out, and they’d end up back with _______ . . . I think you get my point. Saying all of this, though, it was still readable.
If you struggle sometimes with regular English, let alone older English, and classics just aren’t for you, then you may want to wait a few more years to tackle Emma. On the other hand, I highly recommend this book if you like classics, or want to start reading them. This book is most definitely a great place to begin! Also, if you appreciate love complications and just all-around extremely satisfying (read for five hours straight in a very large generously stuffed chair) books, you’d definitely adore this one.
So, pick up Emma, by Jane Austen: It’s a great way to start reading classics, and to perfect that British accent.
Note from Em: Maddie and I used to co-host a radio show together where we talked about all the great (and sometimes not great) books that we read. Sadly, Maddie had to leave the radio show when she and her family moved several hours away. Luckily she still shares her love of reading and her book reviewing talents with the world! Her reviews are also posted on the Bound By Books radio show blog.