Author: Jane Austen
Published: 2010 (this edition)
I recently decided to read the much loved ‘Emma’, Jane Austen’s social comedy centring around a vivacious young woman who has vowed never to marry. Whilst her friends look for suitors, she passes her time by match-making them. This was, I’m ashamed to admit, my first time reading an Austen novel. I’d heard much about this book’s literary merit but knew little about the story it actually tells, other than that it’s a comedy set in 17th century British ‘society’. My first impression was that I was reading a well-written if gentle and rambling story, and this feeling pretty much prevailed until the end of the novel.
The novel’s titular character, Emma Woodhouse, is the perfect character to sum up many stereotypes about British society. Austen does well to maintain the character’s sickly sweet aura by depicting Emma as being sweet to some characters whilst gossiping about others. She has a circle of friends on which to exercise her charms, often dishing out help that isn’t really required. This does make the character somewhat irritating, however this was clearly Austen’s intention and it is interesting to see a character so involved in the lives of those around her. It becomes apparent that she is a ‘Jack of all trades’, a trait that suits the way she appears to be ready to try almost anything in order to pull off a scheme. In some ways, her intellect is probably similar to possessed by a young Austen. At several points in the book readers will feel that she deserves to be humbled. For this reason they will like Mr Knightley, the only character with an ability to see through Emma, and dislike Harriet for the way she is so taken in by her. Aside from Knightley, I can’t honestly say I felt either way about any of the characters. I felt that Austen made them too bland in her quest to make them seem like rich, dull ‘airheads’.
In terms of its plot, ‘Emma’ is a relatively easy read as it simply trudges along. Although Emma’s views on marriage mean she could be classed as a very early attempt at a feminist character, it is fairly obvious from the off that some of her views will change. ‘Emma’ was probably the ‘chick lit’ of its day! It definitely has some humorous moments, but I must confess to finding some lengthy, deliberately melodramatic conversations between characters quite boring. More action would have been an improvement, although I have never been a fan of the romance genre. Personally, I found the entire concept of mocking the rich quite unoriginal. That being said, the book really is well-written and I can recommend it for those who are actually interested in romance. As classics go I felt it was average- not my favourite but not entirely unenjoyable. In hindsight, romantic comedies are probably not for me!
Rating: *** (3/5)
‘I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other’.