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Emma (thoughts)

July 24, 2007

I thought I’d take a break from my desperate, last-minute attempt to finish up the Summer Reading Challenge by August 1st (4 books, 1250 pages to go in 7 days) to talk about Emma.

I have been a devoted Jane Austen fan since I first picked up Pride and Prejudice in sixth grade. I own all of her published works, I talk about them all the time, I stick up for Jane when others try to diss her (yes, it’s happened; no, it’s not pretty), I make horrified faces at the P&P sequels I see at B&N (Pemberly erotica? we live in a cruel world), etc.

That being said, I hadn’t read Emma in about five years. Isn’t that sad? I own the Jeremy Northam movie version, and I probably watch it twice a year. But, in my mental rankings, Emma was second only to Sense and Sensibility for my least-favourite Austen. Which means I still enjoyed it more than a lot of other books I own! Nevertheless, when I reach for some Jane to add sparkle to my day, Emma gets passed by. So, when I was developing my list of classics for the Summer Reading Challenge, I decided to toss it into the mix.

Boy, am I glad that I did. I needed her last week, when my illness was threatening to get the better of me, and I was feeling pretty down. Being transported to Highbury for a little while was just what I needed. When Virginia Woolf talked about Jane, she said something to the effect that Austen’s genius was the most difficult to catch in the act. (I just conducted a ten minute fruitless internet search for the quote, so maybe I’m imagining it) While that’s true, I have to share what I believe to be the most cutting insult I have ever come across, and that to me represents Austen’s stunning, but simultaneously subtle, ability with the English language:

“Mrs. Elton, as elegant as lace and pearls could make her, …” (240)

Ouch. Emma also provides a very satisfying love scene; for me, more fulfulling than P&P’s. However, I don’t want to spoil Emma for anyone who doesn’t know the ending, so I won’t share my favourite passages. I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there for whom the ending could be spoiled, but I would feel awful about it!

Well, the more I sit here staring at the screen, the more I realise that I don’t have all that much to say about Emma. I refused to take so much as one lit class in college, because I worried about ‘spoiling’ my reading experience. To me, Jane Austen is the master for her characters and her light touch. To say anything more about the story would be silly. If you’ve never read Jane Austen, you should. Even if you’ve seen all the movies.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. iliana permalink
    July 24, 2007 5:40 pm

    I really loved Emma, which I finally read this year. It’s only my second Jane Austen so I’m glad I still have a few other books waiting for me :)

  2. Poodlerat permalink
    July 24, 2007 5:51 pm

    Wow, someone who agrees with me about Emma and Sense and Sensibility! They’re most people’s favourites after P&P (at least, most people I know), but I’ve always preferred Mansfield Park and Persuasion. I do love Emma, though—you’re right, Austen’s worst is often better than another author’s best.

    And Austen continuations—yuck! The only one I’ve ever been able to stomach is the continuation of Sanditon by “Another Lady”. It isn’t Austen, but it doesn’t make me want to strangle the author, which is more than can be said for any other Austen imitator.

    I hope you’re recovered from your illness, or at least feeling better!

  3. Lisa permalink
    July 24, 2007 6:20 pm

    I am reading S&S for one of my challenges. I read P&P this year for the first time since high school and loved it, but am not really enjoying S&S. I think I’ll have to do Emma next.

    I get them through and read them at work when I have down time, so it takes a while to get through them.

  4. MyUtopia permalink
    July 24, 2007 6:53 pm

    I agree with you, it isn’t one of my favorite books of hers. The enormous amount of P&P sequels frightens me.

  5. Petunia permalink
    July 25, 2007 1:45 am

    I love Emma! And I think Gwyneth Paltrow did a great job of making her endearingly hopeless. I’d love to reread some Austen but there is too much on the plate at the moment.

  6. Tara permalink
    July 25, 2007 1:41 pm

    I’ve read Emma only once, but I really should re-read it. P&P is my favorite. I’ve read some of the sequels and have given up. You might as well spend your time re-reading the real thing.

  7. Dewey permalink
    July 25, 2007 3:34 pm

    Dis? Jane? How can that be? Who would do such a thing?

    In fact, I need to do some Jane rereading. I haven’t been on a Jane kick in years!

  8. Imani permalink
    July 26, 2007 2:52 am

    Yay, someone else not fond of S&S! I rank Mansfield Park above it too and Northanger Abbey is actually among my top three Austens, so there. I haven’t read Emma or Persuasion yet — I may have read Persuasion when I was very young but I barely remember any of it so it doesn’t count — but Emma is on my TBR pile.

    Those Pride and Prejudice sequels make me shudder. I don’t even go physically near them if I can help it.

    Feel better!

  9. Eva permalink
    July 26, 2007 2:04 pm

    Iliana, I’m jealous of you having more Austen books to ‘discover’! Although, I haven’t read Mansfield Park in so long, I bet when I reread it it’ll be like the first time.

    Poodlerat, I love Persuasion! I don’t really remember Mansfield Park (see above), but it’s next on the Austen re-read list. Thanks for the good wishes about my health0I do feel better. :)

    Lisa, Austen at work would be nice! Obviously, I concur w/ you about S&S. I didn’t really enjoy the movie all that much either.

    MyUtopia, the P&P sequels make me upset. And lately B&N has been making prominent displays out of them, so I can’t pretend that they don’t exist. The audacity!

  10. Eva permalink
    July 26, 2007 2:08 pm

    Petunia, I did enjoy the movie a lot. However, when I read the book, neither Emma or Miss Smith in my head look anything like the actors. I agree that Paltrow did a great job!

    Tara, P&P is my favourite as well. I won’t go anywhere near the sequels. I was even mad at Bridget Jones’ Diary for ripping off the plotline (I actually chucked it across the room).

    Dewey, I know! I get very upset with such people….especially the ones who try to say she doesn’t have literary talent. Hmph. This usually happened at college w/ people who were really into James Joyce.

    Imani, Northanger is my third Austen as well! Persuasion is my second. :) I’m feeling much better-thanks for the thoughts!

  11. Gentle Reader permalink
    July 26, 2007 4:16 pm

    I need to re-read Emma. It’s not one of my favorites (though I do like the Jeremy Northam, Gwyneth Paltrow movie version) but maybe I’d appreciate it more now. My favorites are Persuasion and P&P (and I tend to read them over and over), and I’m not as fond of Emma or Sense and Sensibility.

  12. Sarah permalink
    July 27, 2007 3:22 pm

    I find one of the joys of re-reading is discovering greatness in boks that didn’t impress first time round. I’m glad you enjoyed and admired Emma, as alongside Pride and Prejudice and Persuasuion, it’s one of my top three AUsten novels.

    I don’t think you did imagine the Woolf quote, it’s from A Room Of One’s Own.

  13. Eva permalink
    July 30, 2007 3:41 pm

    Gentle Reader, you and I have the same taste in Austen books!

    Sarah, thanks so much for letting me know where the quote came from. :) It’s odd that I couldn’t find it on the internet!


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