Friday, December 17, 2010

Emma ~ Jane Austen

Emma was my fourth Jane Austen novel and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t love it.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Emma is a typical Austin heroine, unique only in the fact that she has financial security without needing to marry.  She is also not interested in marriage – not for herself anyway.  She does, however, spend most of the novel attempting to marry off her poor, little friend Harriet whose background is unknown but surely must be of the highest quality (it’s not, but fortunately nobody above her station is willing to marry her so don’t you worry about any shameful social climbing).  Like many Austen heroines, Emma blunders through this, making repeated mistakes and failing to understand the feelings and opinions of others, nor really care what that others even have feelings and opinions until it’s too late.

*Spoiler Alert!* So it’s pretty much your basic Austen novel, so much so that I figured out Emma’s ultimate husband (and thus the end of the book) four pages into the first chapter, upon learning that “Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse” (662).  For anybody who has ever read anything by Jane Austen, you know that the hero is generally the only person who doesn’t find the heroine to be perfect (except for her inevitable female enemies).  While this is an excellent recommendation for loving a person, it does make any Austen novel you read after Pride and Prejudice (which was obviously your first) somewhat dull.

In general, Emma was a bit of a disappointment.  It took me two weeks to read, despite several multi-hour reading sessions, because some days I just couldn’t bring myself to pick the dull thing up.  The only thoughts of any substance in the novel are just that – thoughts, going on in Emma’s head.  Conversations are full of the weather and the same gossip repeated seventy trillion times over, and long, long passages from stock characters that do nothing but show how like themselves they are.  After Emma’s father’s fifteenth long paragraph citing the benefits to be derived from gruel or the dangers derived from going outside or getting married, we understand that he is a reclusive hypochondriac with no ability to say anything more than what he always says.  The same goes for Miss Bates and sadly, they monopolize more of the book than anybody else.

Like any Austen novel, it does make me incredibly happy to not have been alive back then.  Doesn’t life just sound so dull?  All these people just sit around all day, dressing elaborately and “visiting” to discuss weather and what the neighbors think of the weather and what the weather will probably be tomorrow.  I think being a servant must have been much more fun because at least then you could have gossiped about the color of the mistress’s underpants.

The only real enjoyment I got from Emma was a) figuring out that it was the basis for Clueless and b) finding all of the specific points that Clueless borrowed from it.  Soon, I shall rewatch Clueless and be happy that something so shamefully excellent was at least born of Emma.

Perhaps I’m a little cruel, but seriously?  There is more than one plot line possible and somebody should have told Austen that!  I loved Pride and Prejudice, but both Sense and Sensibility and Emma are just the same story except less enjoyable and with different numbers of daughters.  At least Northanger Abbey was different and even had a son.  Did you know that there were such things?!

Oh, and what is up with Jane being all “I’m sorry, let’s be friends!” at the end?  That is a contrived happy ending if I ever saw one.  Austen was all, “Oh wait, I can’t end the novel without Emma having everybody she likes like her so let’s just have Jane be like ‘Oh it’s all my fault, I’ve always liked you’ and it’ll make sense.  I promise!”  And, can I just say that Mr. Knightley would not be the one to protect Mr. Woodhouse from the convenient housebreakers that showed up just in time to convince Mr. W. that it would be in everybody’s best interest for Emma to marry?  It would be the servants protecting him; that is, if they weren’t too busy giggling over his granny panties.  Because you know that Emma’s father wears granny panties.

I’m going to go read Pride and Prejudice now and attempt to return Jane Austen to her pedestal of glory.  Or maybe I’ll just watch Clueless.


  1. this cracks me up. i've kind of gone back and forth on the austen thing; i started out thinking pretty much exactly what you write here (anything more interesting than the conversations of men and women who are visiting each other, or figuring out who will marry who?) but i've shifted in the past couple of years to liking these things about austen i used to complain about. because, yeah, she does kind of write about the same thing every time, but i also think she does so with a lot of insight into her characters. i haven't read emma for maybe five years now so i can't remember exactly, but there's that one moment when emma finally realizes she's gone and put her foot in it and said something hurtful, and austen writes that so well.

    as for your other comment, about the boredom of a world composed solely of social visits...i think austen is partly interesting to me now because i'm living in a country that's still developing, and the women don't have many outlets so visits are the thing. my big social events here are when i go to someone's house for two or three or four or five hours for coffee...and it can get boring, but it's also interesting to see how it used to be that way in our cultures (i mean, as close as british culture is to my totally american one). i guess there are still people in america and england whose lives are like this, if they have enough money?

    (also, it's nice to read a review that's not positive - it's nice to see someone being honest rather than kind of hedging around saying she didn't like a book.)

  2. Whilst I didn't love 'Emma', I think I enjoyed it more than you did. Although I most definitely agree about the gossipy conversations about the weather becoming hard to get through ...

  3. Hahaha.

    "I think being a servant must have been much more fun because at least then you could have gossiped about the color of the mistress’s underpants."