Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The title: Emma
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1815)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

And so August belongs to Emma. Austen once said that she had created a character that nobody would like, being such an insufferable snob. I must protest, and vindicate her. I cannot help but feel, given the same circumstances, that I would be just as snobbish. She lives in a narrow society, in a boring village, with nobody around who can equal her wit and vivacity and only Mr. Knightly her equal in intellect. After reading page after page of Miss Bates prattling on, who wouldn't get frustrated and be tempted to make a joke at her expense? After enduring Mrs. Elton's pretensions and selfishness, who wouldn't loathe her as much as Emma does? After putting up with years of praise of Jane Fairfax, and then receiving only coldness from the same lady, who wouldn't roll her eyes at the mere mention of her name? In short, Emma is a snob, but does it necessarily follow that snobbery is a bad thing?

As to the novel itself, I must give credit where credit is due. Nobody creates more memorable characters than Jane Austen, and nowhere does she do this better than in Emma. The trick, I think, lies in her ability to draw her caricatures from recognizable people. Mr. Woodhouse is a hoot in his self-inflicted infirmity and feebleness, but who hasn't known somebody who invents obstacles when there are none? Likewise, we all know people like Miss Bates, good-hearted and selfless to a fault but agony to be around because of their pointless chatter. It makes one shutter to think of all the nonesense Austen herself and other Regency ladies endured in the name of politeness.

I found the first part of Emma to be the best, with everything up until Mr. Elton's botched Christmas proposal just ducky. Unfortunately, it drags after Frank Churchill's arrival and I confess I found the book overly long and meandering in parts. However, the last few chapters picked up the pace and the book was finished with satisfaction.

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