Posted by: Nathan | January 8, 2009


J and I recently finished Jane Austen’s celebrated novel Emma, which J had been through before and I had not. J’s an aficionado of the author, and I wanted to read more of  Austen after experiencing Pride and Prejudice a year or two ago, which is a mastemmaerpiece. The novel is definitely good reading, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as P&P.

The plot of the book, which you probably already know, follows the title character’s misadventures in match-making. Unlike P&P, which features several characters that one follows, Emma is the heart of this book and its only main character. True, there is the panoply of characters one expects in an Austen novel, but they exist always in relationship to Emma. Thus, one likes novel in proportion to how much squi likes its protagonist. At first, I found her to be immature and annoying; toward the end, she mends her ways, and the book achieves the emotional depth one expects from a great novelist. Since this book is somewhat of a bildungsroman, one should expect a progression in its protagonist, but early Emma didn’t interest me much, I’m afraid.

Admittedly, my reading of the book was hurt by the manner in which I read it. For a while, I read only a chapter or half a chapter to J before we went to sleep. This is a bad approach if a novel seeks to slowly develop emotion. I read it too sporadically to feel its swell. However, when J read it to me on the way back from Iowa, I got a better sense of the novel’s development of character, and I liked it much more. I recommend you read this one in large chunks rather than small bits.

I was slightly disappointed that there aren’t more comedic characters in Emma. P&P had me laughing aloud frequently, but the folks in this one aren’t as funny. Sure, Mr. Woodhouse’s extreme paranoia about people getting ill and his dislike of marriage bring a chuckle or two. I did enjoy Mrs. Elton from time to time, as she is a character one loves to loathe. Miss Bates is the funniest of them all with her ceaseless chatter; one cannot help but read breathlessly when her speeches come around! However, there was no foolish Mr. Collins nor a witty Mr. Bennett for me to enjoy. Again, I think I would have experienced more to laugh at had I read the book differently. Still, I wanted more humor.

One of the book’s most redeeming aspects, aside from Austen’s ever-elegant style and her depth of emotion, is Mr. Knightley. He is too aloof to fully enjoy, but he is an excellent man. One cannot help but admire him. His insights are always on-point, and his judgment balances his heart perfectly. The story improves whenever he makes an appearance. I think he is the match of Mr. Darcy at every point and perhaps his superior.

I read Jane Austen for her style, characters, comedy, and her amazing ability to elicit emotional profundity. These aspects of the books must be my focus as I already know the end of the plot before opening the cover. If she can throw me a plot twist, so much the better, but Austen is all about understanding and everyday people. Even though the novel isn’t as funny as I hoped, its characters are not quite as diverting, and the ending drags, the good attributes of Emma outweigh its weaknesses. It’s an enjoyable novel overall (especially toward the end), and it’s worthy of a read, perhaps two.


  1. Yes, Emma has never been my favorite, mostly because she’s not very mature. She behaves pretty much like a 15 year old through much of the book, and that’s not all that fun to read. I like Mr. Knightley, but it’s always a little weird to me how much older he is than Emma. More like a parent than a romantic interest. I do like the way Jeremy Northam plays him in the 90’s movie version. I enjoy the other Austen books much more because the heroine is wiser than the other characters, so you root for her.

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