Thursday, March 26, 2015

Emma by Jane Austen (45 down 55 to go)

This is the first time I’ve read Emma or Jane Austen. Emma is a Romance era novel, third-person account of Emma Woodhouse, a heroine that Austen said: "no one but myself will much like." The setting is England, very early 19th century. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square N5 of 2015 Classics Bingo: Classic of Europe

I endeavored to proffer my review of Emma in a style signified to flatter Austen’s own, but discretion compelled me forbear. I avow that this I owe to unfeigned trepidation that I should discover myself unequal to the task. The result, I feared with absolute certitude, would be found intolerably deficient, and I should reproach myself for the vain aspiration that, though most nobly imagined, must be considered both ill-conceived and ill advised, by any persons possessing themselves of elegant and judicious sensitivities.

So let me just say…I liked it a lot.

As I said, this is the first Jane Austen novel *gasp*, I know. However, I was familiar with the story due to a film rendition. There were aspects I would have enjoyed more, had I been in suspense. It is a romance novel set in Surrey, England. I don’t believe a precise date is ever set, nor are there historical reference points to infer the date. It was first published in 1815, and is probably meant to take place in the early 19th century. It is the story of Emma Woodhouse, the spoiled daughter of an English gentleman, an avowed bachelorette, and the epitome of a busy body. She is also beautiful, gracious, intelligent and kind hearted.

Regarding Austen’s surmise of Emma that she would be: a heroine whom no one but myself will much like. That’s about right. I liked Emma, but I didn’t like her much.

Of course, there are numerous other characters. Some comic: Emma’s father, and Emma’s friend Miss Bates; some tragic, at least temporarily: Emma’s protégée Harriet Smith; some comically detestable: Mr. and Mrs. Elton; some mysterious: Jane Fairfax; some cavalier: Frank Churchill; some lovable: Emma’s former governess and dear friend Mrs. Weston; and one distinct, noble, admirable, wise and good: Mr. Knightley. I believe Knightley is a much an adjective as it is a surname. Or if you prefer, an aptronym.

Knightley is an old family friend. His relationship with Emma appears to be nearly that of an older brother. He is sometimes stern, but always protective and courteous. You may infer from what I’ve said, as the reader infers, that there is more than brotherly affection behind Mr. Knightley’s regard. This aspect of the story, more than any other, I wish I had not known and could have discovered gradually and then suddenly with Emma.

Spoiler Alert: The following contains a spoiler.

It ends happily ever after. It’s been a while since I read one of those; it was a nice change. (last happily ever after, was Jane Eyre, 14 novels ago, and even that is not thoroughly happily ever after)


There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is his duty… ~ Mr. Knightley

A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.

I certainly must, said she. This sensation of listlessness, weariness, stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling of everything’s being dull and insipid about the house! – I must be in love… ~ Emma

Mr. Elton was in the same room at once with the woman he had just married, the woman he had wanted to marry, and the woman whom he had been expected to marry, she must allow him to have the right to look as little wise, and to be as much affectedly, and as little really easy as could be.

It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! ~ Emma’s thoughts 

Film Rendition: I felt the 1996 film rendition with Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly is very good, and quite faithful. I have only two complaints, and one is my own fault. I wish I had read the book first. I believe I would have enjoyed the book more for not knowing the end, and I think I would have enjoyed the movie more knowing more of the details and finer points for having read the book. My other complaint is the casting of Ms. Paltrow as Emma. This is no critique of her acting, I think she played the part quite well. She is simply not at all how I pictured Emma. The rest of the casting was very good however, so I still give the movie high marks.



  1. I think Emma is an excellent place to start reading Austen. In many ways, I find it much more interesting than Pride and Prejudice, which is usually considered "the" Austen novel. Emma is a frankly irritating character at first, but that's what character development is for, right? And she did develop in so many ways, which was tremendously rewarding to read (I was lucky enough not to know anything about the story beforehand). Her conversations with Mr Knightley were my favourite bits in the book, besides Mr Elton who is hilarious and (in my opinion) does a lot to improve the slightly tedious and predictable first chapters of the book.

    I veritably admire your elegant utilization of the fine English vocabulary in your introductory paragraph. Please accept my virtual curtsey.

  2. Mr. Knightley is one of my very favorites of Austen's heroines... I go back and forth between him and Mr. Tilney. He's also my favorite part of the book... as you said, you Emma but not much.
    I've seen three of the four Emma films (I haven't seen the oldest). They're all good in their own right. My favorite version and the one I grew up on is the Kate Beckinsale version, made in 1996. The newest version made in 2009 is considered the best by the majority but the actress who played Emma really grated on me and while Emma is supposed to grate on you, I think it went to far. Plus, I felt she acted far too unladylike. However, I think the Mr. Knightley in that version is the best.

    1. I didn't even know there was a newer film version. Guess I'll have to check it out. Thanks.

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it, but have to disagree with Manette - I think it depends on the person. My book group that's doing all of Austen's novels really did not like this book. It's far from my favorite, but I've grown to appreciate it. I also think it might depend on your age/maturity when you read this one more so than any of the others!

    1. Yeah...I knew this wasn't your favorite. I look forward to reading MP someday. Cheers.

  4. Great introduction to your review, funny stuff. I read Persuasion recently and enjoyed it quite a bit. This will definitely be the next Austen for me to read.

    1. Jason...somehow I missed this comment when you posted it. My apologies for acknowledging it so late. Thanks for the feedback.


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