Emma

Emma.  Such a pretty name.  It makes for a beautiful title.  It is also fitting, because this is the one novel by Jane Austen in which the heroine is unabashed to proclaim that she is the title character.  Even her interference in Harriet Smith’s life is done with the excuse that Harriet must marry someone in Emma’s sphere, so that Emma can maintain the friendship with propriety.

Emma knows from the start that she is the heroine as, unlike the simple yet romantic Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, Emma is born with all the requirements to make a heroine.  Emma’s late mother was brilliant and beautiful like her, and supposedly her only equal in the Woodhouse family.  Emma’s father is rich and indulgent,  Emma can do no wrong, and is given almost complete control over the house, her father, and even her governess at a young age.  Emma’s natural talents are so impressive that she does everything well with little effort, and yet has a naturally discerning taste that gives her the even more rare talent of viewing her own work critically.  Every character likes Emma, and at the end she is easily forgiven by all for her mistakes made during the course of the novel.  Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax and even Robert Martin, those she harmed most, are her devoted friends at the end of the story.

Yet one could say that Emma suffers from the same problem as Frank Churchill.  Both had all the qualifications to be heroes, one could even say they were overqualified.  Fractured family lives, talent, charm, looks, money from controlling relatives.  Their real problem, however, is that, while these issues made their lives interesting, they still never had to struggle for anything.  Emma loved art, but grew bored with it when it became hard and patience and perseverance were required.  Frank had a love for life that didn’t set him up to challenge his adopted family, not when just going along with them only meant slight inconvenience to his happy life.  Neither felt the need to actually put in the effort to be heroic, and instead accepted that they were worthy to be centers of the universe, and treated everyone else accordingly.  It takes the plot of Emma for them to realize that to maintain their place as heroes they must keep up their cast of sidekicks, aka, all the other characters in the novel.

Emma is a wonderful book.  Carefully crafted, with complex characters, and a realistic plot.  In fact, I would say the only thing that is not true to life is how there are no grudges left at the end of the story; everyone has resolved their differences.  In my experience (which, at twenty-one, is only as extensive as Emma’s) it is harder to reconcile than this novel shows, hard feelings are still felt, even when forgiveness has been given.

Another claim I’m willing to make about Emma is that it is, from a craft standpoint, the best of Jane Austen’s novels.  The characters, the plot, the writing is all most excellent, and perhaps the truest of her works, using the definition of fictional truth meaning that it reflects the author’s world accurately.  All this is not to say that Emma is my favorite Jane Austen novel.  It’s hard to admit, but it is my least.  I have a hard time sympathizing with Emma, because she is too lifelike.  I have a hard time seeing her faux pas, or watching those around her be hurt.  In a previous post, (https://rathermundane.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/miss-bates/) I explained that Miss Bates is the Jane Austen character I am most like, a painful statement that makes spending time with Emma, a character I do indeed care for, difficult.  I know it is strange to call my least favorite book to be the best written, but when I put aside my subjective self and put on my objective reading self, I cannot say anything else.

Anyways, that is all I have to say about Emma at the moment.  I’m not sure which Jane Austen I’ll read next time, but as always, I look forward to re reading her, learning more from her, and getting an opportunity to share my thoughts through this blog.  Happy reading, happy life readers. ^_^

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