Monday, March 25, 2013

Emma by Jane Austen

I'm rereading all of the Jane Austen novels at the moment, it being about 20 years since I last read them all. Watching the occcasional one on a DVD made me feel as though I had read them much more recently!

Emma  by Jane Austen is probably the cleverest of them all in terms of the extent of irony and the characterisation, in my opinion.  Emma is my least favourite 'heroine' of all six novels and I'd imagine that is what Austen intended. Emma is wealthy, young, beautiful and she doesn't need to marry. Although she spends her time matchmaking others, she knows that she can remain a spinster without scorn, she won't end up like the impoverished Miss Bates as she has social position and wealth.  She is the apple of her father's eye and Miss Taylor, now married to Mr Weston seems to view her with favour too. Indeed, the only person who seems to see the true, spoilt, sometime selfish Emma, is Mr Knightley.

There is a cruel humour to it in some ways. Emma tries to matchmake a new friend Harriet Smith with the rector Mr. Elton and persuades her to refuse the marriage offer of Mr Martin, (to Mr Knightley's dismay). When Mr Elton discovers this, he recoils in horror and professes his love for Emma. Snubbed, he reacts angrily and in his turn, he also snubs Harriet at a dance. He departs and returns some months later with a new wife, who is a social snob and she and Emma despise each other.

I think we all know someone who is similar to Miss Bates, not necessarily ridiculed for single status, but someone who talks incessantly perhaps from being nervous.  Reading her garbled speech, a reader can sense the patient understanding of some characters and the irritation of others.  The picnic at Box Hill reveals Emma to be impatient and cruel as she ridicules Miss Bates in front of all her friends and she is held to account for it by Mr Knightley.

Emma also knows that she could have behaved with more kindness and feeling to Miss Bates' niece Jane Fairfax. Frank Knightley behaves improperly towards Emma by pretending he is in love with her although Austen lets him off to some extent as Emma's feelings are not hurt.

The novel ends with 3 happy couples and Emma looking forward to bringing Mr and Mrs Weston's baby daughter to her nephews in the future.

 Emma has plenty in it to make one feel slightly uncomfortable perhaps because we can recognise elements of our own personalities or of those we know, however, Austen's skill with irony, plot and characterisation don't disappoint.

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