Emma by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a re-read, probably for about the 5th time. It is always fresh no matter how many times I read it. There are so many things that I find that I have missed.
The story is set in England in the 19th century. While the village is only 17 miles from London, it is deep in the country. Emma, the bright, clever, pretty and beloved daughter of one of the first families in the district, has been spoiled dreadfully in her upbringing. She has no social equals and after the loss of her governess and friend, she sets to work to manipulate the lives of others in the village by attempting to make matches between the people she knows. The only person who has ever not spoiled Emma is the local, most eligible, bachelor, George Knightly. While he cares deeply for Emma and her father, he has always tried to bring some semblance of discipline into Emma's life by speaking the truth plainly to her.
As with almost every book by Jane Austen, there are plots and subplots, innuendo, misinformation, and wrong assumptions. Even though the elements of her stories are similar, the characters stand out almost as real people. In fact, next to Dickens, I believe Jane Austen created the most memorable characters in English Literature. Sometimes I think I re-read this book just to encounter the deliciously obnoxious Mrs. Elton.
Emma is a dynamic character and I found myself very irritated with her for the first half or more of the book. She meddles in people's lives and thinks she knows what is best for them. She has a deep seated snobbishness but a kind heart and, where she has found favor, a lack of class consciousness. In other words, she is a complex character who is basically kind and loving, but the petting and spoiling of her early life has led her to believe that everything she believes is right. She cheerfully meddles in people's lives and then is chagrined when the desired outcome does not work the way she intended.
There are some rough places in the book, especially when listening to an audiobook. The silly, boring and incredibally talkative Mrs. Bates, can be easily be skimmed over in a book, but she is hard to skip in an audiobook. She goes on and on and I am sure Jane Austen meant for her readers to experience just how boring she could be. There is also a lot of description which may irritate some readers, but to me evokes a time when lives moved at a slower pace and the concerns of the people were more mundane and closer to home. The endless discussions of what people should eat, or the superiority of the local doctor by Emma's father were similar to conversations I listened to in the 60's on the isolated Eastern Shore of Virginia. Where there is very little that changes, conversations center on the tiny details of daily life and family and this is what Jane Austen shows us. As with all of Jane Austen's book, in the end the threads are gathered together, all ends well, and dear Emma has come out a wiser and happier young woman.
This is classic #10 for the year. Fifteen more to go.
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