I wanted to kick off my participation in Adam's Austen in August event with a reread of one of the three Austen books I have already read (Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Sense & Sensibility). In the end I went for Emma; I had read it only once before and think I was so caught up in the life of Emma herself that I missed a lot of the secondary plot on the first try. Emma may give her name to the title of the book but it is really a novel about the society of Highbury and all of the people in it. Following the marriage of her governess to Mr Weston, Emma considers herself something of a matchmaker and delights in matching her new friend Harriet Smith with various men. Despite the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley, Emma meddles in the business of all her neighbours, with some unforeseen consequences for her own personal happiness.
Warning - there are spoilers in this review.
Emma is definitely a novel that benefits from a re-read. The first time I read it, the announcement that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax were engaged took me completely by shock, as I had spent the story believing everything Emma herself believed. This gave the ending of the novel, and Emma's realisation that she might have ruined her own happiness, power that it didn't have on this second read, as I knew it was coming. But instead, this time, I was able to fully appreciate the skill with which Austen puts in all the little clues, that tell the reader one thing, whilst allowing Emma to believe another. She slowly doles out these clues bit by bit, never drawing too much attention to them and they gradually build up. It's very clever writing.
One thing that often comes up in reviews of Emma is that Emma herself isn't the most likeable of characters. She is certainly flawed; over-confident, not very perceptive and too lazy to become accomplished at anything (a crime in Austen's day!). She appears at her worst when she is persuading Harriet to turn down an offer of marriage from a man she loves mainly so that Harriet can still be around Emma every-day. But despite all of this, I really liked Emma on the first read and I liked her more so on the second. She isn't perfect and that's what I like about her, and it's what makes her so easy to relate to. Austen takes pains to show us that Emma's heart is in the right place (most of the time) and the fact that she has flaws allows some great character development;
"With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of everyone's feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange everybody's destiny. She was proved to have been universally mistaken; and she had not quite done nothing - for she had done mischief."
I feel like I am finally getting to the point now where I am starting to fully understand just why everyone loves Austen so much. I have always liked the novels of hers I have read, but I never really got the wit in the stories before, or the subtle commentary on society of the time. As Emma is about such a broad range of people and we get to see them both as they really are, and through Emma's flawed perception, I'm finally realising how clever and brilliant Austen's writing is. I enjoyed every single page of Emma and didn't want it to end. On this read, it's jumped straight to the top of my 'favourite books by Jane Austen' mental list.
Next up for Austen in August: Northanger Abbey.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1816
My Edition: Penguin Threads, 2011
Score: 5 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 14 out of 72
My list of 72 classics is here.
This book was read as part of the Austen in August event.
You've summed up what makes Austen's novels so great; they're books meant to be read again and again. And Emma is such a great character. She's always been one of my favorites. Great post.ReplyDelete
I've reread two Austen books so far, and enjoyed both of them a lot more on the second try.Delete
Yay! Her books definitely warrant a re-read. I've read P&P and Emma once, and I will definitely read them again.ReplyDelete
I agree, her books improve on a reread.Delete
Aw, I love Emma- I read P&P when I was about 12 and tooootally didn't get it so I was like 'Jane Austen is stupid!' for YEARS until I finally picked up Emma and read it in about 2 days and then I was like 'YAY Austen!' And yeah, I definitely agree that Emma isn't *perfect* but she's still basically one of the good guys! :)ReplyDelete
(Also, without Emma we wouldn't have Clueless, and for THAT I am eternally grateful :) )
I did the same with P&P, luckily I went back for a reread years later!Delete
And Clueless is brilliant :)
I read Emma in college and absolutely hated the character. I plan to watch the movie for Austen in August and if I like her better I may give the book a re-read.ReplyDelete
I generally have quite a high tolerance for characters, I think. They have to do something absolutely awful for me to dislike them!Delete
The TV series with Romola Garai as Emma is the best version, in my opinion.
I read Austen's books years ago, and Emma was my favorite. I've re-read Pride and Prejudice recently, but not Emma. I'm a little afraid to read it, afraid I won't love it as much as I did. But your review has just about convinced me I've got to pull it off the shelf.ReplyDelete
I liked it more on the second go and every Austen I've read has improved with rereading. Go on, you know you want to reread it :)Delete
It took me a while to enjoy Emma -- I tried reading it thrice before I was even able to finish it -- but now it's my favorite of Jane Austen's books.ReplyDelete
(I'm trying so hard not to be a dork BUT have you seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Amongst the most delightful, if not the most delightful, Pride & Prejudice adaptations ever? Because their next project is an adaptation of Emma and I am very very very very excited for it and now I have been a dork the end.)
I have seen about a third of the Lizzie Bennet diaries, I really need to go back and finish them. I can't wait for the Emma version!Delete
I'm a dork too :)
I just posted my review of Emma, and my problem was I do not really like Emma herself.ReplyDelete
The whole Frank/Jane thing did not come as a surprise to me, it was clear almost from the first moment. (especially after the piano thing)
Isn't it great how everybody can read the same book and still have such different opinions and different reasons why you have that opinion.
Great review, and I am very glad you enjoyed your reread so much.
I am a gullible reader, I tend to go with the flow and therefore am nearly always suprised along with the main character!Delete
Emma is great. Both the person and the book. She is very far from perfect but on the other hand she does a fair amount of growing up and maturing and it is portrayed very subtly. She is very real in her bubbly personality that needs some gravitas without losing the bubble :) She's like champagne, really. Makes you slightly lightheaded, careless and laughing.ReplyDelete
What I like about the book itself is that - perhaps as the only one of all Austens (or maybe most intensely in all the Austens) it shows love as something that can virtually turn your life upside down, changing you from very appropriate and accomplished young lady into a feverish creature, willing to forgo all conventions and to hell with the world. I love Jane for it and I love how it is presented. It's kind of Bronte-ish in temperature, Jane wailing in the moors almost, but related by Mrs Bates, God bless her soul. Other than Jane, everyone else in Austen's universe it seems to me falls in love appropriately - within their sphere and never aspring to high or Heaven forbid breaking convenance. A lady only aspires for younger brother, not the heir if it is really out of their scope.(Marianne does, to certain extent, but she is soundly punished, to some shadenfreude of the author, I cannot help thinking).
And I love how the world is presented. You get the real feel of English village at that time. No really secondary characters.
Thank you for the lovely detailed comment Hannah :)Delete
Emma does indeed do a lot of growing up in the novel and I agree that she manages to keep her bubbly side. I'm not a bubbly person myself so that's probably why I like that aspect of her character.
I never thought about Jane being the only Austen girl to have her life completely turned upside down by love, it's an interesting point.
Great review! I'm beginning to wish that I'd taken part in this event. I'd really like to re-read everything of hers :)ReplyDelete
It's not too late - still half of the month to go!Delete
I'm reading Emma, for the first time, right now! I'm totally loving it. I'm also having little Clueless moments as I read it, which is making it so much fun. I had to skip the middle part of the review because of the spoilers, but you're quite right when it comes to loving this novel.ReplyDelete
Yay! Glad you are loving it :)Delete
Clueless is actually a very clever adaptation of the novel, nothing wrong with having little Clueless moments as you read.
Great review! Emma is my favorite, so I'm so glad to see you loved it, too. I was apprehensive when I read it for the first time because I'd heard Emma was so unlikeable, but like you, I really liked her because of her flaws.ReplyDelete
I like a main character with flaws, so it doesn't bother me at all. I love the character growth that we get to see because of it.Delete
I started Emma a few days ago and I am loving it! She is so clueless but clued up at the same time. I can't decide if I like her or dislike yet but I think she is one of those characters that can change your mind on every page. I'm looking forward to seeing what other shenanigans she can get up to :)ReplyDelete
Hope you're still liking it. I love how bubbly Emma is but she definitely isn't as smart as she thinks she is!Delete
Emma is my favorite Austen character because she's so flawed. Well, also because she's so strong-minded and independent and doesn't care about getting married. It's such a wonderful book, you've made me want to reread it.ReplyDelete
Yes I forgot to mention that, I really liked that Emma was so indifferent to the thought of marriage early on in the novel. It's very refreshing.Delete
Hope you enjoy your reread :)
I hope you enjoy Northanger Abbey I have just finished reading it. Emma was the second Austen novel I read. I rather like Emma for exactly the same reasons you do. Her flaws only make her more human for me and I always felt her heart was in the right place even when she is doing all the wrong things. Emma is a common of age tale I think because Emma grows a lot during the novel which I enjoyed reading about.ReplyDelete
I loved Northanger Abbey, so much more than I was expecting to! I'm hoping to get my review up in the next couple of days :)Delete
I love how JA manages to tell the story so completely through her protagonists eyes, that you see their world exactly as they do during your first reading of the books. Therefore you feel the shocks just as much as they do.ReplyDelete
The joy of rereading all her books is knowing what is about to happen and seeing how perfectly JA sets it up - every conversation, every set piece, every character has their role to play. Simply delicious!
Yep, that is exactly what I loved. I was completely shocked the first time!Delete
I bought Emma last summer and still have to read it, but seeing that you give it 5 starts just make me eager to pick it up! Are you seeing the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow?ReplyDelete
I have seen the Gwyneth Paltrow movie but I think the recent TV series with Romola Garai as Emma is much better. It's more faithful to the book as a whole, and her Emma is more as I imagined her.Delete
Emma has always been a hard one for me. I have tried and failed with it about five times. I like the idea of the story, but I just can't get on with it. I put it on my classics club spin list because I want to have motivation for finishing it!ReplyDelete
I love that cover! I haven't read this one since high school, but I love rereading stories and seeing hints that I missed the first time! I need to reread this one sometimes soon! I remember feeling the same way about Emma and how flawed and unlikable but at the same time really likable. I'm glad you liked it more this time and are starting to appreciate Austen more!ReplyDelete