I’ve talked before about how I adore Pride & Prejudice, and how for a long time, it was the only Austen I had read. Then I read Northanger Abbey in a Women’s Lit class, and it was distinguished mostly by being the only book where the female main character wasn’t dead at the end. Later, I checked out Austen’s complete works from the library, and read several in a row, giving up when they all ran together.
Now, I’ve finished Emma, reading it all by itself, so it was a distinct reading experience.
And I liked it, but I didn’t love it. My theory on Austen is this: what Austen book you like (if any) is going to depend on how you feel about the characters. Austen fans can relate to usually one heroine more than the others, and that will be the book they enjoy the most.
If you like one of these books, which one is it? And why?
Emma Woodhouse is spoiled and content. Wealthy, with a hypochondriac father who keeps her fairly isolated but otherwise lets her do whatever she wants, she is childish and wants nothing to change–a fact she extends to her friends.
Harriet Smith, a lower-class companion, can’t possibly marry someone who would make the two of them no longer able to visit, so Emma interferes in Harriet’s love life. Mr. Knightley, a good friend of the family, disapproves, but Emma dismisses his complaints. She’s so sure she’s right, and doing what’s best–but circumstances soon show her she’s wrong.
Not once, or twice, but again and again, Emma’s plans unravel. Characters lie and scheme, and happiness sometimes seems impossible. It ends, of course, in a way any Austen fan will expect.
For me, I just don’t much like the characters. I never connected with them, or cared too much what happened to them. And one chattering character in particular had me skimming, hoping she would stop talking soon, please. But if you can relate to well-meaning, lively Emma, quiet and trusting Harriet, educated and reserved Mr. Knightley, or any of the cast of people moving in Emma’s world, there’s a lot in this book to recommend itself. There’s compromise and gossip, dances and dinners, proposals and refusals, and rather a lot of couples. If you’re a fan of Austen, it’s definitely at least worth a try.