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Emma by Jane Austen

By Caroline | Books | March 8, 2010 |

By Caroline | Books | March 8, 2010 |

WHOA WHOA WHOA. Look. I don’t mind that someone kept it a secret from me for the last decade that Jane Austen is amazing; I don’t even mind that my eighth-grade literature teacher — one of the worst teachers I’ve ever had — instead made us read Charles Dickens at age 13 though his prose is thick and overly wordy and Austen’s is straight, clean, and utterly readable. All I can say is that I’m glad I read The Jane Austen Book Club and was told that I needed to read Austen in short order.

Let’s get back to the book. Emma is a timeless tale of a meddling young woman, the same as many I’ve known in my life but several-times-over more wealthy and with much more time for mischief. She goes through the story making misguided attempts to bring her friends and acquaintances together, romantically, and fails over and over. She is also comically haughty about the small rural community in which she and her father live, and on which she imposes a strict social hierarchy.

The wonderful part of all this, besides that it reminded me of the sweet meddling of high-school and college friends and their matchmaking, is the way Austen voices each character in the story. Emma is so righteous and passive-aggressive that she fringes on unlikable, if she weren’t counterweighted by the utterly sane Mr Knightley — they would make a good comedy team, he the straight man, she the flibbertigibbet. Emma’s father is paranoid and of delicate health, which comes out in his frequent laments over the women in his life who have married away: he refers to them all as “poor so-and-so,” as if they’ve come down with a life-threatening illness.

And in this small town, Emma and her father are the superstars. When Emma makes an awful remark to an old family friend, Knightley points out to her that others will follow as she leads, even if she intended the comment in good humor. I loved the contrast between outward Emma, so seriously denying every compliment and dodging people’s praise, and private Emma, thinking herself their better and absorbing every good word as if it were her last.

I loved this book, and read it as quickly as one can read a 450-page book from the early 19th century. The language wasn’t off-putting at all and Austen’s faux-haughty tone added great depth to the story and character development. In fact, I laughed out loud a lot of times at the tiny society Emma cultivates and culls down to a few, only to find that her ideas of appropriate matches are a complete disaster. Not even the brightest, most cerebral girl in town can choose for others what they must choose for themselves.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Caroline’s reviews, check out her blog, Of a Golden Age.

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