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Reading Notes: Emma

I’m looking forward to watching the PBS premiere (Sunday, Jan 24) of the new series based on Jane Austen’s Emma. Privileged, beautiful, and self-assured, Emma Woodhouse ignores warning of her friend and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith. What little feedback that I have read gives me the impression that critics are in consensus that Emma is Jane Austen’s most flawless work. The prose cannot be any more tickling:

I think, Harriet, since your acquaintance with us, you have been repeatedly in the company of some, such very real gentlemen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference in Mr. Martin. At Hartfield you have had very good specimens of well educated, well bred men. I should be surprized if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Mr. Martin again without perceiving him to be a very inferior creature—and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought him at all agreeable before. Do not you begin to feel that now? Were not you struck? I am sure you must have been struck by his awkward look and abrupt manner—and the uncouthness of a voice, which I heard to be wholly unmodulated as I stood here. [32]

It would be an understatement to call Emma Woodhouse prejudiced, I’ve got an ominous, knot-in-the-stomach feeling that Harriet’s association with Emma would create more than a solecism.

Which makes his good manners the more valuable. The older a person grows, Harriet, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad—the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth, is detestable in later age. Mr. Martin is now awkward and abrupt; what will he be at Mr. Weston’s time of life? [33]

Obviously Harriet knows nothing herself and she looks upon Emma (which I think is now a b*tch) as knowing everything. How she could judge Mr. Martin’s character personality without even knowing him in person is completely beyond me. Just because he makes a living out of farming doesn’t mean he “will be a completely gross, vulgar farmer—totally inattentive to appearances and thinking of nothing but profit and loss.” [33]

How I long to see how this match-making drama shall unfold. How I want her design would backfire and conclude with a twist that might befall herself! TThis book intrigues me, to begin with, because it is a great departure from Austen’s other novels, in which the quest for marriage and financial security are two of several themes in the stories.

24 Responses

  1. I’ve been on the fence…what Austen to read next? Sense & Sensibility, or Emma? One of them will be a part of my “Read the Book/See the Movie” Challenge. I loved P&P and Persuasion. So Emma is a b*tch huh? Well, I guess there was that whole class thing going on…

    • Hmm…shes such a snob, maybe not a b*tch so much! 🙂 I just read her exchange with Mr. Knightley, who strongly recommends her to back off from pairing up Harriet with Mr. Elton. This girl can talk, talks her way out of reason and she’s got some sharp teeth! This book is about class, about marrying well into good society. I cannot wait to see the series!

  2. I’ve been ‘saving’ Emma for years – the only major Austen novel left for me to discover. I’m afraid I can’t hold out much longer…

    • You speak my feeling, JoAnn. I’ve been holding back on this one until I saw PBS’s commercial on the series. This one is different from most of the other Austen works because it departs from the usual theme of marriage and financial security. Well, it does address these issues indirectly but the main focus is Emma Woodhouse’s match-making.

  3. I have not yet read Emma, but I have heard such glowing reviews. How timely of you to read the book in order to watch the PBS presentation – that is something that I would love to do as well.

    I am re-reading Pride and Prejudice with my Brit Lit class for about the 6th time and thoroughly enjoying it – again!

    • I am planning to re-read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility later on the year because I’ve acquired the DVDs of BBC presentation! I can also be in spirit with the read the novel/see the movie challenge, as Sandy has mentioned. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure Emma is bitchy – more that she’s a horrible snob. I do believe she has the best intentions for Harriet and those around her, the problem is that she can’t see that others’ path to happiness may not follow her own. She’s in need of humility for sure, but I think that with the exception of one scene in the novel, she is never willfully mean to another person, so I can’t be too harsh on her!

    • I think you’re right: her being strong-headed and snobbish make she very sharp=tongued! 🙂 She does have the best intentions for Harriet and her kind designs for the girl to marry well show. But she does have an ulterior motive to make Harriet her companion.

  5. Her most flawless work? Really? Interesting. I haven’t read it in quite some time, but I should go back and consider that!

    My favorite Austen, though, is Persuasion. It is so wonderfully excellent.

  6. I had no idea critics thought “Emma” was Austen’s most flawless work. I might even be tempted to agree with them (even though “Persuasion” is my absolute favorite Austen so far) if I knew what criteria they were using to judge “flawlessness.” I did really enjoy “Emma” though. I even found her likable despite her snobbishness. I guess because she was kind-hearted, just misguided. Also, did you know the movie “Clueless” was based on “Emma”? Once you’ve read the book, “Clueless” begins to look like a pretty good re-interpretation.

    • I believe in the UK’s consolidated 100 best novels, Emma is rated above any other of Austen’s novels. I’m glad I have posting my reading progress of Emma, because from the discussion I notice some of you pick Persuasion as the favorite. I’ll read Persuasion next! 🙂 I have found out that Clueless was based on Emma, although I never watched the movie (I’m glad I didn’t yet).

  7. I loved reading what you thought so far. I haven’t read Emma yet but have watched the movie adaption several times. Like you I have my DVR set for the 24th…can’t wait!

  8. I had a professor once who argued that Charles Dickens really only wrote one novel. I tend to look at Austen this way, all of her books are really part of one big novel.

    I lean towards Pride and Prejudice as the best one myself, though it’s a very close call. The one that moved me the most though was Persuasion. That moment when the heroine finally gets that letter gave me more goosebumps than anything I’ve ever read.

  9. You made some very interesting comments. I didn’t get much of goosebumps reading P&P and S&S, probably because they are the most popular Austen books. But now I have renewed and high expectation of how Persuasion will knock me like a feather!

  10. I have problems with Emma’s self-righteousness, but Emma is a great book. It’s probably one of my favorite Austen books. If you are truly adventurous, you should check out the movie Clueless with Alicia Silverstone. It’s a modern-day adaptation of Emma and very adorable.

    • I find her constant quarrel with Mr. Knightley, who always steps up and warns her being too subjective and self-conceited very entertaining. 🙂

  11. This work, along with Persuasion, causes me to deeply regret that this great writer was taken from the world in her prime. I think of Emma as something of a well meaning but overconfident meddler, who is given credence by individuals who come to regret their trust in her. She is a person of unusual talent, a little too accustomed to deference from individuals whom she considers her proteges. And she can be very unkind at times to those who lack her gifts. But how she acquires more substance and consideration is part of the interest of this novel. Mr. Knightly is one of Austen’s gems.

    • Emma is very talented and bright, but she thinks herself too highly especially in the department of meddling with other’ romances. Like I mentioned above, I love reading her continual quarrel with Mr. Knightly who shows his disapproval of her schemes.

  12. Yes! I’m really looking forward to the PBS version too.

  13. I’m not much of an Austen fan (I’m for a of a Sartre or Eco fan, as I think we’ve discussed) but in all shallowness, I caught the tail end of Clueless while home over the holidays and I’m now reading Emma to do a comparison. I think, so far, I’ve decided that the fake, valley girl setting has given Clueless a more acceptable snob stage than Emma’s prim and proper society but they both run fairly parallel. I’m about half way through so I’ll let you know what I think of the whole thing in a few days!

  14. I do want to see Clueless now, as well as one of the BBC series.

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