I’m an avid Jane Austen fan, and will be forever grateful that her novel Pride and Prejudice helped jump-start my love for reading.
As a fan, I was ashamed to admit that out of her six novels I’ve only read five. Now, I knew the plot line of Emma, as I have seen a few adaptations, but the completest in me was always bothered. Especially since Emma is usually a favorite among Austen’s admirers.
Well NO LONGER shall I live in shame!
I’ve finally finished Emma, Austen’s story about a young wealthy woman who’s very different from other Austen heroines. Emma is a snob, through and through. She also thinks a little highly of herself, as a small victory in matchmaking balloons her ego. Thinking she knows what is best for others, she manipulates and is somewhat careless with their futures.
In Emma, Austen’s plotting, humor, and pacing is on full display. Surrounded by a strong cast of characters, the reader is along for the ride as we watch self-important Emma try to help poor Harriet Smith. Harriet is a pretty young woman who Emma takes under her wing, but in the end has Emma hurt more than help her young protege?
I can see why Emma is a personal favorite among fans. For some, Emma might be too selfish, but she still has a special place in my heart. She felt like a real person without being completely unlikable. I’m glad that Austen throughout shows her being attentive and loving towards her elder father.
I thoroughly enjoyed Emma, but there is one major gripe that’s keeping me from giving it a perfect score.
The love story. *Sigh*
The characters of Emma and Mr. Knightley are fantastic and well-rounded on their own, but I just wasn’t on board for this romance.
One of the reasons why I love Austen’s books is she knows how to develop tension and longing. In Sense and Sensibility, Eleanor’s love interest is barely in the book, but I still felt longing and heartache. This is due to the groundwork that Austen built with the two characters in the beginning.
In Emma there was zero tension, and longing didn’t come in till the last 50-60 pages (out of 476 pages).
This partly has to do with Emma and Knightley’s relationship throughout the novel, which feels more brother and sister than lovers.
Age difference is a part of the problem as the two characters are 16 years apart, but that wasn’t uncommon in the early 19th century. The age difference just emphasizes the bond they have (which isn’t romantic). They are also brother and sister-in-laws, as their siblings, Emma’s sister and Knightly’s brother, are married.
Not that two family friends can’t fall in love, but it takes time to naturally develop that progress. Knightly pops in and out of the first volume just to scold and bicker with Emma, like old friends do. He’s barely in the second volume and just adds commentary. But by the end of the third volume they are totes in love.
By this point there are only a couple hints to there being more between… but it just wasn’t important to me. I think that is due to me having a hard buying them as lovers.
I understand Knightley’s function in the novel, as he is the voice of sense and reason. His good sense only falters with Emma, when he fears an undeserving man might be making eyes with her. I’m not unhappy with the ending, I just wish Austen gave us more.
Overall, the novel makes up for this disappointment. The Eltons alone brought so much amusement to my life, and I’m pretty sure that years from now I will look upon Emma with fondness.
In the Margins:
- My favorite adaption is the 2009 BBC Miniseries with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. This version had the tension I wanted! (Also the pictures I used for this review are from that version)
- Emma Approved and Clueless will always have a special place in my heart.
- Mark Strong will always win the most intense Knightley ever…
- In case anybody was wondering, here is how I would rank Austen’s novels now that I have completed them:
Pride and Prejudice 10/10
Sense and Sensibility 9/10
Northanger Abbey 7/10
Mansfield Park 5/10
Where would you rank Emma?