Emma by Jane Austen
I, embarrassingly, have two copies of this book. I bought an absolutely beautiful copy (Chiltern Publishing) from The Owl and the Cat Bookery, but then I saw the entire boxed set of Jane Austen works (Arcturus) at Coles. I didn’t want to break up the set, and I don’t want to resell the other book, since it was quite expensive, so I’m hoping to give it away to a friend who will appreciate it.
Read: August 21 – August 25, 2023
Book contains: copious amounts of miscommunication
Amusing Misadventures in Miscommunication
Set in Highbury, England, in the early 19th century, Emma Woodhouse lives with her father. Her governess has just married and moved away, and while Emma has no inclination of marrying herself, she adores matchmaking, and thinks herself quite good at it. She is convinced of having orchestrated the most recent marriage of Miss Taylor and the widower Mr Weston, and tries to arrange another suitable match for her young friend Harriet Smith, a student at a local boarding house.
I connected to Emma quite quickly because of her intelligence and class, though she is also somewhat spoiled and self-deluded, which worked against her quite a bit throughout the book. She has a notion of staying single, though loves to play matchmaker for others around her, and is confident in her own abilities of subtlety and cleverness. To the detriment of many people in the story, no one talks plainly to each other, as is typical for high society in these kinds of books. It leads to many misunderstandings in the kind of way that I love.
Since it’s a classic, I was able to find it without much difficulty on Spotify by Great Audiobooks [https://open.spotify.com/episode/4nA5jdx5lKIaK1hqY2DCAg] (a favourite of mine). The entire work, which was split up into several parts, was read by the same person. It was very pleasant, not having to readjust to a new voice, and the narrator was quite good, speaking clearly and with confidence.
The book is told, plain and simple, in third person past tense. It gives introductions to some of the characters, but the plot itself follows Emma, and as such reveals things only when she discovers them. It gives many clues, of course, but cleverly hides things behind Emma’s own conclusions, leading the reader to believe what she believes.
The cast is quite large and unfailingly unique. The main character, Emma, is surrounded by people on all sides: her father, Mr Woodhouse; her sister and sister’s husband, Isabelle and John Knightly; her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr George Knightly; her friend, Harriet Smith; her former governess and governess’ husband, Mr and Mrs Weston (nee Taylor); Mr Weston’s son, Frank Churchill; another girl, Jane Fairfax; and more.
Emma suffers from a sort of self-blindness, in that she believes she knows what others are thinking—convinced of it, even—yet she is oblivious. She thinks of Mr Knightly as a dear friend, has an excellent relationship with her father, and sees herself as a saviour of Harriet Smith, who isn’t as highborn as she is. Every attempt at matchmaking she makes seems to backfire, first with Mr Martin, then Mr Elton, then Mr Churchill, then Mr Knightly. Everyone ends up with someone or other by the end, though not what I was expecting going into the book.
I love Jane Austen’s voice and way of writing. Classics in general have a sort of appeal to me, though some can be longwinded in a way that I don’t enjoy. However, Austen’s writing has enough wit and humour to keep my attention, and it’s not so complicated that I get lost in nuances, but still clever enough that I feel smarter by reading it. Of course, it was quite a long book, with longwinded scenes, and at times I became a bit bored by the highborn English way of speaking (thoroughly beating around the bush), but the writing itself wasn’t dull.
I was so pleasantly surprised by how this book drew me in. I generally love classics, but the sheer gossip and uniqueness of the characters made me enjoy it far more than I expected. The chapters really flew by. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in matchmaking, high society, and genial misunderstandings. I can definitely see myself reading it again.