(Time for a little celebration dance! ~|~ This novel is my 30th for the year, and marks finally reaching my #ReadingGoals2016. Woo! I made it. With a couple of weeks to spare even. Go Steph.)
Just before sitting down to write, I read the afterword by David Pinching. And okay, I’ll admit, there’s a bit of genius in this book.
It’s just that… nothing happens!
That’s what I struggled with most. The story is about 95% dialogue (yes, that’s early 1800s ye olde dialogue, complete with archaic expressions and flourishes of speech which means it takes people 2 pages to say what they want).
I read other Austen novels when I was a teenager, but have never been able to make it through Emma because it is so slow moving.
Essentially, our protagonist is an upper class 21-year-old lady in the small town of Highbury. Emma Woodhouse is charming, elegant, well bred and incessantly meddles with other people’s affairs. She fancies herself a matchmaker. But, as we find out, she kind of sucks at it.
Emma befriends a young lady named Harriet Smith of lesser fortune and privilege and it becomes Emma’s project to refine her and marry her off to an eligible suitor. Alas, Emma gets it all wrong. She encourages Harriet to reject the marriage proposal of the lovely farmer Harriet quite fancies, and makes her believe the rich and popular Mr Elton is interested in her. Actually, Mr Elton desires Emma herself, so that makes things embarrassing.
The story continues along these lines. Emma tries to set people up, gossips with her friends and they all go to someone’s house for a day trip (that’s all the action for half the book).
Perhaps another thing that irks me is that Emma herself is not all that likeable a character. She is vain, snobbish and controlling. Though she is sympathetic and has some good virtues, she’s really not very nice a person. However, I suppose this is how Austen chose to write her. I can’t help but liken Emma to a 19th century version of Gossip Girl. It’s all about relationships, friendships and, yes, gossip.
Of course, everything comes full circle in the end and everyone is happy. Harriet ends up marrying the farmer who originally proposed to her, Emma marries the man she realises she has always subconsciously hoped to married, and a few of her others friends also end up in happy matrimony.
What I will give Jane Austen credit for is pretty much nailing the pettiness of our lives and worries. For her it was small-town life of the time, but the focus on relationships, money and position are as evident in society today as they perhaps were then. It seems ridiculous (and it is ridiculous) how much these things matter to the characters. So I applaud our Austen for displaying the silliness of what her characters fixate on.