Summer is a relaxing time for many of us to catch up on things that we aren’t able to do during the school year. For me, it’s a time to read a year’s worth of books, and so this past week, I began with a classic: Emma, by Jane Austen (who is the author of my favorite book, Pride & Prejudice, which I highly recommend!). All summer, we’ll be bringing you reviews of the books WE are reading…and we hope you’ll share your thoughts too!
Before I begin, confession/disclaimer: I’m a hopeless romantic and I love reading classics. That said, the writing style and plots of the Regency Era (which Jane Austen was part of) does not suit everyone.
This novel follows the life of the title character, Emma Woodhouse, who is a wealthy young woman living in the early 1800s. Though lively, beautiful, clever, well-off, and more than eligible to make a good marriage, which was expected of all young women of the time, she vows to never wed, partly because she could never bear to part with her kind, good-natured, but ailing, cautious, and dependent father, and partly because she has no desire to fall in love and be dependent on anyone. The novel begins with a conversation about Miss Taylor, who was Emma’s governess and close friend before her recent marriage to Mr. Weston, which Emma considers herself to be responsible for. After making this successful match, Emma believes that she is a skilled matchmaker, and decides to try her hand with other pairs. She begins with Harriet Smith, a young, pretty, but naïve girl with unknown family roots. Problems arise, however, as expected, when an equally beautiful, smarter, wealthier, and single girl is doing the match-making. The rest of the novel follows the drama in their community and the tangled romantic and gossip-filled web with characters including Emma, Miss Smith, the Eltons, the Westons, Frank Churchill, Mr. Knightley, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Martin, and several others.
This novel is filled with many marriage proposals, many marriage refusals, secrets, and all other sorts of drama typical in the life of the upper class English of the time. At times, this book moves a little slowly with formalities, but sometimes, this leads to humorous moments when compared to modern life. For example, at one point, Emma is appalled when Mrs. Elliot refers to Mr. Knightley, a dear friend of Emma whom Mrs. Elliot has never met, as simply Knightley, a title (or lack of) that suggested familiarity and friendship (how scandalous!).
Despite the differences from modern day life, Jane Austen somehow manages to stay relatable 200 years later. The ideas of courtship, though in a drastically different form, are still prevalent today, and the annoyance at deception, or sorrow felt in heart-breaking misunderstands, and the awkward task of confessing mistakes are relevant to all mankind.
Overall review? I quite liked reading this book and following the drama of young, wealthy 19th century men and women. However, I definitely enjoyed Pride & Prejudice more. In comparison, the plot of Emma had many more storylines which made it much more difficult to follow, especially because of the sometimes slow and flowery writing. In addition, the characters in Pride & Prejudice were more relatable, more laughable, more irritable, and had more depth overall. That’s not to say that Emma wasn’t a good novel; quite the contrary was true. It was an enjoyable read that has definitely helped to ease me back into a summer of reading (I’ll eventually finish the giant tome of a book, Anna Karenina…).
Have you read Emma? Let us know below in the comments what you thought of it. Or, let us know what other books you recommend for this summer!
Written by Guest Blogger, Katherine Chang