“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” (Opening sentence)
She lives quietly alone with her father. Her older sister lives in London with a family of her own. Emma does not wish to find her true love – she intends never to marry, and expects never to be in love – but she delights in finding other people’s potential spouses for them. Her governess that has been with her for seventeen years, Miss Taylor, marries an amiable widower, and Emma claims to have made the match herself. Now she looks to match her new friend Harriet Smith – a girl of seventeen whose parents are unknown, and Mr. Knightley, a family friend Emma has known all her life, advises her against it. He always tries to keep her in line by advising and scolding her, as no one else will. She soon finds that assuming things and meddling in other people’s romances brings pain and embarrassment to everyone involved (including herself), but she still had more lessons to learn.
Her former governess’ husband Mr. Weston expects his son Frank to visit, and Mr. and Mrs. Weston entertain hopes of Emma and Frank forming an attachment. Emma cannot understand why Mr. Knightley –who, with all her faults, has always been particularly fond of Emma since she was young – should be critical and suspicious of Frank, even before his arrival.
After many mix-ups, misunderstandings and mistakes, Emma learns about her own heart, but not until she feels herself in danger of losing her dearest hope, which she was previously unaware of.
Jane Austen said she was going to create a heroine ‘whom no one but herself would much like’ (and an author, I might add, should always like her heroines), but she was quite wrong. Emma can be annoying and has a tendency to see everything as the way she wants it to be, but nevertheless she is a likeable character, especially by the end. I’m not sure if that is because she improves – she does become wiser and less selfish, to be sure – but maybe one gets to understand her better as the story goes on, and grow to like her for who she is, as her friends do. In any case, the character development is brilliant. One does not grow as fond of perfect heroes and heroines, anyhow, I think.
Speaking of heroes, Mr. Knightley is one who most people (including myself) are very fond of. I read that out of all Jane Austen’s heroes, Mr. Knightley was her favorite. Hmm…I might just have to do a post all about Mr. Knightley…what do you think?
Emma is probably my second favorite Jane Austen story. Sense and Sensibility is very close, but there is a certain lighter feeling I got when reading Emma, rather like Pride and Prejudice, my top favorite.
All of Jane Austen’s stories are different, and I notice that they are all written differently as well. For instance, to me, Pride and Prejudice excels partially for its clever and amusing conversation. In Emma, as I read along, something jumps out at me and makes me unexpectedly burst out laughing. I’ll include some of the spots when I do my quotes post.
In short, I enjoyed the book as much as I expected to from watching the movies. A very clever story, indeed. And the end of books always explain so much more than the movies do! It’s lovely to have questions answered so explicitly.
Published in late 1815, Emma was the last of Jane Austen’s novels that she saw in print.
P.S. I love chapter 49.