This isn’t the cover of the edition I read, but I thought it was pretty, and reminded me of Emma, herself. Actually I read a “Borders Classic” edition (poor Borders!) with plain black cover, “copyright 2004 (huh?)”, 386 pgs.
Finally finished the last of the Austens for the Challenge read! I’ve always had an awareness of this book: I’ve watched numerous adaptations (love the stunning 2009 version with Romola Garai!) and of course the adorable Clueless. But digging into the reality of Emma ended up being more of a chore for me than I expected. That, and the numerous distractions keeping me from my Challenge reading — school, work, life — blah, blah. Must keep reading!
Anyway, Emma. The plot: Emma Woodhouse is a rich and lovely young lady who lives in the quiet Surrey village of Highbury with her hypochondriac and eccentric father. Her mom died many years ago and her older sister is married and raising a family in London. Emma’s wealth, high status in the neighborhood, and her indulgent father leaves her plenty of resources, time and energy to meddle in the lives of her neighbors. She fancies herself the ultimate match-maker, after having overseen the successful courtships of her sister and her beloved governess, Miss Taylor. With Miss Taylor now married to neighboring Mr. Weston, Emma focuses her energies on a more ambitious effort: finding a husband for a poor and clueless orphan girl, Harriet Smith. Emma’s antics in promoting this project will have long-reaching and disastrous consequences affecting the lives of Harriet and many others. Least of those touched by Emma’s plots will be the handsome and flirtatious Frank Churchill, mysterious and aloof Jane Fairfax and finally, Emma’s nemesis, George Knightley.
I always thought this book was going to be light-hearted and fun. It actually was quite serious. It had a lot to do with telling the truth and what happens when people don’t. From the romantic “riddles” being passed back and forth by Emma and her erstwhile admirer, Mr. Elton, secret engagements, false situations created to try to throw potential lovers together, illnesses faked to manipulate others — much of the story points to the lesson urged by Mr. Knightley:
“My Emma, does not everything serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?”
Of course, the point of the book is for Emma to learn this lesson for herself. Also, being Austen, we get a heavy dose of the realities and consequences of adhering to the rules of society. Finally, Emma is quite a long book and to my taste, doesn’t have the pacing and pep of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Austen really takes a long time to tie all the plot lines together at the end and at one point I felt as bored and trapped as one of the characters playing an endless game of whist or backgammon with Mr. Woodhouse. Even with that criticism, getting to know Emma was a delight and watching her grow up and embrace the beauty of truth was worth the wait.