Sunday, January 9, 2011

Emma (Jane Austen): Review

Emma is done! Emma is done! [Pardon me a moment while I do a little happy dance] I was beginning to think I would never be writing this review. In general, I like Jane Austen. I loved Persuasion; I really liked Pride and Prejudice. I'd had Emma (and other Austen novels) sitting on my shelf for a very long time and had every expectation of liking this novel as well. I'm afraid not. [Please note that in my eagerness to get this review out of my system that there may be spoilers ahead. Read on at your own risk.]

It didn't help that I disliked Emma Woodhouse from the very first sentence: "Emma Woodhouse, 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." How nice for her. How jolly to have everything going your own way. And, as we get to know Emma, how nice to be so assured of one's own interpretation of the world to be sure that one is always right and knows best for one's friends. And to somehow not learn anything for about 400 pages each time one is wrong. Yes, of course, Emma does learn her lessons in the end, but dear, dear Jane--could you not have let her learn the lessons just a little bit sooner?

I have never met (in fiction or otherwise) someone who was so misguided, so self-assured, and so blind in her dealings with other people. Emma is always putting her foot in it. If she'd left well enough alone, poor Harriet Smith could have been happily settled in the beginning chapters instead of the closing ones. And then to think that Mr. Elton is interested in Harriet instead of herself. And then to encourage Harriet to look above herself (meaning Frank Churchill when Harriet really has Mr. Knightley in mind). Can we get any more muddle-headed?

Even then it wouldn't have been so bad, and perhaps Emma wouldn't have dragged on so, if there had been any characters that I genuinely had been intrested in. But there weren't. Mr. Woodhouse and his constant health fears--not just his own, but for everyone. Miss Bates--who apparently can talk non-stop for hours without taking a breath. Made me need to stop and catch my breath just reading her passages. Harriet being so easily led by Emma. Mrs. Elton with her airs of superiority.

The blurb on the back of the book says that "Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work." Um. Okay. All this book did was make me tired. And make me glad to have it over and done with. This is a rare instance where I can honestly say that I much preferred the televised adaptation to the book. The filmed production is a treat...if you have a choice, sit down and watch Emma and give the book a miss. Two stars out five--based primarily on general affection for Jane Austen's writing and a few delightful quotations that made me stop and laugh out loud. More of those in fewer pages would have gone a long way to upping the rating.


Birdie said...

And to somehow not learn anything for about 400 pages each time one is wrong. Yes, of course, Emma does learn her lessons in the end, but dear, dear Jane--could you not have let her learn the lessons just a little bit sooner?

This is how I feel every single time I read Jane Austen. I've not read Emma, but S&S and Mansfield Park totally did that too me, though the characters are muddle headed in a different way. I think if I make it through P&P this year, I will count myself lucky

CMash said...

WooHoo...Finally!! Emma can be put on the shelves....and hopefully way, way, way in the back of the shelves lol.

Bev Hankins said...

@Birdie: P&P is WAY better than Emma. I have Mansfield Park down for another challenge. I hate to think that it's to be compared to Emma.

@CMash: Emma is going to be regulated to boxed up books in the garage....bad Emma.

Red said...

"'Emma Woodhouse, clever, and rich, etc...' How nice for her." This had me cracking up

I've heard a few reviews of Emma that echo what you've said. I think I'll leave Emma on the shelf (at the bookstore) for awhile.

Chelle said...

I had a similar experience with Mansfield Park. I just couldn't finish it. I watched the 1999 movie last night and liked it well enough!

neer said...

Jane Austen has never been a favourite of mine and though I have read a couple of books, this was one I never could even though it was part of the syllbus.

"Emma Woodhouse, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence;blah blah blah."

How nice for her.

Oh the sarcasm in these four words!!!

Kathleen said...

I did not really begin to properly understand "Emma" until after reading an essay by P.D. James, "Emma Considered as a Detective Story." And even after that, it took a while. This is a novel that does not give up its secrets easily, which is part of why some people consider such a perfect novel. It's so subtle, so sly, and so masterfully ironic.

The real genius of "Emma" is that all the really exciting and dramatic stuff -- Jane Fairfax's agonized secret engagement, Frank Churchill's game of misdirection, Mr. Elton's conniving, the fact that Mr. Knightley is in love with Emma-- is happening both offstage, as it were, and under our noses. There is a very exciting, melodramatic romantic story here, but that's not the one Jane Austen tells us.

All the clues are there (just as in a detective story) but we don't see them, because we are seeing the world through the eyes of Emma, who is, as the 90s remake wittily reminds us, clueless: self-absorbed, naive, convinced the world revolves around her. But aren't we all?

The book itself is a kind of conjuring trick, and once you see that, it is impossible to ever see it again in the same way.

Jennifer said...

I just read Emma and I can identify with you completely. It was just painful to see somebody messing everything up without any redeeming qualities. I finished it out of sheer willpower.

Jenny said...

Thank you! Thank you! You've said it all for me. I struggled to finish Emma and manged to do that yesterday. What a relief! I expected something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice (loved it to bits) and was surprised (at myself) that I didn't like Emma.

Sophia said...

Oh no! Emma is my absolute favourite JA book - what a shame you hated it! I love it because it's so witty. I don't think you're supposed to like Emma particularly, you are meant to be exasperated by her. But surely you just have to love JA's clever observations and pure comedic talent? No? Not even a little bit?

Marce said...

Thank you for linking up your review. Reading about how a character annoyed us is always entertaining. I agree, you just want it to be over.

I lol when you had to take a breath to read that characters parts, funny.

Larissa said...

I am currently (trying to) finishing Emma and can't seem to see the end of it.
I loved Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Persuasion is one of my favorite books. But Emma just annoys me...

Loved your "How nice for her" - it's exactly that!