Emma by Jane Austen

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.


I've always thought that Emma has such a lighthearted feel as compared to Austen's other novels, and I suspect it is because of Emma herself. While I never connected with Emma the way I connected with Elizabeth Bennett or Elinor Dashwood, I have always liked her as a character. She's like the effervescent, albeit shallow, friend who is fun to be around and who everyone can't help but indulge. Her main mission is entertainment, and you can't help but to fall in line with whatever scheme she is planning.

Nevertheless, I can never quite take Emma seriously, at least for most of the book. For the most part her antics are well-meaning and harmless, but she is a rather spoiled and selfish individual. She does make quite a mess when she decides to meddle in Harriet's love life. While Emma's actions were never intended to cause harm, they do speak to her rather self-centered nature. On the surface, Emma appears to be trying to secure Harriet a superior match, but she completely ignores the realities of Harriet's social status and position. Her driving motivaI tion is less about her friend's happiness and more about how the match will gratify her, and in the end it only results in disaster.

Emma is not altogether irredeemable, however. Mr. Knightley, another one of my favorite literary leading men, serves as the perfect counterbalance to Emma. While having a partner who loves and accepts you for who you are is certainly important, I've always thought that the right person would also push you to be the best version of yourself. I think that is what Mr. Knightly does for Emma. He sees her for what she is and draws attention to her failures, not to shame her, but to encourage her to do and be better. And I think under his influence, Emma is better at the end of the novel than she is at the beginning.

I am never disappointed when I pick up Emma. I find the novel to be highly entertaining and several readings of it have not diminished my love for it. I love it just as much now, as I did the first time I read it. It's sense of frivolity makes it a great novel to start with for readers who are new to Austen, or a great book to return to when in need of a break from reality.   

2016 Reading Challenge: A book at least 100 years older than you

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