Thursday, 2 August 2007


I'd be interested to learn others' feelings on reading Emma.

Among novelists who have written more than one or two books, for me it is happens most often that I will like only one or two of a particular writer's works, and it is very rare that something about the writer's style or subject matter will make me very keen, obsessed even at times, to read all of their books, usually as soon as possible. This occurred most strongly for me with Jean Rhys, George Eliot, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, (indeed, this was very nearly a Hardy blog) Fyodor Dostoevsky and of course, Jane Austen. With one notable exception.

I read Emma first when I was about seventeen and at the time probably simply thought as it as my least favourite Austen book, shelved it for three or four years and never thought about it.

In a fit of boredom I re-read it again years later, that time with more respect for the character writing but still with no great attachment to it and I remember calling Emma something along the lines of a self important airhead as I finished the book. I read it too in my Eng Lit class days and though my appreciation for the story grew and my dislike of the central character dwindled it was still the least interesting work in my book, and I didn't enter into the stance held by scholars who articles I read in lit journals, that it was Austen's most complex work. At the time I thought it as light, relatively enjoyable but not significant reading.

Today, in the middle of reading Emma for the fourth time, I wonder how I could have been so blind. I'm astounded really that I never picked up on the depth of Emma before. Perhaps that it takes place in a inward looking, confined area squashed in with characters whom I could never like. Mr Knightley and Jane Fairfax are the most interesting and the reader's time with them is so limited, necessarily. I really can't put it down on this reading and am amazed that I disliked it so much before. I think perhaps it takes maturity to not misread Emma.

I'll be writing more about Emma once I've finished and I'm interested in your perceptions of the novel...


jessi said...

Emma is actually my second-favorite Jane novel. I love the character of Emma - she's flawed, but she realizes this and tries to mend her ways. I might also be partial because (being a gossipy, well-intentioned matchmaker) I see so much of myself in her. :)

Ms. Place said...

I agree with you. I found the Emma character hard to swallow because too many of my family members know no boundaries, and Emma reminded me of them. However, as I get older, I realize that this young lady is doing the best she can given her position in life and that she has been prematurely thrust into a hugely responsible role.

All of Jane's novels are so rich with insight and layers of detail. I am amazed how my perspective of her characters keep changing over time. Thank you for another insightful post.