Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jane in June: Emma by Jane Austen

 This post is part of Jane in June, hosted by The Book Rat.
This novel also fulfills part of the Jane Austen Reading Challenge.

Emma Woodhouse is one of those unfortunate upper class individuals with too much time and energy, and not enough to do. After becoming the mistress of her wealthy, motherless home at a very young age, Emma has become rather accustomed to her position of power and feels it her duty to exercise her influence over the inferior society of Highbury. When the marriage of her friend, confidante and former governess leaves her alone to the company of her high strung father, Emma quickly finds a new hobby and protege in the form of a local boarder of questionable birth, Harriet Smith. Unfortunately for poor Harriet, Emma's idea of entertainment is playing Cupid for all her unmarried acquaintances, and thus begins Harriet's many unreasonable hopes and inevitable disappointments at the hands of her friend's matchmaking. However, though Highbury is a small society, it is not free from scandal and intrigue. Things quickly come to a head as the startling secrets of Highbury's citizens come to light and Emma's latest match for Harriet is implicated in the deception. In the aftermath, Emma comes to realize that, though she has meddled in the love lives of everyone around her, she does not, in fact, even know her own heart.

Jane Austen once said that, in writing Emma, she would be creating an heroine that no one but herself would much like. She was right. Emma Woodhouse is spoiled and arrogant, but, strangely enough, also highly entertaining. In Emma, Austen creates one of the most quirky cast of characters ever assembled within the pages of a novel. From the garrulous but benevolent Miss Bates, to the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse, to the pompous and insufferable Mrs. Elton - no two characters are alike, and when a group of such disparate personalities comes together there's bound to be mischief. Austen uses her eclectic cast of characters to poke fun at the mass of humanity in general - everyone knows someone just like one of the folly-ridden residents of Highbury, and it is this familiarity and lighthearted playfulness that engages the reader with a novel in which, to be truthful, nothing much happens besides a string of failed forays into matchmaking. Emma's many attempts at playing Cupid, which invariably fail spectacularly, are the thread that binds the novel's incidents together. Yet, though the heroine is rather exasperating, Austen knows how to write a hero, and Mr. Knightley is no exception. Knightley is perhaps the one character in the whole novel not subject to willful folly, and his steadiness, wisdom, kindness and chivalry could melt the coldest of hearts. Emma is, at its heart, a study of human nature and life, and Austen exhibits her exemplary powers of observation through her vivid and ironic portraits of the quirks and quibbles which define Highbury's oddly assorted inhabitants.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4.5/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Overall: 3.9/5

***Don't forget to enter the Jane in June Giveaway for a chance to win one of three Jane Austen classics - Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice!***

The giveaway will run until July 15, and as a result Jane in June will become Jane in July as I continue to post my remaining two planned Austen reviews.


lisa :) said...

This is another seen the movie but not yet read the original for me. I really like your reviews and commentaries though! And now I have to ask - if you had to choose one: Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley?

The Bookish Type said...

Which movie version have you seen? I actually thought the Gwyneth Paltrow one was pretty decent. Thank you! I'm really glad you enjoy the reviews =) And to answer your question - no contest, Mr. Darcy ;-)

Ashley said...

I love this movie but have not read the book yet either.

Steph said...

hmm. I thought I just posted a comment, but it's not showing up. So here's a summary...
I lost interest in Emma the last time I tried to read it, but I am considering trying again after reading your review. I really appreciate your reviewing old books some people have forgotten, trying to bring them back. What other "old" books are you planning to review?

The Bookish Type said...

Thank you all for visiting and commenting!

Ashley - I definitely recommend reading the book! =) You lose a lot of Austen's biting wit in the films.

Steph - I hope you do try it again! =) I'm glad you enjoy the old reviews. As part of the Jane in June (and now July) event, I'll also be reviewing Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion. I've recently posted a review of Northanger Abbey, and a while back I did Jane Eyre. I'll also be reading some old books as part of the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, and the first ones I'll be tackling will probably be The Great Gatsby and Mrs. Dalloway. I hope you enjoy those as well!

God's gal said...

"Emma" was actually one of the first books I heard of before I began reading stuff by Jane Austen. And I loved every second of it - though some parts were a bit of a blur! Thank you for a great review and rating. Looking heavily at the plot you gave a '3.5' to. Maybe I missed something your eyes didn't? :)

VABookworm87 said...

I'd have to say this is probably my least favorite Austen story... Something about Emma annoys me too much. I'm more keen on Elizabeth Bennet- probable because she's more like me in terms of being level headed and romantic :o)

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

I have first seen the move adaptation of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and although I liked it (and LOVED Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley), somehow the story irritated me and that's why for years I didn't read Emma. Then last year I picked it up and I was proven so wrong! I LOVED the novel! It was sweet, laugh out loud funny (I chuckled and laughed out in the bus!) and highly entertaining, nothing like the movie: here I even liked Jane Fairfax and Mr. Churchill, though I couldn't stand them in the movie. I discovered a new favourite, it usurped Persuasion's place as my 2nd favourite Austen novel, and now it is in tie with P&P for 1st place.

After reading it I watched the movie adaptation with Kate Beckinsale, and despite the not so yummy Mr. Knightley, I ahve to tell this version is so much more true and closer to the novel. Kate Beckinsale makes an adorable naive Emma.

Meredith said...

I agree that not many people would like a spoiled and arrogant heroine. Most of the time we're looking for the brave, stands-up-for-herself kind.

skyla11377 said...

Emma Woodhouse is so adorably clueless I guess that is why they made a movie of the same name. Emma is so determined to help others that she almost forgets to help herself much to the dismay of Mr. Knightly.

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