Emma

by Jane Austen

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Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen's most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

Media reviews

The institution of marriage, like the novel itself, has changed greatly since Austen’s time; but as long as human beings long for this kind of mutual recognition and understanding, “Emma” will live.
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“Perhaps the key to Emma’s perfection, however, is that it is a comic novel, written in a mode that rarely gets much respect. It’s exquisitely ironic.” “The presiding message of the novel is that we must forgive Emma for her shortcomings just as she can and does learn to excuse the sometimes vexing people around her. There is, I believe, more wisdom in that than in many, many more portentous and ambitious novels. Emma is flawed, but ‘Emma’ is flawless."
It’s a small but striking and instructive demonstration, the careful way Emma appraises the character of the various men who jockey for her attentions and those of the women around her. We could all learn from her example.
"In January 1814, Jane Austen sat down to write a revolutionary novel. Emma, the book she composed over the next year, was to change the shape of what is possible in fiction."

"The novel’s stylistic innovations allow it to explore not just a character’s feelings, but, comically, her deep ignorance of her own feelings. "

"Those who condemn the novel by saying that its heroine is a snob miss the point. Of course she is. But Austen, with a refusal of moralism worthy of Flaubert, abandons her protagonist to her snobbery and confidently risks inciting foolish readers to think that the author must be a snob too"

User reviews

LibraryThing member RebeccaAnn
This novel has kind of a bad rep amongst Austen fans. Though I haven't seen any statistics, I would hazard a guess that this book and Mansfield Park are probably tied for least favorite Austen book ever. I don't agree with these statements. I love Emma!

Emma Woodhouse is a big fish in a small pond. She's good at everything she tries, she's beautiful, she's charming, she's very smart as well as very rich. She fancies herself the source of many marriages. She wants for nothing. She desires no man, preferring to take care of her father rather than search for a husband for herself. This sets her apart from all of Austen's other heroines (whose sole purpose of their respective book seems to be securing an advantageous marriage both in fortune and in love). Though she’s usually polite, Emma is a snob. Her natural privileges in life lead her to believe she can set up and arrange her friends like chess pieces in her game of matchmaking and it’s this sense of superiority that is the root of so much misfortune in this book. In that sense, Emma could be considered to be both the protagonist and the antagonist of her own novel.

I love this novel for several reasons. I feel of all Austen’s heroines, Emma is the most flawed. She hurts people many times over throughout the book, albeit unintentionally. Her matchmaking attempts hurt Miss Smith, Mr. Knightley, Mr. Churchill, and Miss Fairfax. Her snobbery and gossipy nature leads her to potentially ruin Miss Fairfax’s reputation and to insult Miss Bates in a very hurtful manner. But the thing is, no matter how much Emma screws up, she never means to hurt anyone. All her intentions are good. It’s her methods and her inability to really consider anyone’s feelings but her own that make her so unlikable. I felt like Emma was playing tug of war with my heartstrings all the way through. Half the time I loved her and found her spunky nature irresistible and the other half of the time I wanted to slap her silly.

It’s because of her flaws, though, that I think the ending of this book is so poignant. After she insults Miss Bates, Emma has to really consider her nature and how she really isn’t as good a person as she had originally thought. Speaking from experience, that is a hell of a bitter pill to swallow and I think the fact that Emma can overcome that makes her so much more admirable. She hit rock bottom in the eyes of those she loves and she managed to come out of the other side a stronger person with much better morals. That takes a lot of bravery and that’s the primary reason I love this book.

This book also has some of the best characters in Austen canon (in my opinion). Mr. Woodhouse cracks me up every time he says something. Mrs. Elton, as well, I find simply hilarious. She’s the woman who thinks she so much better than every one else that you want to be around her just to see how she’ll embarrass herself next. And Miss Bates is probably one of the most annoying yet sympathetic characters ever. I feel for her and her lack of luck as far as her fortune goes, but her ability to ramble on and on made me groan every time she opened her mouth.

And the layers that are present in this story! Every time I read it, I find new things to admire. Austen truly was at her literary best when she wrote this. It’s amazing to sit there and reread a scene, trying to see it from the eyes of every character present. Every single time I do this, I see another meaning to the words. There are hidden meanings and double meanings to everything. I don’t know how Austen did it, but the fact that she did makes this quite possibly one of my favorite books to reread.

It’s true that as far as action goes, not much happens. They wander around Highbury a lot and that’s about it. It’s primarily driven by dialogue so I understand why a lot of people don’t like it. But this is still one of my favorite books of all time. I love everything about this book, especially the mischievous, playful, beautiful Emma Woodhouse.
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LibraryThing member atimco
When I first discovered Jane Austen, tearing through my one-volume edition of her works in a two-week period, Emma was certainly my least favorite. It was long, and nothing really momentous seemed to happen, and I just didn't like Emma as much as Austen's other heroines. I was hoping that my feelings would be softened after rereading, and they have been. I feel I am finally appreciating Emma for its brilliant character sketches, sly, understated humor, and firm moral footing. Be warned, this review contains spoilers.

Emma is the brightest, most accomplished young woman in her retired country neighborhood of Highbury. She lives with her invalid father at their estate at Hartfield, enjoying her position of prominence. Everyone adores clever, pretty Emma... everyone, that is, except her brother-in-law George Knightley. He claims the right of a family friend to see Emma's faults and to sometimes make her see them as well, so that she might change. Despite this honesty and the disparity in their ages (Knightley was sixteen when Emma was born), the two are good friends. But when Emma turns matchmaker and begins to direct the romantic affairs of her new protegé, Harriet Smith, Knightley warns her she is not helping her friend. Emma, not lacking faith in her own wisdom, is sure she knows more about matchmaking than any mere man could and pursues her plans anyways.

Emma really is a great character. I didn't dislike her this time around, probably because I finally admitted to myself our similarities. Her dislike of Jane Fairfax and neglect of Mrs. and Miss Bates spring from a fault I must also own to. What makes Emma likeable is not her offenses, but how she responds when they are pointed out to her. She makes some foolish and even spiteful mistakes, but sincerely repents and tries to make amends. Honest friends are precious, even when the truths they speak are unpleasant to hear. Emma is a smart, generally kind person who nevertheless makes some bad mistakes — and learns from them. It doesn't make sense not to like Emma. She gives us hope!

The characters are pure Austen and very funny and poignant indeed. Miss Bates is quite funny; her speeches must have been such fun to write. Mrs. Elton is the odious woman you love to hate, always conniving for compliments and treating others with a most disgusting familiarity. Her speech when they are picking strawberries made me laugh out loud. Her husband, Mr. Elton, thoroughly deserves her. His behavior really is cruel, and unlike Emma, he never repents of it. Rather, he and his wife rejoice at how they score off Emma by slighting Harriet at the ball. There's really no hope for change when people are proud of their bad behavior!

One thing I realized on this reread is how badly fathers fare in Austen's work. I can't think of a single father who is portrayed in a good light; either the father is not present or is ridiculous. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet is loving but indolent, more interested in his own comfort than in the affairs of his family. In Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot is a social-climbing and vain fop. In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney is a grasping, greedy, ill-mannered man. And in Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is a hypochondriac who is incapable of imagining that others could feel differently from himself, especially on matters of health and marriage. He is always denying his guests the delicacies that Emma tries to provide, because he honestly believes those tidbits will ruin their digestion. He is much beloved, of course, and very polite and well liked in his circle, but still utterly ridiculous. I suppose the leading men represent the male of the species well enough to make up for the deficiencies of the fathers, but it's still rather troubling that fatherhood gets such a one-sided portrayal in Austen's world.

Some readers are disturbed by the difference in Emma's and Knightley's ages; when the story opens she is twenty-one and he thirty-seven. Knightley has been accused of "grooming" Emma to be his bride, forming all her opinions and ironing out her faults for his own future benefit. I think this idea gives Emma far less credit than she deserves, for one thing! She isn't exactly a moldable, pliant woman like Harriet Smith. And such a view completely misunderstands Knightley's own character. He is an honorable, upright man who would never stoop to such a tactic. He never corrects Emma with the plan of marrying her once she is all improved; the thought of marrying her never enters his head until fairly late in the story. In the early chapters when Mrs. Weston speaks to him about Emma, he talks about Emma's resolution to never marry without any particular feeling on the matter. Clearly he doesn't think it concerns him at all. There is a part at the end where Emma and Knightley are joking with each other and he says he fell in love with her when she was thirteen, the first time he pointed out one of her flaws. But for all those years he doesn't realize what his feelings are, and never seeks to control Emma's social or romantic life. Surely a creepy cradle-robber would have been much more aggressive in securing his fair intended?

Lastly, I should mention a few of the film adaptations of this story. My personal favorite is the Gwyneth Paltrow version; it is very lighthearted and fun, and stays fairly close to the original. Rachel Portman's score for it is just lovely, too. I've only seen the Kate Beckinsale version once, but I remember it being rather humorless and drab, and sorely lacking panache. But I know many fans prefer it, so perhaps I need to give it another try. If the Beckinsale version is your favorite, drop by my profile or challenge thread and tell me why. I love a good discussion.

Emma is probably not the best place for a new Austen reader to start, and it may be that on your first read, you — with the penetration of common sense imparted by the omniscient narrative — will be as frustrated as I was with Emma's wilful mistakes. But the story is worth another visit, and Emma should be an encouragement rather than an annoyance to anyone who has ever bungled something. It can't be that I am the only one! Smart, funny, and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
I enjoyed reading this a whole lot more than I expected to. The language is fantastic, certain bits of dialogue strike me as very original (example: "the extent of your admiration may take you by surprise" is so much more artfully coy than "are you in love with her?"), and the characters are well drawn. But I probably would have overlooked reading this classic, as I've been steering clear of the romances, were it not for "The Rhetoric of Fiction" by Wayne C. Booth. In his study of narrative as rhetoric, he devoted a full chapter to an analysis of "Emma" as a fantastic example of well-employed narrative strategy being used to resolve the challenges of an unsympathetic lead. After that, I had to see it for myself.

Jane Austen sets up what appears on the surface to be an easily told story: a wealthy young woman suffers from snobbishness, then learns the error of her ways. The trouble being, most readers aren't predisposed to like a snob, so what to do? By telling the story from Emma's viewpoint, we get inside her head and find out she's not really a bad person despite her singular downfall. Told from any other character's perspective, we'd hardly be as likely to realize this and wish her well.

This solution produces another problem: how to ensure the reader is aware of Emma's fault and can then monitor its being addressed? The author uses two methods: distant narration at the beginning, in which the narrator blatantly states (telling, not showing! to good effect) Emma's weakness before subtly handing the narrative over to Emma herself. From that point on, the author employs humour to make the progression in her character entertaining.

Then it's the humour itself that presents a challenge. We might be in danger of laughing at Emma vindictively, when her false perceptions fail her. Happily the humour is so carefully crafted and presented that, together with our sympathy being won, we are able to enjoy Emma's misperceptions and their results in a less malicious way.

These points are all Mr. Booth's and I doubt I'd have arrived at them independently. I definitely would not have assumed them in advance. A large part of what made this book enjoyable derived from my prior understanding of its strategic crafting. Whether Jane Austen consciously gave it thought or no, she used the only narrative approach that would have succeeded. She conveyed Emma's weakness through a positive use of telling, then used humour to superior effect so that the novel is comedic without being farcical. This insight made it a joy to read. Additionally, I was even glad to already know how the book ended (normally I hate spoilers, I'll give none here), because I could appreciate the extra layers of dramatic irony that otherwise require a second read to capture.

As the introduction to my edition says, "Emma" is a novel that can be read too easily, and in which nothing of much consequence appears to happen on the surface. It would have been in keeping with my normal tastes to declare "boring!" and grant 3.5 stars instead of five. Defending the novel now against that alternative self, I'd point to the intervening two hundred years since its publication and how easily I can fall prey to reading with 21st century eyes. That and, when I'm merely reading for pleasure sometimes the craft goes over my head. If you are prone to making the same errors, I recommend some pre-reading about this novel before jumping in because the difference it makes is remarkable.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
I’m sure much has been written about the longevity of Jane Austen’s works of proper English life during the early 19th century, but you have to wonder why, at this time, her novels of keen social commentary immersed in drawing room drama and provincial balls, continue to enjoy such a wide readership. When you consider the lack of manners today, it’s hard to understand why so many of us enjoy her social commentary of a time long past. But enjoy them we do and Emma is no exception.

Emma Woodhouse proudly proclaims to all who will listen that she never intends to marry. Rather she spends her young life meddling in those of others, mainly playing matchmaker, to mostly disastrous results. Nothing seems to stop her though, to the detriment especially of her young, decidedly lower class, friend Harriet. Emma’s object is to raise Harriet’s station in life.

Early on in the book, I did not find Emma appealing at all. I mean, she was methodically destroying Harriet’s life. For someone who was so obviously aware of the importance of the English hierarchy regarding class, it never occurred to Emma that by matching Harriet with a young man of higher station she would thereby lower his and that just wasn’t going to happen as her friend, Mr. Knightly, points out.

At any rate, Emma cannot be convinced of her own folly and along the way we are treated to Austen’s trademark satire and biting wit. She doesn’t fail to provide for a few deliciously drawn supporting characters including Emma’s father, who is scared of his own shadow and the possibility that someone, anyone will suffer from the fatal effects of a draft; his neighbor Miss Bates, whose non-stop chatter absolutely grates on the nerves and the obsequious prattler Mrs. Elton. How these people exist and even thrive in each other’s company is beyond the pale. A conversation between Emma and Mrs. Elton went like this:

”’My brother and sister will be enchanted with this place. People who have extensive grounds themselves are always pleased with anything in the same style.’
Emma doubted the truth of this sentiment. She had a great idea that people who had extensive grounds themselves cared very little for the extensive grounds of anybody else, but it was not worthwhile to attack an error so double-dyed.”


As the narrative progresses Austen tosses the omniscient reader bits of information that enable you to piece together the clues and come to the proper conclusion.

My early misgivings about Emma are soon overcome as I realize that she actually considers her meddling to be a service and, at heart, she is trying to help poor Harriet. Once again when Mr. Knightley points out her faulty thinking it becomes apparent that Emma is actually “faultless in spite of all her faults.” This made her endearing to me although Austen claimed before the book was even written, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Well, I liked her and loved her tale. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Either times have changed, or Jane Austen was merely being coy when she described Emma Woodhouse as 'a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like'. She is perfectly delightful, more so for being 'faultless in spite of all her faults', and Mr Knightley is another inspiring leading man (surely her heroes, and not the heroines, are the secret of the author's success?) I don't dislike Emma, I want to *be* her!

My eyes are finally opened to the appeal of Jane Austen's books, after years of holding out against her 'white frocks and weddings' romances. Granted, she only ever wrote six novels, and most of them share the same plot devices, but her subtle sarcasm and skilful narration make reading her limited oeuvre an education and a pleasure. Some of her sentences take a bit of unpicking, like her negative sentence construction - writing 'she could not think it so very impossible that the Churchills might not allow their nephew to remain a day beyond his fortnight' instead of 'she knew Frank's aunt would want him back in Yorkshire', for instance - but the careful use of formal language only adds to the necessary attention due to Austen's prose. But I know the story, from the film and the recent miniseries, and so unlike Frank Churchill, my stay in Highbury was permitted to be leisurely.

Aside from Emma and Mr Knightley, and the fun of playing the omniscient reader by picking up on clues that the eponymous heroine herself is oblivious to, the real luxury of reading 'Emma' for me comes from the sense of community that Jane Austen works so well into her books. Like Mr Woodhouse, by the end of the novel I was wishing that nothing would change - the Woodhouses at Hartfield, with Mr Knightley walking the mile from Donwell to visit, and familiar faces such as Mr and Mrs Weston at Randalls and Miss Bates with her inane chatter in Highbury. All right, I could live without Miss Bates. Reading 'Emma', however, is both comforting and reassuring, like a carefree summer's day or sitting by the fire when it's snowing outside (and both scenes are pictured beautifully within).

The perfect antidote to a slow Sunday afternoon, or travelling on public transport!
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Of all of Austen's books I've read, this one is lightest in tone and the most comedic. No one comes close to death or is disastrously spirited away. The closest thing to a tragedy is being snubbed at a dance. I don't remember liking Emma as a character much at first, but she slowly won me over, and she has one of the more interesting arcs of any of Austen's characters. All Austen protagonists grow, but I think she arguably travels the farthest as a result of her comeuppance. One delivered as a result not of her own humiliation but because of words of reproach that make her aware of having hurt someone else.

I'm not sure ultimately what to make of her drifting away from Harriet Smith. I think in the end there's still plenty of social snobbery in Emma, and I'm not sure if Austen would in any case disapprove given the class roles of her time. (Although it does seem Mr Knightly, the hero of the tale has no problem having a mere farmer as a friend.)

Austen makes you wonder about her characters even after you close the book because she creates a whole community within Emma. And so many of the people within it, like the Eltons, are great comedic characters. Like so many of Austen's novels, Emma isn't a museum piece but a truly fun read with delicious satiric touches.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
At age 21, Emma Woodhouse is set in life - she is comfortably installed as mistress of her father's large estate house and she has declared that she will never marry for she has no need. Instead, she decides to put her matchmaking skills to good use by bringing together couples in nearby Highbury. Her results are disastrous more often than not and before she realizes it, it is her own heart that has become involved in love.

Picking a favorite Jane Austen novel is like picking a favorite vital organ - basically impossible. Nevertheless, whenever I try to choose just one favorite, Emma invariably is one of the top contenders. However, it seems that Emma, its heroine of the same name, and its hero Mr. Knightley fall on the bottom of the list for most Jane Austen fans. For many, Emma herself is a character that just doesn't hold as much appeal as, say, Lizzie Bennet. For me, it's more yes and no. Lizzie is great for her own qualities as a person of a strong character - but do we really want another book with the same exact character given a different name? Emma, on the other hand, is delightful because of her flawed character. She is a bit of a snob, she has the best intentions for her friends but meddles too much, etc. Jane Austen herself called Emma "a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." And while I wouldn't want Emma as a best friend necessarily, she is pretty mild when it comes to other bad characters. For instance, her intentions are never as bad as those of Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair fame, and Emma's not nearly so bad as many people I've met outside of books!

As for Mr. Knightley, I must admit he is my absolute favorite Jane Austen hero. Others find him too preachy, but I like that he is steadfast in his love for Emma from beginning to end (rather than Mr. Darcy, the favorite of many, who needs to come around first in his love for Lizzie and then in his behavior). I like that Mr. Knightley loves Emma despite her faults but also loves her enough to try to help her correct her faults when they are detrimental to herself or others (even if this does end up entailing quite a bit of lecturing, although I must say that Emma is not a spineless wimp who just sits there and takes it; she usually has quite a bit of her own back and holds up her end of an argument with Mr. Knightley).

I also think that Ms. Austen's writing particularly shines in this book. There are so many delightful characters in Highbury, each with their own unique characterizations and quirks. Austen is particularly witty, ironic, and sarcastic in this book, which is what appeals to me most about her writing. I highly recommend this book, unless the idea of a less-than-perfect heroine really bothers you.
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
Having just lost her former governess and companion to marriage, Emma Woodhouse fears that her life is about to become far more dull. However, upon making the acquaintance of Harriet Smith, the illegitimate daughter of a mystery individual who lives at the local boarding school, Emma takes Harriet under her wing. Despite the disapproval of her long-time neighbour and friend, Mr. Knightley, Emma strives to marry off Harriet. She quickly learns though that matchmaking is far more difficult than she expected and the chances for heartbreak for more than just Harriet are high.

Emma was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read and thus, it always has a special place in my reading history. The tale of rich and spoiled Emma Woodhouse stirring up trouble in Highbury with her matchmaking efforts is always amusing. Emma and Mr. Knightley's verbal sparring is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly given his annoying habit of always being right. The supporting characters are equally sparkling and full of foibles that never cease to amuse. Of course, there is the requisite misunderstandings between the primary characters and the ultimate happy ending and marriage that makes these novels such a comfort. No matter how many times I read it, Emma remains witty and charming.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
This is my fourth reading of Emma. My appreciation for Emma seems to grow with every reading. I started out on the Kindle but ended up listening to the last part on audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson. Let me just add a note on the humor in Emma. I appreciated it more this time.

Like Mr. Wodehouse, the hypochondriac, and his diet plans:

"Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see—one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you."

And Juliet Stevenson take on Mrs. Bates is fantastic. So funny how a simple question by Emma (how are you?) end up with an account of the whole day's minor details. I laughed a lot. Also the foolishness of Mrs. Elton and her meddling.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Emma Woodhouse is a rich young lady living in a small community. She is practically the head of her household, independent and lively, and a little spoiled. She becomes friends with another young woman, Harriet, the illegitimate daughter of no one knows who, but Emma is certain that no gentleman farmer is good enough for Harriet. She is determined to make a better match for her friend. At the same time, the stepson of her old governess, Mrs. Weston, comes for a visit and starts to show Emma every attention.

I always find it hardest to convey what I think and feel about books that are so beloved they have become old friends. Emma is one such book that I have read and reread it since I was a teenager. When I was younger, it was my favorite of the three (now four) Austen novels I had read. My relationship to the characters and the story has changed with time, however, and having shortly reread Pride and Prejudice (my current favorite, in case you were wondering), I couldn't help but compare the two in my mind's eye. Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet are nearly the same age, but Emma seems to me much the younger of the two. Indeed, I think one of the reasons I loved Emma as a teenager was because I could related to her youth and naivete when it came to individuals and their relationships to one another. Elizabeth is in some ways much more a woman of the world, while Emma is a little insulated from such things as class. In fact, the treatment of class in Emma struck me more than ever before, as one distinction between characters that governs how much intimacy one can have with another, something that cannot be ignored in terms of Harriet Smith especially, but other characters as well. While still present in Pride and Prejudice, class distinctions are not quite the same hurdle, or at least not so clearly affecting the heroines in their choice of friends. But one of the greatest joys of rereading is rediscovering elements of an old favorite to which I had paid little attention. Though no longer my favorite Austen, Emma still evokes a great deal of affection from me, and I'm sure I will reread it again with pleasure.
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LibraryThing member aleahmarie
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, 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."

It has been Emma Woodhouse's distinct privilege to live twenty years with all the high society that her modest village home can provide. From the outset we learn that Miss Woodhouse has no faults other than her sincere conviction that she is, in fact, without a fault. Coddled her entire life by a doting and hypochondriacal father and an ever loving but soft governess -- Miss Woodhouse has little knowledge of anything other than her own perfection. The only exception to this is the critical eye of Mr. Knightley, a family friend whose remonstrations are an ongoing irritation in our heroine's otherwise peaceful existence.

Being a woman of some leisure, Miss Woodhouse decides to pass her time by orchestrating the romantic lives of her friends. Unfortunately for her friends, Miss Woodhouse proves to be a pitiful matchmaker. She is so unaccustomed to failing at any endeavor that she stubbornly tries again and again before eventually seeing the error of her ways.

Jane Austen's works appeal to different people for many different reasons. I find myself attracted to her depictions of daily life in England during the early 19th century. The characters in her story live such simple lives compared to the hustle and bustle of the modern world, but still they resonate with me. I'm also forever amused by the sarcasm of Jane Austen. While the surface of her stories may be all innocence, the undercurrents are thick with sardonic wit. Without being preachy Jane Austen pokes fun at the social norms of her day, many of which left women no actual control over their own lives.

If you've not tried Jane Austen yet, please do. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

P.S. It's certainly not necessary but it's heaps more fun if you read her books with an English accent.
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LibraryThing member 19vatermit64
Haiku Review:

After this ending
Knightley will not ever say
badly done, Emma!
LibraryThing member herebedragons
I've had this on my "to read" list for quite a while, but funnily enough decided to read it now in preparation for the release of the final Harry Potter book. There's been so much talk about how much this book influenced Rowling, I thought it would be good to read it now. I started it hoping for some insight to what JKR might do in the final book, but once I got reading, Rowling and the young wizard both left my mind. (So, I can't say that it opened up any new speculations for that series).

"Emma" started off a bit slow, but once it got going, I found it quite a page-turner. Emma, even though she is still very young, is basically the head of her household, as her father is a fretful, ineffectual man who allows others to "handle" him easily. Fortunately, Emma is basically a good-hearted young woman who makes (mostly) good decisions, and (usually) behaves properly, and always with great consideration for her father. At the outset of the book, we learn that she thinks herself an excellent matchmaker and decides that she is going to help her newly cultivated friend, Harriet, find the perfect husband. Emma herself, however, intends never to marry and ruin what seems to her an already perfect life. Throughout the book, she pokes her nose into situations that would perhaps better be left alone, and behaves in ways which are destined to be misinterpreted by others (although she's unaware of this at the time). All this, of course, leads to what are supposed to be some interesting twists and turns in the plot.

***The rest of this review contains MAJOR SPOILERS including what happens at the end of the book***

Austen's books are always a look into a world that is different from my own, and yet some things never change. She drew many wonderful characters in this book, although I did find a few of them to be off-puttingly obnoxious. Not more obnoxious, perhaps, than characters in some of her other books, but they seemed to have a lot more page-time (and dialogue in particular) than I remember being the case in other of Austen's books. Of course, Mrs. Elton was utterly loathesome, and in need of a major smackdown. I also quickly tired of Mr. Woodhouse. Sweet man though he was said to be, his constant worrying was very tiresome, and I could have done without quite so much of it. While these characters annoyed me, it wasn't because they were unbelievable; on the contrary, I've known people like both of them. I just don't have as much patience with either sort as Emma did.

I found that with this book, also perhaps more than in others by Austen, I had to consciously "turn off" some of my modern sensibility while reading. Class and wealth and everyone knowing their proper place (and staying in it) is always a theme, and one that was relevant to the time and place in which these books were written, but somehow in this book I found it more oppressive than usual. Emma and those around her are very concerned with maintaining the status-quo in regards to their relationships, and in the course of the story, Austen plays with this quite a bit. As Emma wonders just how much her friend Harriet's low birth might be outweighed by her wonderful personal qualities, we're led to wonder as well, which sets up most of the tension for the whole story. It turns out, though, that "playing" with this is all Austen does; she proves herself to be conservative, and none of her characters rock the boat by marrying outside of their class.

I will say, in relation to the above comments, that one of the things that puzzled me about this book was that it's considered a masterpiece of narrative misdirection, and is said to end with a monumental twist. Narrative misdirection, perhaps, but it was one that never really sucked me in. It was obvious Emma was convincing herself of things that were not true. Mr. Elton was clearly was courting Emma, not Harriet, and for Emma to be blind to that made me stop trusting her judgement, so later in the story I didn't buy into any misdirection. As for the ending, there were no surprises there - it ended exactly the way I'd expected it to end. (From the very first time we see his name, I knew she'd end up with Knightley, and all the other pieces were equally easy to fit into the puzzle). Perhaps because I'd heard there was a twist at the end, and read it with a mind to figure out what it could be, I was more careful in my reading than I might have been otherwise and I did figure it out, where others might not have. But, assuming that the book would have a happy ending for Emma (which I was certain it would), there was really no other way for everything to work itself out in the end, so I'm not sure just what the big "twist" is supposed to be. (Although, for a short time, I thought perhaps Frank Churchill was just wacky enough that he was interested in Miss Bates). I thought the book was fun, and I enjoyed following Emma's train of thought, but early on I stopped seeing things solely from her point of view, so I wasn't surprised by anything at all. (If I'd thought that the book might end unhappily for Emma, I might have suspected that Knightley would have set his sights on Harriet. It was clear, though, that Austen liked Emma far too much to leave her love-less at the end of the book). So, a great book, but one of the biggest surprise endings in literature? No, I don't think so.

I can't decide if this is now my favorite Austen, or if P&P still holds that honor. I did enjoy Emma and Knightley at least as much as Elizabeth and Darcy; perhaps more, since they were always genuinely friendly to one another, even when they disagreed. But in the end, I will say that I still like Elizabeth Bennett better than Emma Woodhouse. Emma is lovely, but her ill-conceived manipulations were heavy-handed at times. (Even though, of course, there wouldn't have been a story without them).
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LibraryThing member kellyjane1212
I adore Emma despite her unrepentant snobbery, the only 'sour taste' about her character remaining for me by the novel's conclusion. But I suppose I must excuse this fault as something of a common product of her times. I do love how Jane Austen seems to wrap ironies within more ironies: Emma, who fancies herself so sagacious a matchmaker that she gives not a thought to meddling into the matters of others' hearts, by doing so distracts herself from recognizing her own true heart's match, which literally had been staring her in the face all throughout. It took the ultimate backfire of her worst meddling-- the final perversion, through sweet witless Harriet, of Emma's instigating perversity-- to arouse in Emma an unexpected, mortified jealousy: "Omigoodness, not Harriet and Mr. Knightly! -- no!-- because ... because ... I love Mr, Knightly! ... omigod ..."

The action of the story is primarily interior, not exterior-- but very rich in that sense. Some of the dialogue between Emma and Mr. Knightly seems remarkable in verisimilitude, as though a man might even have stepped in and nudging Jane Austen aside for just a sec, written some of Mr. Knightly's replies and comebacks. It seems to me that Jane outdid herself in fashioning a realistic male counterpoise to Emma's tapestried dimensionality; these (unacknowledged) lovers do sound like robust, clever lovers who by turns verbally embrace or put each other off, with sparks sometimes a-flying. I'm really not sure that Hepburn & Tracey could have boasted too much better. And although none of the romance is explicit even to the last-- it feels to me that this of all the Austen couplings will enjoy the richest, most mature and even most passionate of marriages. They are simply a perfect fit, come together at the perfect time and in the perfect way for their particular personalities.

Emma and Elizabeth Bennett (from Pride & Prejudice) are both represented in their respective novels to be young marriageable women not far advanced from adolescense; but I can tell that Elizabeth Bennett was crafted by a woman not far advanced from adolescence herself, while Emma Woodhouse was crafted by a woman recalling that age from a greater distance. One feels that the narrarator wraps Emma in an affectionate head-shaking smile all throughout: we must forebear this exasperating foolishness with a measure of indulgence-- it will come out okay, that tacit smile seems to promise. And so we do, and it does, and we smirk or laugh when Jane Austen does, and hope for the best as she does, and when we finally finish we have to put the book down to attend some neglected domestic matters, as she probably did too.

I enjoy the charming tone and spirit of this novel if not always the surface events and sensibilities at every moment. Of external action there is very little; probably this novel will underwhelm those who are not fans of primarily psychological drama. But I think Jane Austen in some senses is at her most delightfully wicked and subversive, turning things on their heads only to turn them round on their heads again. The animation, wit, irony, and precision are all there-- and as always, her heroine, if only she learns from a mistake or two, will be rewarded by life for it, however things may have started or proceeded along the way.
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LibraryThing member Kaydence
Jane Austen is one of those writers that seems to make every female character likable, if it they are not doing the best things. Emma is just one of those characters. Emma is not the smart little heroine that Austen usually writes about. Emma is into everything, irritating, not very good at reading signs or people, and full of herself. She makes friends with another girl that is beneath her in status (or so she thinks) and then attempts to raise her sights to a possible mate that would be financially above her status. As Emma keeps attempting to make matches between her friends, she seems to misread all of the actual signs. The people that end up together are exactly the ones that she thinks should not be together. She feels like everyone is making the wrong decisions and then she finds out that she might miss out on the one that she actually loves.

I enjoyed this book, but it did not suck me in as other Austen books have. Honestly, I had to really read through my notes to come up with that brief summary because I just wasn't intrigued enough to follow along and remember what happened. This sounds terrible because in general it was a good book. Emma gets herself in a lot of trouble and it's always fun to see that matchmakers (even from the past) have a tendency to get things wrong. It's more interesting to just see how love manages to work itself through in the end. This is one of Austen's shorter books and I would recommend it if you have some time on your hands and enjoy her heroine's that tend to cause mischief.
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LibraryThing member RachelFried
The book was published in 1816 so I expected the language and plot to be difficult to understand yet this was not the case. The book was extremely easy to understand, the plot is all but given away on the back cover, and the main character is an idiotic young woman of 20 some years. The many themes are all easily gleaned as they are simply the morals Emma learns the hard way, by making mistakes. The book is written in omniscient 3rd person and is set in the countryside of England, 1816.
The first thing that stuck out at me from the book was this quote; “There is so pointed and so particular a meaning in this comment”, said she [Emma], “that I cannot have a moment’s doubt as to Mr. Elton’s intentions. You are his object, -- and you will soon receive the completest proof of it” (64). It encompasses the moral of the story that Jane Austen so unsubtly repeats throughout the book: don’t assume you’re right and know that you cannot control people’s hearts.
The first two themes are the following: try to not allow your imagination to cause you to create misunderstandings and mistakes and don’t beat about the bush with fanciful language. Each is exhibited with the fiasco of the charade from Mr. Elton (62). He should have thought about Emma reading it in front of her friend since the two were always joined at the hip, that’s just a bad way to go about telling a girl you like her. There is also another quote about mistakes that struck me; “Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material” (388). After some thought, I realized that the author meant that even though we make mistakes in communication we can always make up for it with emotions like love. Love conquers all, with all including miscommunication. This idea was one of the few in the book that to me shows the writing I expected of Austen. It was something I had to think about to understand, and was very enjoyable.
Examples of Austen’s last two themes are straight out spoken in a conversation between Mr. Knightly and Emma. They each believe that a couple, in marriage, must be equal, neither higher than the other; and that people should make marriages for love rather than simple connections. Later at least, Emma realizes the first, when she sees Harriet is not all that higher than Martin, and she would do no wrong to marry the one she loves.
There are many characters in Austen’s book and sometimes I found it hard to keep track of an entire town, but that made it a bit more interesting. The second most important character of the book, although Emma was the only main character, was Mr. Knightly. I loved him because he made so much sense. His one mistake was to think that Emma was as smart as he was. He knew the truth of things long before her and had to teach her like a child, when she was over 20, the things he already easily figured out. I thought he deserved better than her and that their relationship was a bit weird. It seemed at the beginning that he was her older brother and brother in law isn’t much different. I know it is back when marrying your cousin is okay but I don’t have to like it.
Emma was an okay read but it lowered my expectations. I’m eager to see if Austen’s other books, like Pride and Prejudice, are superior.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Emma is a beautiful, smart, rich, and somewhat spoiled twenty-year-old who loves matchmaking. She makes some mistakes along the way, mostly on account of her belief that she’s always right, and because of her youth. In the end, while she has maintained that she herself will never marry, her jealousy makes her realize her love for Mr. Knightley has been there all along. In addition to the study in relationships and day-to-day life in the countryside of 19th century England, Austen often displays her wit and this is an enjoyable read. Oh, and I also loved the cover on this particular edition, “Forbidden Fruit” by Thomas Benjamin-Kennington.

Quotes:
On beauty:
“…for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of a hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed, till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice.”

On men and women:
“The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, ‘Men never know when things are dirty or not’; and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, ‘Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares.’”

On matchmaking:
“Such an adventure as this, a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other? How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight? especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made.”

On men (and their ability to listen):
“But, Mr. Knightley, are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him? I could suppose she might in time, but can she already? Did not you misunderstand him? You were both talking of other things; of business, shows of cattle, or new drills; and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him? It was not Harriet’s hand that he was certain of – it was the dimensions of some famous ox.’”

On telling stories to kids:
“…Henry and John were still asking every day for the story of Harriet and the gipsies, and still tenaciously setting her right if she varied in the slightest particular from the original recital.”

On the post office; I couldn’t agree more today, it’s amazing to me that for the small price of a stamp you can mail a letter anywhere in the country and it’ll get there a few days later. (Ok. Usually. :)
“’The post office is a wonderful establishment!’ said she. ‘The regularity and dispatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!’”
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LibraryThing member StoutHearted
Emma is the most priveleged and content of all of Austen's heroines. Her life is problem-free until her favorite hobby, matchmaking, causes snags for herself and her friends. Unlike Austen's other leading ladies, Emma is in no rush to match herself to a man of wealth. The self-assured, poised young woman has her hands full with her hypochondriac father, whom she adores, and in no need of a husband. Her home life is a happy one. Motherless Emma is mistress of the household, which is frequented by family friend and neighbor Mr. Knightley. Her only vexes in life are her love matches for her orphaned friend/protege Harriet that don't pan out, and Mrs. Elton, a loud, vulgar character who comically irritates to no end.

The book is satisfying, but little with the use of conflict. Emma is always in control, even when she feels things are in a muddle. There is never any danger of her losing anything, until she realizes her feelings for Mr. Knighly after Harriet declares her own intentions for him. But she does experience some character development when she experiences self-consciousness for the first time after being rude to an overly-chatty friend.

In contrast to Emma is Jane Fairfax, who is an enigma for reasons later explained. Jane does have conflict where Emma does not. As the poor neice of Miss Bates, Jane's good education sets her up for a job as a governess, much to her anxiety. Emma tried to befriend Jane, but the girl is cold and distant. It's all thanks to the misguided behavior of Frank Churchill, who professes his love to one, while publicly flirting with another to keep the romance a secret.

Readers who are rubbed the wrong way by Emma will have more sympathy for Jane, who for all her deserving goodness must suffer to watch the man she loves flirt with a pretty, rich young lady. But Emma does have her own charms. She genuinely cares for others: her attentions to her father and her poor friends are sincere. While she may consider these attentions a duty of her station, she readily takes them on without complaint. She tries to help Harriet marry well, which does expose the snobbery in her, but it is a flaw she later sheds. In Emma, Austen has created a character who is a product of her privileged upbringing, but with enough sense to realize that she needs to change after Mr. Knightley calls her out. She is not an underdog, nor fighting against society. Rather, she represents the good in society, and brings a roundness to Austen's cast of wealthy characters. While elite women like Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine of ``Pride & Prejudice'' remain rude and snobbish to the end, Emma becomes a better person for the mistakes she's made.
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LibraryThing member suetu
Many literary critics have proclaimed Emma to be the most accomplished of Jane Austen's novels. That may well be, but I don't personally number it among my favorites. That said, it easily deserves its five-star rating; I haven't read an Austen novel yet that doesn't.

Emma is, of course, the story of beautiful, young, wealthy and accomplished Emma Woodhouse. Of her, too many kindnesses can not be said. At least, that is the attitude displayed by everyone around Emma. She's heard nothing but praise and exaltations her entire life, and has come to quite believe her own billing. And while she generally means well, Emma has grown into an unforgivable busybody and snob.

Emma lavishes most of her attentions on her dear friend Harriet Smith. While Harriet is of a lower status and desirability than Emma herself, Emma feels confident she can improve upon Harriet, introduce her to all the right society, in short, make her a most advantageous match. Never mind the perfectly nice farmer who is already in love with her.

And so, Emma insinuates herself into the affairs of Harriet and several others around her. She is certainly not the most sympathetic of Austen's heroines and my feelings about her tended to fluctuate from chapter to chapter. Nevertheless, no conflicted feelings got in the way of the joy brought about by a patented Austen ending. Additionally, Austen proves yet again that humor based on an intimate knowledge of human nature is timeless. I defy you not to laugh over the antics of Emma's possessive and gruel-loving father. Austen's social satire is as sharp as it ever was.
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LibraryThing member SavvyEscapades
I can’t remember the last book I disliked as much as I dislike Emma. GoodReads informs me that I have been struggling through this book since the middle of October, but in actuality this book has been haunting me for at least ten years. I bought it sometime before I went to boarding school. Though I remember starting it several times, I never made it past page 30. As I vociferously complained about this book as I was reading it this time, both M and my mother asked me why I was reading it if I disliked it so much. I didn’t really have a good answer at the time, but now I know. Leaving this book unread for so long was haunting me. I really don’t like leaving things undone, and I wanted to challenge myself as a reader. As an apprentice-writer, you are supposed to read as much as you can. If left solely to my own devices, I would mostly read YA, so Classics and Modern, Adult Lit are good for me.
Usually, I like reading about Austen’s heroines. I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. Northanger Abbey was a fun read. But Emma Woodhouse makes me want to hit people. Okay, mostly I just want to hit her. So what were my issues?
In Northanger Abbey, the heroine is also fairly naive and kind of creates the problems in her life. But you know what? She feels badly about it! And she learns! Emma’s excessively high opinion of herself pissed me off beyond belief, and though she feels bad for a minute or two, in another 30 pages she’ll be doing exactly whatever it was that got her into trouble last time. In fact, I don’t think she focuses too much on starting the rumor about Jane Fairfax being in love with a married man. If she even thinks about it, it wasn’t for very long. In fact, she focuses more on making a catty comment to Jane’s aunt (whose ridiculously chatty dialog is *painful* to read), and that’s primarily just because Knightly chastises her for it.
Which brings me to my other issue: Knightly. Not a super-hot Austen heroine, in my opinion. Call me a crazy modern woman, but patronizing guys just aren’t attractive to me. Now, I think he’s perfect for Emma, who continues to act exactly like a spoiled child/Mean Girl, but I couldn’t get 100% behind a relationship predominately based on him trying to fix her and get her to grow up. Maybe I’m missing something, and I’d love to see your thoughts or defenses of the book in comments. But really I’m just glad I accomplished that. Hopefully my other 10+ year book that is haunting me, The Phantom of the Opera, won’t be as painful.

Rating: 2 stars— At least I will never have to start this book again.
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LibraryThing member schmal06
Even though many people I know who have read the book dislike the main character, I liked her very much. She wasn't nearly as perfect as Elizabeth or Elinor, but it was her many flaws that made her so appealing to me. She just seemed more real. I found the book very witty and loved reading it.
LibraryThing member acl
When you read a lot of thrilling, epic fantasy, it can be hard to get into a novel where the height of excitement is a co-ed strawberry-picking party. Even so, Austen's realistically flawed, engaging, and lovable characters drive the story. It's a lot of fun to read.
LibraryThing member aharey
Emma tells the tale of Emma Woodhouse, a woman of means, who is an unrelenting matchmaker in early 19th century England. Emma, the sole caretaker of her father, spends her time trying to set people up, often with disastrous results.

Emma, published in 1815, is a Comedy of Errors novel. This type of novel satirizes a particular class of people. In the case of this novel, it is the gentry of 19th century rural England. Comedies of Errors tend to have stereotypical characters. Two that appear in Emma are the fop, someone who is overly concerned with his appearance, and the rake, someone who is a heartless womanizer. We see these two characters in Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill (though Frank may not be as heartless as he appears).

Jane Austen wrote Emma with the intention of creating a main character who no one would like. Emma at first appears to be frivolous and interfering. However, through the novel, we actually see Emma evolve into a much more mature character who recognizes her faults and shortcomings. The character of Emma was a departure for Austen, in the fact that Emma was not worried about income. Also, the character of Mr. Knightley is someone Emma has always known, as opposed to Austen’s other novels.

Emma has always been one of my favorite novels. It strikes me as being more similar to the modern world than Austen’s other novels. I have always loved Mr. Knightley’s character, almost more than Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. It is a novel I read again and again, never tiring of the different adventures Emma finds herself in.
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LibraryThing member MrsRJ
The fourth, longest and last of Jane Austen's books to appear in print during her lifetime, Emma is considered a classic romantic comedy and was first published in 1816. Written almost 200 year ago, it's inevitable that the dialogue may feel a bit stilted at times. However, this adds dimension and depth to the story which focuses on 19th century social hierarchies and the interaction between various social classes.

Miss Emma Woodhouse is a shining example of a 19th century socialite. Beautiful, clever and wealthy, she fancies herself a master-matchmaker and sets in motion a laundry list of schemes to pair off the Highbury residents. Convinced a make-over would elevate her new friend Harriet's social standing and thus her marriage potential, Emma, fueled by her feeling of superiority, plotted and planned, all to no avail. Failing to realize the extent of her shortcomings and the consequences of such hurtful behavior, Emma was finally confronted by Mr. Knightley. Afterwards, embarrassed and ashamed, she reevaluated her life and began to make amends, in hopes of becoming a better person.

Emma is a beautifully written, classic, laced with wit and sarcasm. Through a vastly differing cast of characters, each delightfully inspiring in his or her own way, Austen vividly captured the heart of a community. Everything is neatly tied up at the conclusion, as things literally come full circle...ending much the way it began.

A sublte, yet very significant messege is hidden just below the surface--the beginning and the ending are just definitive points in the journey, in between is where we write our definition of happiness. There's a depth and sincere honesty written into the very fabric of this story- that must be recognized to fully appreciate the artistic genius of Jane Austen.

Like a vintage automobile, Emma is a slow, leisurely read, perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I most recently read Emma as the introductory novel in a class at the Newberry Library. The class was entitled "Jane Austen's Heirs" and following the introductory refreshing reading of Emma the course included novels by such "heirs" of hers as Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen, Barbara Pym, and Anita Brookner. The theme of course was Austen and Emma is one of the best of her novels to read and use as a model for the typical Austen novel.
Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich." Emma, however, is also rather spoiled; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; and she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people's lives and is often mistaken about the meanings of others' actions.
While Emma differs strikingly from Austen's other heroines in some respects, she resembles Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot, among others, in another way: she is an intelligent young woman with too little to do and no ability to change her location or everyday routine. Though her family is loving and her economic status secure, the quotidian details of Emma's everyday life seem a bit dul; she has few companions her own age when the novel begins. Her determined though inept matchmaking may represent a muted protest against the narrow scope of a wealthy woman's life, especially that of a woman who is single and childless.
And of course there is the classical balance of the novel's structure that, combined with the beauty of Austen's writing style, makes this novel a favorite of readers and writers, particularly those mentioned above, ever since it was published.
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Publication

A Public Domain Book, 459 pages

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1816

Physical description

459 p.

Other editions

Emma by Jane Austen (Hardcover)
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