'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

October 10, 2010

Emma{s}


When I started re-reading Emma (for the first time in a long time, though) I was a tiny bit disenchanted, only because I’ve seen so many film and TV adaptations that the story and the characters seemed a little too familiar. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, very very much and more and more, but I had to work at it just a little, just at first.

So it was interesting to look for places where the book and the adaptations met, and where they went their separate ways. Some of the characters — especially the ones who provide the comic or bittersweet notes in the book — were very much as expected: Mr. Woodhouse, Harriet, Mrs. Elton, Miss Bates. Emma was the most different: in the book, she’s much less ditzy, and more thoughtful – but still clueless, which is a nice combination. As I noticed before, she’s given an earlier warning about Mr. Elton’s feelings for her, and Frank Churchill’s feelings for Jane Fairfax; she thinks both through, and still gets them wrong.

Other dramatic licenses are taken, too. I was surprised that in the book the Westons' ball (where Mr. Knightley rescues Harriet, and then dances with Emma) takes place before the picnic at Box Hill. I’ll have to watch again to make sure, but doesn’t it happen the other way in the films? It makes sense, plot-wise; Emma behaves badly toward Miss Bates, and is forgiven.

I’ve always thought (and still do) that Mr. Knightley is a good guy, but a less-than-truly-romantic hero. He doesn’t come to the fore in the book either, but I still (and always will) fall for him when he says this:

I cannot make speeches, Emma: ... if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.
Knowing how everything ends, I was curious to see how the relationships between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax would come across in the book. We see that Jane is upset and Frank is angry (as in the films), but Jane Austen uses the interesting device of letting us read Frank’s letter to Mrs. Weston to explain the ‘misunderstandings’ and lovers’ quarrels that play out at Donwell and on Box Hill. Since I love to read mysteries, I’m charmed again now by the comparisons of this book to a mystery, with clues set out for us to follow, or to miss.

When I started reading, I played a little game with myself. In her biography of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Jenkins said that Emma ‘ in her wrong-headed folly spins six separate, interlacing, circles of delusion,’ and I set down what these might be:

1. Emma thinks Mr. Elton is falling in love with Harriet.

2. Emma thinks Frank Churchill is pursuing her {meaning Emma}.

3. Frank Churchill makes fun of Jane Fairfax, but is secretly engaged to her.

4. Emma thinks Harriet is in love with Frank Churchill.

5. Mrs. Weston thinks Mr. Knightley is wooing Jane Fairfax.

6. Emma does not know Mr. Knightley’s true feelings.

I was close, but not quite there. Here’s my new, improved list.

1. Emma thinks Mr. Elton is falling in love with Harriet.

2. Emma thinks she is in love with Frank Churchill, and that he returns her feelings.

3. Emma thinks Jane Fairfax is in love with Mr. Dixon, her friend’s husband.

4. Emma thinks Harriet is in love with Frank Churchill, after he rescues her from the gypsies.

5. After Mrs. Weston suggests it, Emma fears that Mr. Knightley is wooing Jane Fairfax.

6. Emma does not know Mr. Knightley’s true feelings.

What do you think? Am I right? {I have a feeling I missed one.}

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Next stop, another Emma. I’m going to read Madame Bovary, in a new translation by Lydia Davis, in a group read assembled by Frances at Nonsuch Book. This will be my first time reading the book, and I’m looking forward to other readers’ thoughts on the translation. Part One (58 pages) is due on Thursday. It’s funny … with so many books beckoning, it’s good to have an assignment! (It was also nice to find the book waiting for me when I got home, and to see what a beautiful book it is.)


. . . . . . . . . . .

3 comments:

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Reading your thoughts on Emma has made me want to re read an Austen. Not sure which one...

Marie said...

Then there's Harriet's crush on Knightley but that's not in Emma's imagination. :-) I'm glad to see you're participating in the Madame Bovary readalong, speaking of literary Emmas. Can't wait for everyone's posts!

Vintage Reading said...

Enjoyed reading your perceptive analysis of Emma. I'd forgotten that 'if I loved you less' line. Mr Knightley is one of may favourite Austen heroes - almost as good as Captain Wentworth!

Thank you for visiting!

Card Catalog

#6barsets #emma200th #maisie #PalliserParty #Woolfalong A.A. Milne Agatha Christie Alexander McCall Smith Amy Lowell Angela Thirkell Ann Bridge Anne Perry Anthony Trollope Anticipation Armchair Travels Art Audiobooks Barbara Pym Biography Bloomsbury Bookish things Boston British Library Crime Classics Cambridge Cathleen Schine Charles Dickens Coffee-table books Cookbooks D.E. Stevenson Deborah Crombie Donna Leon Dorothy L. Sayers E.H. Young E.M. Forster Edith Wharton Elinor Lipman Elizabeth Gaskell Elizabeth Jenkins Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth von Arnim Emily Dickinson Ernest Hemingway Eudora Welty Fiction Films Food from Books Food Writing Found on a Blog George Eliot Georgette Heyer Helen Ashton Henry James History Homes and Haunts Ideas Imogen Robertson Isabella Stewart Gardner Jacqueline Winspear Jane Austen Joanna Trollope Julia Child Language Laurie Colwin Letters Library Books Literature Louise Andrews Kent Louise Penny M.F.K. Fisher Madame Bovary Madame de Sévigné Madame de Staël Margaret Kennedy Margery Sharp Mary Shelley Memoirs Miss Read My Year with Edith Mysteries Nathaniel Hawthorne Nonfiction Nook Only Connect P.D. James Paris in July Persephones Plays Poetry Pride and Prejudice 200 Queen Victoria R.I.P. Reading England 2015 Ruth Rendell Sarah Orne Jewett Short Stories Switzerland Sylvia Beach Team Middlemarch The 1924 Club The Brontës the Carlyles The Classics Club Thomas Hardy Virago Virginia Woolf Washington Irving Willa Cather William Maxwell Winifred Peck Winifred Watson