The second reading of Emma pleasantly surprised me. When the initial embarrassment of having under-appreciated this amazing work by Jane Austen passed, I was able to wallow myself in the pleasure this reading gave me. My former perception of the book, I realized, had arisen from my misconstruction of Emma Woodhouse. My strong dislike of her has clouded my judgment. But now the sky is cleared, I’ve truly fallen in love with the book, and in justice to both the book and the author, am compelled to amend my review.
Emma Woodhouse is quite a different heroine to what we are used to in an Austen novel. We are used to the all-good type. But Emma is not so. In Austen’s words, Emma is “handsome, clever and rich”, a first in a work of hers. For the first time, Jane Austen has sorted out an upper-class heroine who enjoys “the power of having rather too much her own way and a disposition to think a little too well of herself”. Proud, conscious of her high rank, overly satisfied in her judgment, Emma Woodhouse’s treatment toward the community of Highbury is one of condescension. Except for Mr. Knightley and her beloved Westons, Emma considers all others to be below her in rank and shows them only a dutiful kindness without any true warmth which is required of one of her station in life. Little that she foresees of the consequences of her own vanity, envy, and misjudgment, happily meddling with one young woman’s life and gossiping about another. But when her very happiness is threatened, the influence of the one man she loves properly humbles her and makes her see her own faults.
I truly liked Emma and was very much charmed by her this time. Not that she was easy to tolerate, but I could better understand and appreciate her innate good qualities which come out in full force when she receives a rough shake to her heart.
Mr. Knightley, on the other hand, contributes to the weight of the story by being constant, strong, kind, open, and sensible. He is the opposite of Emma with his sincere respect for people of every rank and situation in life. Mr. Knightley is a real gentleman, and the gentleman any lady would wish for. I loved the character. He is one of the best Austen heroes.
Emma brings out the class distinction of the Regency society like no other Austen work. Everything is centered on it, love, marriage, and even association. Austen with her clever and witty writing satirically portrays this social “comedy”. There is romance alright. Austen wouldn’t have abandoned the popular theme, but it is the social role played by “rank” that has engaged her mind when writing Emma.
It is a light and entertaining work, and a touch of comicality made it all the more enjoyable. It is also a complete work with a beautiful story, characters from different stations of life, social criticism, all being closely knitted into a perfect and wonderful piece of literature.
With Emma, four of Jane Austen novels have become my favourties. Perhaps, I’m partial because of my love for her, but I’m confident in my assertion that none can challenge her brilliancy in writing, in her ability to create lifelike and universally loved and respected characters, and her talent in painting a true picture of Regency society.