Emma, Emma, Emma, What Have You Done?

A Review of Jane Austen’s Emma

Another novel of love, manners and courtship, but this time the protagonist has options; two to be exact.  She can either find a husband or become a spinster.  The early pages of the novel lead us to believe that Emma has chosen the later option because she does not believe that her father can bare life without her.  I can understand not wanting to leave a parent who is failing, but one has to make their own life or be miserable.  Emma takes a while to discover this as her main occupation is matchmaking otherwise known as meddling in the affairs of others.

At first, I loved Emma.  She is intelligent and dedicated to her father’s happiness.  It is clear that despite her outward facade, Emma is unhappy and desires love which she purposely excludes herself from pursing.  At times in the novel she seems immune from it; having never really considered it an option she doesn’t recognize it when it enters her life.

Then, she decides that her wealth, position and intelligent give her to the right to determine the fate of another human being. It is a little like when Paris Hilton adopted Nicole Richie, except without the happy ending.   She seeks to improve Harriet Smith, an orphan.   The friendship doesn’t help either woman as all of Emma’s plans fall flat on their cultured behinds and Harriet ends up with the very man whom she told her she was too good for.

Once again, we see Austen using miscommunication as a tool to move her story along.  Miscommunication is breed in the novel by the strict rules of the time that dictated what men and women could and could not do in the presence of the other. Just as today, it also breeds drama. Maybe if modern soap operas had taken a page of Austen’s playbook they would have been able to stay on the air.

Of the novels that I have read thus far in my journey to get to know Jane, this is my least favorite.  Everything comes together neatly at the end and while the characters get to marry for love; their marriages also leave them all financial and social comfortable.  I would like to think that Austen who never married and depended on her family for support always ended her novels happily not because of convention or increased popularity of her work, but because she was living vicariously through them.  Their happy ending was her’s as well.


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