"I certainly will not persuade myself to feel more than I do. I am quite enough in love, I should be sorry to be more." - Emma, Jane Austen.
For a very long time, I have been under the impression that Jane Austen was an extremely influential author in the romance genre and yes, Emma is a dramatic, romantic novel but it is also incredibly funny (more on that later). Emma is the story of Emma Woodhouse (Intelligent and interfering) who tries to set up her best friend Harriet Smith (soft, impressionable and by all means, naïve) with Mr. Elton (who changes dramatically with time). It doesn’t work out, naturally, but it does lead to a plethora of extremely uncomfortable scenarios. Miss Jane Fairfax (a complete mystery), Augusta Hawkins (overbearing and by god! annoying) and Mr. Frank Churchill (who is all sunshine and rainbows) soon find themselves thrown into the mix, each bringing with them their own share of baggage. Mr. Knightley is the obvious love interest to Emma and perhaps the most refreshing character in the entire book (intentionally too, I am sure).
The pace of the book is varied. The first 50 pages are unbelievably dull. 200 pages in, I realized that the every time there is a new plot point, it gets resolved before another is introduced, which makes for a slow build up. However towards the latter half of the book, the pace picks up and the story starts unraveling. The pieces fall into their place. It remains however a long book to read and requires you to invest some time into it.
The book deals with the themes of perils of arranged love and marriage. When Emma tries to set up Harriet with different men, convinces her that she does indeed love them, things don’t work out and yet Harriet finds herself with the one she truly does love despite any help from Emma. Marriage and relationships are deemed worthy if both the parties have something to gain, in terms of social status or money. In a way, Austen reminds us that relationships should help us grow further and prosper (though perhaps not through monetary gain).
The most fascinating aspect of Emma is the way you can relate to it, even over two centuries later. When Emma misunderstands certain actions because her imagination is fixated on something else entirely or when she enjoys the attentions of Frank Churchill, it is easy to nod along and agree with her. When Harriet doesn’t let go of a pencil stub belonging to Mr. Elton, it feels foolish and a lot of people I know are guilty of the same.
I mentioned earlier that the book is a comic one and what I mean is that while there is enough drama on the surface to last a very long time, it is filled with undertones of hilarity. The character of Mr. Woodhouse (Emma’s father) is quirky and Mr. Knightley’s dialogues are often lined with sarcasm that adds to the funny side.
Speaking of dialogues, one of my major hesitations to read ‘Emma’ was that it is set in 1800s provincial England, that it’s a ‘classic’ and the language would definitely be exhausting (not to mention nearly improbable) to comprehend. I was pleasantly proven wrong. The language and dialogues are slightly more complicated, longer and fancier but at no point are they impossible to understand. Some phrases and slangs threw me off initially but I got used to it.
All in all, it is a mental workout – exhausting but satisfying and definitely worth a try. I would encourage all those who want to, to read it.