This book was such a joy to read again. It’s been several years since I’ve read it and I understand why some call it Jane Austen’s “masterpiece.” It’s a bit longer than her other works, and is more about growing up than romance. It also has some great lines, like, “men of sense don’t want silly wives.”
Emma Woodhouse is about 21 and lives with her father. They are a family of means and live a life of leisure. Emma has never known hardship and her father has been permanently scarred by it, afraid of anything and everything that might cause harm to a loved one or himself. Emma’s main job is caring for her father, though she doesn’t find it a burden. She also helps the poor and is generally charming. She’s isn’t as likable as some of Austen’s other heroines, however, as she’s very spoiled and meddles where she shouldn’t.
Thinking herself a great matchmaker, as she correctly saw that her sister and the younger Mr. Knightley were falling in love, much of the book’s comedy rests on her various schemes and assumptions about other people. It is only her lifelong friend, the older Mr. Knightley, who checks her behavior. I’m not sure I find Mr. Knightley particularly swoonworthy–he often seems like a school lecturer and is at least as opinionated as Emma, but has sense and logic on his side. Their banter is pretty fun, and it’s easy to forget about the 16 year age gap. By the end of the book, it is clear he is the only one who could marry Emma, having both completely understood her and loved her, and also having understood Emma’s father and her family’s somewhat eccentric ways.
The most hard-hitting scene, most people will recognize, that in which Emma on her worst behavior teases and insults a spinster names Miss Bates. Miss Bates talks too much, and this irritates Emma immensely, and she makes a joke at the older woman’s expense. Mr. Knightley tells her this was, “badly done,” which Emma knows, but still needs to be told, because her redemption in the final chapters of the book only comes with her feelings of remorse and repentance. She realizes what an awful thing it is to meddle with peoples lives–especially not knowing all of the facts–and that although old friends may sometimes be ridiculous, we should still treat them with gentleness and respect. Even being in the right, Mr. Knightley doesn’t think himself immune to criticism as well, even saying of Emma that she’s borne his corrections as no other women would.
Mr. Knightley is just as quick with his praise as his chastisement of her. He tells Emma that she chose better for the vicar Mr. Elton than he ended up choosing for himself. Mr. Knightley learned that although Emma was fanciful, her dreams, too, were based on some truth. And he himself is also susceptible to matchmaking, which I found amusing. Isn’t it true that if we’re not involved in our own love stories, we’re often imagining them for those around us, both the men and the women? This kind of drama in some sense appeals to both sexes, because everyone likes to be in the know and likes to think they are smart enough to observe a love story unfolding in front of them even if the two supposed lovers don’t even know it yet.
I like Emma and Knightley a bit more than I do Elizabeth and especially Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Despite being rich, they seem to be more in tune with real people, and although they still do judge prematurely, it is more on the positive side of doing it, than the negative. Emma often talks about not being able to associate with people of lower class, but it’s clear from her behavior that it’s not really that big of a deal to her–she’d rather be at the party with her friends than home alone. It’s much hinted in the book that this is a time in England when class distinctions are starting to become hazy around the edges. Mr. Knightley reinforces this attitude, by paying special attentions to Jane Fairfax, who is a poor orphan, sticking up for Miss Bates, who despite her faults is a kind lady and someone who as she ages will sink ever lower into poverty as well, and by taking the time to get to know Harriett Smith, also an orphan and lower in class. Knightley is also a champion for Robert Martin, a farmer who works for him, as being a great match for Harriet to Emma’s higher class minister, Mr. Elton. By the end of the story, we see that Emma and Mr. Knightley are very well matched as they can easily speak plainly to each other and also have the ability to anticipate and care for the needs of their friends and family.
How important a quality is this? Well, many relationships fail because of communication, so I’d say it’s a true blessing to have that in common. They also both generally have sunny outlooks, perhaps due to being wealthy, but also due to a lifelong friendship in which this has constantly been enforced between them. As for their caring natures, they aren’t going to give away their money willy nilly, but generally they pay respect to those around them and care deeply for those in their direct spheres. In marriage, and working together as a team, the good they could do would be doubled, making their marriage a blessing beyond themselves.
It’s funny to me that even though Mr. Knightley knows Emma so well and doesn’t lean as much towards imaginations not based in reality, he’s still not sure of himself in winning her. She, too, is certain he must love someone else, not her. Austen often shows us that both people who have everything to lose and nothing to lose still struggle when it comes to declaring their love and being certain of it being accepted. We, no matter our station, find ourselves unworthy of love to some degree, always “half agony, half hope,” as she says in, I think, Persuasion.
I highly recommend again the Masterpiece Theatre miniseries of Emma starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller. It is a faithful adaptation of the book and both leads capture their characters perfectly and have genuine chemistry of deep friendship about them. They seem so much already in a relationship that the romantic declarations at the end are rather meh compared to Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in the Emma movie, but it works well as, like I said, I find the story to be more about growing up than falling in love.
The Young Clementina
This is another novel by D.E. Stevenson of the very funny Miss Buncle’s Book. The Young Clementina is about surviving difficult circumstances, but there are comedic moments within it. It’s perhaps comical just how much liars lie, how they upset everything, throwing it into turmoil just because they can. It’s both sad and funny how much people fall for lies. One would presume any observant, common sense person, can see the truth, but that’s often not the case. We often give liars too much benefit of the doubt, while scorning others in the process. Humans are prone, too prone, to getting things wrong.
I’m not quite finished with the book yet, but it’s a story about a woman whose sister turns her life upside down, how she recovers from that, and how she helps her niece recover from it as well. I think it will have a happy ending, but not an ecstatic one. Compared to Miss Buncle, it’s fairly low-key. I have to admit I struggle with the title name, thinking of it as Clementine in my head, having never heard of the name Clementina before. Also, it took awhile for me to see where the story is going, but now I have an inkling that more lies are to be revealed.
Haven’t finished any new Kdramas as I’m taking a detour and rewatching Goblin or The Guardian starring Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) again. It’s one of the best dramas out there, though at times I’m not sure the fantasy plot makes sense. Goblin is a perfect combination of great acting, direction, soundtrack, and story, and one I will probably rewatch periodically as now that it’s available on viki.com!