Reread: Emma

As some of you already know, I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I’ve read all six of her completed novels multiple times, and I’ve seen (and in fact own) most of the major film adaptations. I may or may not (ahem) be in love with Mr. Darcy. I also have a Jane Austen action figure, which is lovingly preserved in its original packaging. In short, I am a big Austen dork. Feel free to judge.

Yet I recently realized that, for some reason, I hadn’t read any Austen in at least a year. To rectify the situation, I decided to revisit Emma. It’s definitely been several years since I last read it, and even though it’s not my favorite Austen novel (that would be Pride and Prejudice, obviously), I was craving some Highbury action. Here are some things that I was thinking about during this reading (and guys, there will be SPOILERS, so be warned!):

  • Miss Bates is GENIUS. Her long monologues may seem pointless and boring, but they actually contain all the clues to the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax relationship. I love Miss Bates. She would undoubtedly be tedious in real life, but she’s definitely a wonderful comic character — and also the moral center of the novel. Other characters (Emma in particular) are often judged by how well or poorly they treat Miss Bates.
  • The romance between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax is actually a lot more dramatic than the main action with Emma. In some ways, Jane Fairfax is actually a much more likely heroine for a novel: she’s an orphan raised in a wealthy environment but destined to become a governess. She’s beautiful and accomplished — much more so than Emma, we’re told. She meets the dashing Frank Churchill at Weymouth and is swept off her feet. They’re secretly engaged, unfairly separated by the class-conscious Churchills, and forced to hide their true feelings from everyone else. It’s practically Romeo and Juliet, if you think about it! Yet Austen interestingly decided to tell most of this story offstage, focusing instead on the more mundane dramas of Highbury.
  • I love the moment when Emma meets Mrs. Elton for the first time and is enraged that she casually refers to Mr. Knightley as “Knightley.” Methinks I see some foreshadowing there!
  • Speaking of Emma and Mrs. Elton, in some ways they are eerily similar. Emma judges Mrs. Elton harshly for trying to manage every aspect of Jane Fairfax’s life — yet Emma herself did essentially the same thing to Harriet Smith! Emma is a more sympathetic character than Mrs. Elton, but does she really deserve to be?

So anyway, I really enjoyed my reread of Emma, and now I have a craving to watch the 1996 movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow. Well, either that or “Clueless”!

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