Author: Jane Austen
Read: June, 2016
Genre: Romance, Victorian Literature
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Loathe as I am to admit it my first foray into an Austen novel has not been an enjoyable endeavour. Emma, what went wrong? Your premise – a match matching, witty heroine trying to organise other peoples’ marriage prospects – promised humour, fun, and romance. This is not what I experienced. 😦
The main character, one Miss Emma Woodhouse, wasn’t particularly likeable, even by Austen’s own admission – “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Not to disagree with one of the most iconic writers to ever lift a pen, but perhaps this isn’t the best way to go about creating one’s protagonist? It made battling through the book a real challenge for me, but Emma’s popularity and critical acclaim as one of Austen’s better novels seems to prove that I, like Jon Snow, clearly know nothing.
But as a reader, my main concern is usually characters – if I like them, I can be pretty forgiving about a lack lustre plot. The issue I had with Emma was that I didn’t much like her to begin with – she was conceited, manipulative and exceedingly superficial. But, some people may argue, characters are supposed to flawed as that makes them realistic. Well yes, but they should also have some redeemable qualities too. Hell, even just one.
To be fair things did improve a little as the book went on. Emma does become marginally less annoying, emphasis on marginally. In saying that, I never felt particularly invested in her life or the supposed obstacles that occur within it at any point in the novel – it is difficult to feel much pity for a rich women who thinks trivial romantic misunderstandings are exceptionally important.
So Emma and I didn’t get along. This was an issue, certainly, but could have been saved had I grown to care about any of the other characters.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
They were all quite… meh. Like lukewarm tea. I’ll stomach it so as not to offend my Gran, and it’s not exactly awful tasting, it’s just that I’d rather be drinking something else. If it was anyone other than my Gran I’d put the cup down – if the author had been anyone other than Jane Austen I would have put this novel down and moved on to something else.
To summarise: characters = not so interesting. Me = heartbroken. Austen, your books are supposed to be amazing, your characterisation ingenious and witty. Why didn’t I get amazing and witty? Why?
So the characters were all a bit useless – this could have been saved by a decent plot, which Emma’s match-matching shenanigans should have provided surely?
Alas, not. This book was dialogue heavy – there were far too many entirely irrelevant conversations. I mean, pages and pages of pointless chatter. The narrative was boring, following the woes of wealthy people and bad relationship choices. It felt long and meandering whilst reading – I feel that things could have been improved greatly by better editing.
And the ending! It was utterly predictable – SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! – Emma marries Knightly and Harriet marries that farmer guy, I think called Robert? Who, as you can tell by my near photographic recollection of his character, was a real stand out (insert copious amounts of sarcasm at your own discretion). Oh and Frank Churchill marries Jane Fairfax. The revelation of their secret engagement wasn’t something I saw coming actually, but my lack of interest in either character made any reaction of mine to this surprise somewhat muted. End spoilers.
Overall, I was hugely let down by this novel. I don’t know if it’s just me? I’ve heard so many fantastic things about Austen, and Emma in particular. I think I’ll attempt another Austen novel before I write off her books as not for me, but I’m definitely waiting at least a year – I need time to wash away the bitter disappointment.
“Why did we wait for anything? why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”
If you like this try:
Whilst I didn’t enjoy Emma, I have been told that I would on the basis that I really enjoyed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I’m also guessing Austen’s other works would appeal to fans of Emma.