…Emma, Jane Austen.
I could describe exactly how I feel about this book by simply saying “quite funny – little bit long-winded” but I am in fact still in a lot of dept because of my English Literature and Creative Writing degree so I shall endeavour to be a little less economic with my words…
I think people have a misconception that Jane Austen books are full of people being incredibly sensible and very British and not saying what they actually mean until the very last chapter of the narrative, but I actually hugely enjoyed the frankness of the characters in Emma. Many times Emma refuses to be polite and back down from her own opinions when speaking with Mr Knightley or Mrs Weston. I think during a time when women’s minds were thought to be easily bendable to any man’s will, I love that Austen fills her books with obstinate and headstrong women like Emma (I use both those terms in a purely complimentary manner) and like any obstinate and headstrong person, they do tend to get the wrong end of the stick at times, refusing to let go of it until they can no longer justify the mistakes they have made (this is a circumstance I can all too easily relate to). Even other characters in the book are very firm with their honesty, like the slightly irritating Jane Fairfax with the incredibly irritating Mrs Elton when it comes to questions of her employment. I think when compared to modern times the conversations she has on the subject would stand up as far more honest and firm, these days we just tend to give up voicing our own opinions and secretly say “bollocks to that” in our heads while we nod politely. I did exactly the same thing while Jehovah’s Witnesses read bible passages to me at my front door this morning.
This book also contains one of my favourite declarations of love ever ever ever (no word economy there). Tis of course, Mr Knightley declaring to Emma “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” In that one sentence I think Austen sums up the great paradox of her own profession. So much of writing is the endeavour to put emotion into words when actually the more elaborate, beautiful and flouncey (technical term) declarations of love are, the less likely I am to believe them because actually true love is too spectacular to put into words.
I do have to say that there is always a slight annoyance when I read an Austen book because the obstinate, headstrong and often passionate female character tends to go through a lesson in sensibility which makes them less obstinate, headstrong and passionate by the end, but then I’m not sure how much of that is part of the general growing-up process. The main characters are often coming out of their teenage years into adulthood. I understand that humans to become less obstinate and headstrong as they grow-up and then of course to go back to being just as obstinate and headstrong when they get old, so I’m sure that if I was to read Austen’s account of Emma as a 72-year-old, I would find that the journey of sensibility had run full circle and I would feel much more satisfied with her story. Or indeed, perhaps the lessening of her obstinate and headstrong nature is just an outcome of the incredibly humbling nature of love?
As to the characters not saying what they mean until the very end of the book, well firstly, if they said it any sooner it would be a very short book indeed and secondly, they simply say it when they know it. The rest of the book is about a very human journey towards the realisation of an important truth. I think that might be why, in the 198 years since Jane Austen’s death, her books have continued to be incredibly popular, because they are very human stories about our favourite subject – love.
Emma and Knightley’s journey towards each other is slightly longer than I might have wanted it to be (but that’s the opinion of a woman who has kissed every person she’s ever fancied even a little bit, you know, just incase – and I’d like to put the emphasis on kissed, no more…most of the time) and of course the archaic nature of the language makes it a little more long-winded at times but overall it’s honest, funny and very human. I liked it. Read it.
P.S. The story about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is true and prompted me to take the time out of my day not to contemplate the true name of God (Jehovah, as it surprisingly turns out) but to write and make-shift-laminate-with-sellotape the following sign which is now blue-tacked to my door. Hopefully it will keep them at bay.