Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pride and Prejudice, Emma (Reviewed January/February 2008)

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)[*****] See review for Emma.

Emma, Jane Austen (1816)[*****]. I'm reading my way through Jane Austen, and thoroughly enjoying myself, but I will admit to feeling a bit daunted at the thought of reviewing her among this crowd of Austen-lovers-and-generally-really-smart-folks. I recently also finished Pride and Prejudice -- inhaled it, really (I had read it before, but nearly 20 years ago, so it was all new) -- but I won't hazard a review except to say that I adored it. Emma, actually, took me a bit to get into -- I suspect that it's in part because my head was still full of P&P. Also, I did not find Emma an instantaneously likable character. She's such a class snob, above and beyond anything required of her by her times. She herself seems to embody more than any of the other heroines that familiar theme in Austen that my daughter would sum up as "You can't judge a book by its cover." In Emma, it is Emma herself who turns out to be more complicated than first meets the eye. By the end, I liked the fact that I didn't always like her, even while I came to feel great affection for her. I was also fascinated by the two adoption stories, and saw pretty quickly that Jane and Frank needed to marry, just for the pure symmetry of it all. But most of all, I'm really intrigued by the issues of class, and how much the need/desire for wealth and class status motivates so many of the characters -- both the heroines (Emma differently than the others, because she has wealth and therefore independence, allowing her to be a snob, perhaps), as well as the ones who are otherwise fairly (or completely) unsympathetic (Wickham in P&P comes to mind, as do the Eltons in Emma). Perhaps for this reason, among my favorite characters in Emma were Miss and Mrs. Bates, who are so content and well-respected in their (relative) poverty. I couldn't help but think of Elinor and Marianne, who couldn't possibly set up housekeeping with less than 500 a year, despite their vastly greater interior resources. On to Mansfield Park!

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