First off, I would like to say Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating. to those who do not celebrate Christmas, I hope you are having a happy holiday season celebrating/doing what it is that you do!
Today Mathuri and I are presenting to you Emma, the next installment in Austen Adventures! Emma is, admittedly, my favourite of all of Jane Austen’s novels. I will explain why more in our Final Thoughts blog coming after we finish reading the final two books.
Emma is about a beautiful, young, rich, (and single!) woman named–you guessed it–Emma, who has a penchant for interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she goes against the advice of her good friend Mr. Knightley, everything starts to unravel and tangle together.
Does Emma act as a good friend to Harriet Smith? Are Emma’s concerns for Harriet’s education and refinement born of an honest desire to help, or is it something less altruistic? Are Mr. Knightley’s criticisms of Emma’s interference with Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal justified? Does Harriet ultimately benefit from Emma’s friendship or her attempts to help her?
Jessica: I think that most of Emma’s actions throughout the novel are born from good intentions. Or, at the very least, they are good intentions in her mind. I do not believe that she ever wanted to sabotage Harriet for less altruistic means, with the exception of when she realizes her feelings for Mr. Knightley. Even then, I am not sure that her intentions are extremely malicious, but that it is simply she loves this man and wants him to be with her rather than Harriet.
However, I do feel that Mr. Knightley’s criticisms are justified and Emma really should not have interfered with Mr. Martin’s proposal. There is nothing malicious about Mr. Martin, so there is no justification for her actions. She should have understood that Harriet liked this man and wanted to pursue that option.
Full circle though, Harriet does benefit from Emma’s friendship. The means are sometimes questionable, but I think that Harriet ends up more confident in herself by the end of the novel. Self-confidence, provided it does not boil over into being cocky or extremely self-centered, is a good thing and I am glad Harriet eventually gets that.
Mathuri: “Born from good intentions,” was exactly what I wanted to say. Emma has a wonderful heart, she truly wants to help people. Along with Knightley, it’s how these intentions are carried out that are the issue. Knightley could be communicating better while Emma could be listening better. I agree with Jessica though, in the case of Mr. Martin’s proposal, Emma allowed prejudice to take over in her judgments of Mr. Martin when she convinced Harriet to stay away.
I absolutely think Harriet benefited from her more. I loved reading about Emma, and how confident she was and how she had so much potential. I’m glad that she had an “outlet” through Harriet. Again, means were questionable, but I think Harriet was grateful to have a caring friend, especially one who learned from her mistakes.
About Emma, Jane Austen famously said, ‘I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.’ Do you like Emma? Why or why not?
Jessica: I actually do like Emma. She is not perfect, sure, but then again no human being is perfect. I know I am not. I also like seeing Emma’s personal growth throughout the book. I do prefer the way she ends up to the way she began, but I would not mind having her as a friend. She does misread and generally makes mistakes, but she acts in what she views as her friends’ best interests, and I like people like that.
Mathuri: I love Emma too! I’ve mentioned this countless times now, but character development is my favourite part of reading, especially in Austen’s books so far. In the beginning, she decides to be single, and is confident in all the choices she makes (especially with Harriet). I loved reading her thoughts towards the end, when she has the conversation with Mr. Knightley and is awkward and nervous about her feelings. Right up to the end, she continues to care about Harriet’s feelings after Emma and Knightley confess their feelings for each other.
One effect of the hidden (Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill) story is to undermine the omniscience of the narrator. Some critics have suggested that the narrator controls the reader less in Emma than in most Austen books. Because of this, Reginald Ferrar has suggested the book improves on rereading. ‘Only when the story has been thoroughly assimilated can the infinite delights and subtleties of its workmanship begin to be appreciated.’ He suggests that rereading Pride and Prejudice allows you to repeat the pleasure you had at the first reading, while rereading Emma always provides new pleasures. (He also says that ‘until you know the story, you are apt to find the movement dense and slow and obscure, difficult to follow, and not very obviously worth the following.’) Do you agree with any of this? Do you like a book in which the writer’s intentions are not always clear and there is space for the reader to take charge or do you like to know what the writer wants you to be feeling and noticing? How do you feel about the idea of a book that has to be reread in order to be enjoyed? Is Emma such a book?
Jessica: Honestly, I think it depends on the particular book. There are certainly stories where I like to theorize about the author’s intentions, such as mystery novels where I attempt to figure out who did the crime (cannot help it, even though it tends to ruin the end of some books). Nevertheless, I also enjoy some level of direction or suggestion on the part of the author. It could even be misdirection in certain cases. This helps keeps the novel interesting, I find. If the author allows me completely take over, it is not the same.
I do not feel that there is any book that is not enjoyable on the first read and only enjoyed on rereads. I think that there are books that have different layers and thus on rereads you discover new things. Perhaps this is what the question is referring to? I would have to reference the Harry Potter series as this type of book. I think most fully enjoyed their first read, there is a sort of magic, but then if they reread the novels they often found new things in the pages that they missed before, even if they were just hints about later events in the novel.
Building on that, Emma is definitely one of the books where you can discover more on a reread. Discovering more on a reread, I think, allows the reader to experience a different kind of enjoyment. The hidden story with Jane and Frank is one that comes as a shock the first time you read. However, when you reread the novel, you have the chance to notice the little hints and, for some I imagine, you might feel a little superior to the narrator because you know what is going to happen.
Mathuri: I agree with Jessica, in that while books can get better with rereads, it should be enjoyable the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of people considering a book not enjoyable during their first read.
In regards to author’s choices’ on keeping things unclear, I think it depends on the story and level of space and freedom for the reader. I want to be able to enjoy the initial read, for its plot and characters, regardless of how many layers are underneath the surface. I don’t like when it’s too much of a mystery that you have think increasingly hard to understand the book. I think this in particular is a preference up to the reader.
Using an example that Jessica is going to comment on for sure, in Fellowship of the Ring (which is the only book I finished in the trilogy), I did not understand the necessity of Tom Bombadil. After reading the book I had a strong appreciation for him as a character, but I felt that it hindered the story. I’m sure Jessica will say there’s more to it than that (from googling his name, I’ve found various theories on this Tom Bombadil character). I know this isn’t exactly what the question is asking, but it does relate. To keep it simple, I think that the author should be pointing you in the right direction as a reader. Giving up control is an interesting choice, and I didn’t mind it for Emma, but in the Lord of the Rings example, I lost my way, so to speak.
Do you think that Emma has given up matchmaking for good?
Jessica: Oh I doubt she has. I think she will still attempt to find matches for people she cares about—or at least she will when she meets more—it is just the way she is. However, given her personal growth throughout this novel, I think she will act with more care for the other people involved than she did in the book. Matchmaking is not inherently manipulative or bad, it is the way you go about it. You do have to take into account the feelings of those you are trying to put together. If one does not see the relationship the way you do, you cannot force it.
Mathuri: Definitely not. I strongly believe it’s in Emma’s nature. In her eyes, she wants to see her friends happy and settled with people they can care for. Especially for the time, with a woman’s marriage being a vital part of their life, Emma just wants to do her part for her friends. While we all see it as matchmaking, including Emma, I also see it as Emma being a kind, caring friend (with a few lessons that needed to be learned).
Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be happy, or not? What passages in the text make you think so?
Jessica: Yes, I am sure they will be happy together. It is not so much a single passage that makes me believe this, but rather an overview of their relationship. You can see at the end of the novel, even when Mr. Knightley was quite angry with Emma, when he believed she might be hurt by certain events, he still rushed to her side. He was ready to comfort her regardless of his own feelings and if hers meant they would not be together. Throughout the novel, it is clear that they truly care for one another and the others’ happiness, which is the most important thing.
If I were going to pick a specific passage, it would be when Mr. Knightley says to Emma “If I loved you any less, I might be able to talk about it more.” Immediately I can tell you that he truly does love her. While I have not been in love like that, I do have people I love in my life. If you asked me to describe why I love them, I do not believe I could give you an answer. I think it might be the same case here with Mr. Knightley if he were to describe why he loves Emma. While many people might say that this alone is not enough proof or general justification, I think that Mr. Knightley truly being in love with her is a great start.
Mathuri: I don’t think I have much to add to Jessica’s description of their relationship. What stood out to me most was Knightley’s willingness to set aside his own feelings to comfort Emma when he thought Emma was affected by the news of Frank’s engagement. What stuck out to me the most, within the same time after the proposal, was the issue of living arrangements (which is how I think I would put it?). Emma would have hated to leave her father in Hartfield, while her father would have been against moving to Donwell Abbey. Knightley offered to move to Hartfield and leave Donwell Abbey, which I think had a lot of depth in the sacrifice. I love that he was willing to do that, and it made me love their relationship more.
I also want to add that I hope that they’re happy. I love stories when they characters live “happily ever after.” Though I know it’s completely unrealistic, it’s why I love and read Austen’s books.
Thoughts From Jessica
I sincerely hope that everyone is enjoying reading about our Austen Adventures, and as always, I invite you to join us and leave your own thoughts! Do you like Emma as a character? Will she and Mr. Knightley be happy?
I loved reading this novel. Emma certainly grows a lot throughout the course of this book and because of that, I think she might be one of the most human of Austen’s heroines. Also, I cannot resist stories where two good friends fall for each other. There is just something so romantic about them to me.
If you want to experience a modernized version of Emma, check out Emma Approved on YouTube. It is a web series produced by Pemberley Digital and I highly recommend it!
And for the record, there is more to Tom Bombadil. Mathuri was right that I would comment about that. However, for me to go into depth about it would require at least one post of its own, so you’ll have to request that if you wish to read what I feel.
Anyways, I must sign off now to continue the Christmas festivities with my family. It’s been an adventure for sure, our power was out for over 24 hours and we only got it back a couple hours ago.
Next time on Austen Adventures, January 8th, Mathuri and I will discuss Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s foray into Gothic literature.
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