Rereadings: Emma by Jane Austen
As our loyal readers probably know, we here at Literary Transgressions are definitely Jane Austen fans. So after seeing PBS’ latest version of Emma (and loving it!), I decided it was high time I gave reading this book a second shot.
The first time I read it, I was in middle school and trapped at a family reunion. I tucked myself away in a small corner and read Emma as if I could escape into it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. Not even Jane Austen’s enviable prose was enough to distract me from my present situation and the fact that I wasn’t much enjoying the book didn’t help either. Neither the circumstances nor the book itself lent itself to my enjoyment of either. I came away having successfully read the book and survived the reunion but without much pleasure on either front.
Looking back, I assumed that I was just too young for Emma. Or maybe the shouting of various family members had distracted me too much from the book. In any event, I have since come to mightily enjoy other Austen novels so the time was ripe for a second go-round. Unfortunately, the results were not much better.
I read somewhere that Austen wrote the character of Emma in hopes of creating a heroine no one would much like. For me, this worked like a charm. I find nothing about Emma to be interesting or remotely likable and the fact that she is at the center of the book made it extremely difficult for me to muscle through it. Additionally, I found her father and sister equally absurd and frustrating, Harriet unbelievably dense, and the Knightleys (yes, even John) to be the only border-line tolerable people in the book. I just couldn’t like any of it!
This was all terribly disappointing me, of course. I had hoped that I could have grown into Emma and it would become a book I liked very much. There are so few Austen novels to begin with, it would be nice to say that I like them all. But I think perhaps the cliches about different women identifying with and liking different books in extremely personal, internalized ways makes sense since the novels do all speak to different characters, morals, and goals.
I can only say that even though nothing about Emma appealed to me, there is no doubt some other reader out there who thinks there is nothing else so close to literary perfection. At least I hope so. With her small canon, it would be a shame for Jane Austen to succeed completely in creating a heroine universally disliked!
What about you, dear readers? Is anyone an Emma lover? Or at least can anyone point out some nice bits to me?