It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. Going into 2017, I had two of her novels left to read: Sense & Sensibility and Emma. I knew I wanted to read at least one of them this year, and it didn’t take me very long to decide on Emma. Why? Because I knew I’d like it the least. I’ve been putting it off for a long time – after attempting to read it for a college course about five years ago and getting so annoyed with it I gave up – and if I wanted to have all of Austen’s works under my belt, it had to happen. Obviously, I was a bit biased going in, but I did attempt to give this book a fair shot. After all, it is Jane Austen.
(From Goodreads) mma is young, rich and independent. She has decided not to get married and instead spends her time organising her acquaintances’ love affairs. Her plans for the matrimonial success of her new friend Harriet, however, lead her into complications that ultimately test her own detachment from the world of romance.
It should come as no surprise that I did not like this book. Emma – the main character – is easily one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever read. Which made reading Emma a huge struggle for me. I just didn’t enjoy reading it, and picking it up (I was determined to finish) felt like a chore. It is her second longest novel – after Mansfield Park – and it felt like it. Normally, I love the complexities of Austen’s writing, and the leisurely pace she takes; her books beg to be savored. But Emma felt overly long and drawn out, and I just wanted to be done with it.
When I previously attempted to read this book, I didn’t like her at all, but was honestly hoping my perspective had changed after getting my master’s in English (and studying Romantic literature in depth) and reading a few hundred more books. I kept reminding myself that Catherine Morland is naive and occasionally frustrating as a character, but she doesn’t keep me from adoring Northanger Abbey. Still, something about Emma just gets under my skin. It’s like having Lydia Bennet as a protagonist. And if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you might be able to imagine. (And if you haven’t, go do it. Seriously.) I just couldn’t connect with her, and, as a result, couldn’t connect with many of the other characters either.
Comparing Emma to Austen’s other novels, I was surprised to find that, chronologically, it was her penultimate work. While the writing is still great and quintessentially Austen, it feels much less mature than her other novels, apart from Northanger Abbey, which was her first (written, not published), and still charming in it’s own way. Emma lacks the Romantic feminism of Pride & Prejudice, the pragmatism of Persuasion, the heart-wrenching drama of Mansfield Park, and the Gothic intrigue of Northanger Abbey. For me, it falls short compared to Austen’s other work, and I just can’t bring myself to love it as much as I love her other novels.
★★☆☆☆ – I contemplated giving Emma three stars, but, ultimately, I just didn’t enjoy this book at all. Still, I am glad to have FINALLY read Emma, and am looking forward to completing the works of Jane Austen soon.
If you’ve read Emma, what did you think? What’s your favorite Austen novel?
And, if you are so inclined to purchase a copy for yourself, may I suggest the Vintage Classics edition? It’s almost gorgeous enough to make me like this book more. (Emma, along with the rest of Austen’s novels are also available in the public domain, meaning you can read them for free online or as ebooks.)
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Emma as one of your two free books (which you get to keep even if you cancel). Since it’s a classic, there are several narrators and editions for you to choose from – I believe you can even get it abridged if you’re so inclined.