My thoughts on Jane Austen's Emma

I am so ashamed to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever read this gem of a book. I wasn’t at all unaware of the premise of the story before reading it, after all I have watched Clueless two dozen times or so and I’ve also watched the BBC miniseries a handful of times, which by the way, if you haven’t already watched it yet, it is excellent.  

What I often find when reading a book is that I tend to contemplate the themes and characters a lot more closely than when I merely watch a movie, which is why I finally made it a point of reading it. Something that, of course, any fan of Clueless can tell is that this book is primarily about friendship and less about finding love. Love takes a slight backseat and this theme is very evident in the book, which I found refreshing.


For those of you that aren’t familiar with this story, here’s a short summary.

Emma Woodhouse (Miss. Woodhouse) is the main character and youngest of two daughters to Mr. Woodhouse. He is very much an introvert and would much prefer a pleasant evening at home with close friends than to go out to attend a grand party. Given that Mrs. Woodhouse passed away when Emma was about six, Mr. Woodhouse is quite protective of his daughters.

When the eldest marries and moves away, it doesn’t sit well with him. A few years later Miss Taylor, governess to his girls, gets engaged to Mr. Weston, a noble man that lives less than a mile away. Again, this event set’s Mr. Woodhouse out of sorts. No, change doesn’t sit well with Mr. Woodhouse and so it is fortunate that Emma vows never to marry. She doesn’t see a personal need for it, if it isn’t induced by love, nor does she want to alter her father’s sanity.

With all this said, she spends most of the book matchmaking; later realizing that she makes a terrible matchmaker; identifying a possible marital candidate for herself then quickly determining that he is not at all what she would personally want in a man; finally she realizes that her true love was before her most of her life.  The latter only takes place during the last few pages of the book.

I am completely oversimplifying the story as there is so much more to be said but I think I’ve noted a few of the most notable points of the story.

A book about friendship

I read a post by Alina, from the blog Life Love Beauty Paradise, where she outlines the various types of friends that every woman needs in their life. I found that Jane Austen would also agree as she’s characterized each of them in her timeless story. They are not all individually represented but are none-the-less noted and important in the story.

Miss. Woodhouse – the friend that makes you feel good—and is always invested in your well being.

Emma is really lovely, spunky, forward and spoiled. As such she makes life interesting for those around her. She spends most of the book sticking her nose in everybody’s business, especially her dear Harriet’s business only to realize that it does her friend more damage than good. She is not my favorite character but she certainly makes the book quite fun and interesting.

Miss Fairfax – the friend that is wise beyond their years—and who is an overachiever.

Jane Fairfax does not have as comfortable a situation as Emma. She depends on the kindness of the others given that she is without her parents. At an early age was sent away with a family of a more suitable situation. They provided her with a good home and education. She excels in most of her endeavors and exudes an air of elegance because of it. Throughout the book she behaves not as a young twenty year old woman but rather as one that is well beyond her years.   

Miss Harriet Smith – the friend who is unconditionally supportive.

Sweet little Harriet is such a darling character. She is a few years younger than Emma and quite idolizes her. As such she is always amiable to all of Emma’s endeavors and is always ready to please. Even when Emma’s matchmaking goes sour she doesn’t fault her for it, she acknowledges her situation as inferior to that of the proposed match and dwells on it because of it.

Her sweet naïve charm was always refreshing.

Mrs. Ann Weston – the friend who cheers you up & who you can talk to about anything.

Mrs. Weston is the voice of reason. As the Woodhouse’s former governess she always brings great candor and delight to Emma and her father. To Emma, she is the greatest confidant and while she doesn’t always clearly correct her, as she delights in making her happy, she does try to dissuade her from matchmaking or of being impertinent. As for Emma’s father, she is always aware of his feelings and tries to maintain his nerves at ease.

Mrs. Elton – the friend you turn to for a fun time.

While Emma and Mrs. Elton don’t get along I know she’d make a great companion to Emma if they had gotten along and dared go on a night out, or more likely for tea. She is so chatty and full of spirit, not always a kind spirit, but maybe they might have been able to grow to like each other and positively influence each other. .  

Mr. Knightly—the friend that will always tell you the truth for your own good

I save the best for last.

Mr. Knightly is my favorite character of the book. He is such a gentleman and I love that he isn’t afraid of correcting Emma when she behaves like an insolent brat. I know that he becomes much more than just a friend to Emma but he spends the majority of the book as a highly regarded friend to the family, which is why I’ve included him in this list.  

Memorable Quotes

"...I would rather be marry than wise..."--when plans go astray, wouldn't we all wish the same? i know I would...

Page 210 – Frank Churchill to Emma

“…How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!—You told us it would be so, --Oh! Miss Woodhouse, why are you always so right?”

“Indeed, I am very sorry to be right in this instance, I would much rather have been marry than wise.”

Page 212 – Emma to herself

“This sensation of listlessness, weariness, stupidity, this disinclination to sit down and employ myself, this feeling of every thing’s being dull and insipid about the house!—I must be in love; I should be the oddest creature in the world if I were not—for a few weeks at least. Well! Evil to some is always good to others…”

Page 350 –Mr. Knightly to Emma

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. –You hear nothing but truth from me.—I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.—Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover…”

Overall thoughts

I must admit that this book was a bit challenging to read as the sentence structure and vocabulary were rather difficult for me but that’s okay. I find both lyrical in nature and quite beautiful. I often found myself rereading chapters to make sure I hadn’t missed something essential to the plot. This was the same situation I found myself in the first time I opened up Pride & Prejudice (P&P), my favorite book of all time. With time it became much easier to read so I expect this will be the same scenario the next time I pick this one up. Honestly, I expected to have difficulty reading the story but I was still very much looking forward to getting through the story as it is a classic and another piece of Jane Austen’s brilliance. (Yes, I’m biased to these sort of books. Specifically, I’m biased to her work.)

As for the story itself, I loved it! It is slow in pace which allows for strong character development. These are the kinds of stories that I seek out. When there is too much going on, I lose track and tend to enjoy such stories a bit less. I do not love it more than P&P but it is a darling story I hold very dear to my heart. Five out of five stars form me!

Hope you enjoyed my review. Have you read this story? What were your thoughts? Would you portray any of the characters differently? Who was your favorite character?