Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen

I loved this book.

The story concerns Emma Woodhouse, a clever, beautiful and rich young lady in the early 19th century, who fancies herself something of a matchmaker and reader of people. Emma’s pride and folly leads her to attempt to control the love lives of others, which does not go well and she regularly finds that the insight she prizes is sorely lacking as she misjudges and misunderstands things. Over indulged by most of the people in her life the only person who will point out her flaws is her friend Mr Knightley. As the novel progresses Emma must confront her changing feelings towards different characters and her own flaws, endeavouring to improve herself and being surprised by her own feelings.

I won’t go into more detail as to the plot because there are quite a few sub-plots and characters swirling around in the mix, and if you really want to know the plot I suggest picking up the book or checking out one of the many adaptations of it, my personal favourite is the 2009 BBC series starring Romola Garai as the title role and an excellent Jonny Lee Miller as Knightley.

Or there’s the equally ace Clueless, which updates the story to a 90s LA high school.

As I’d already seen several adaptations of the book I knew the plot going in, and was awaiting certain developments, but I must admit this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book at all, which is mainly down to Austen’s fantastic writing.

Often when something achieves classic status it can be a disappointment, and you find yourself wondering if its only so revered because its one of a small things that survive from that era, for example, I maintain that Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations remains one of the worst books ever written. But Austen deserves the praise and status, because she is a truly gifted writer.

The twists and turns of the plot are constructed well and the novel has a good pace, but the major strength is in Austen’s wit and characterization.

Throughout the book there’s this sly, almost sarcastic streak of humour as Austen lets us see just how far off the base Emma is at times and how oblivious she is to certain things. She’s entirely sure that she’s right and even condescendingly mocking of a character who attempts to warn her that she’s making a mistake.

For a protagonist Emma is an odd creation, because while she is capable of kindness, charm and sweetness there are other points in the book when she’s utterly infuriating- vain, proud, quick to judge and prone to being selfish. There are points when reading I’d be shaking my head and thinking “Stupid girl!” to myself, but at the same time, as I said she is also rather charming and displays wit and intelligence. She’s a wonderfully realized character, because that’s what people are really like- a combination of the endearing and the infuriating.

And her development over the course of the novel is good too, she matures but even at the end some of the flaws and quirks are still present, its not the complete, miraculous transformation less gifted writers attempt.

The rest of the characters are wonderfully realistic too, several reminding me of people, or types of people that I know in real life, and Austen manages to get you to respond emotionally to all the characters- amusement, anger, loathing, pity- all are felt towards different characters throughout the book.

One of the best characters in my opinion is Knightley, who’s a straight forward, gentleman. The character has a genuine feel of decency and dignity, and I found myself really liking him, as I have done in the film versions.

Austen writes good dialogue, which is witty and shows the characters personalities, and also reflects the society at the time which was governed by class, status and manners. You get a sense of the emotional relationships and meanings that are going on as much through what isn’t being said as what is, and there are several scenes where characters bounce off of each other in really cool, entertaining ways.

I can’t wait to read more of Austen’s books.

Verdict: A marvelously written novel, filled with engaging, realistic characters and a charming, sly wit throughout. 9/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO



3 Comments on “Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen”

  1. Michelle says:

    I bought a gorgeous copy of this book a while ago and have had it on my TBR shelf for a while, so your review has reminded me that I need to read it soon! I’m looking forward to it and I hope I enjoy it as much as you did 🙂

  2. […] I thoroughly enjoyed the book, although I must admit I preferred Emma (review of that here). […]

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