“I cannot make speeches 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…..”
Such are the exchanges that one is bound to experience in this very enticing Jane Austen novel. In her own lines, I cannot presume to praise Jane Austen. However, I would definitely like to share my thoughts since I just can’t keep from babbling them out! There’s no secret to it, I love, absolutely love Jane Austen, and predictably so. (Who does not?!?) Reading one of her books is an experience of a lifetime, seeming effortlessly natural, and being amazingly humorous, satirical and romantic.
Now, coming to Emma. Ranking as my second favourite Jane Austen novel after Pride & Prejudice (again, predictably so!) Emma is one of the best books I’ve ever read! (No points for guessing why!!) I had read it for the first time years ago, and had always wanted to re-read it sometime. This was the third time, and yet again I found some things which were new to me and had passed unnoticed by me earlier.
This is where it all started! I mean the age disparities between the hero and the heroine. A 16 year difference between the lead pair, which in real life would not necessarily be all that romantic, but Jane Austen not just managed, but accomplished exceptionally well the task of making the reader love Emma Woodhouse and Mr. George Knightley! A splendid couple.
I need not give an outline to the story as millions of us already know about it! But about the characters, I just can’t refrain from speaking about them because I fell in love with them all over again in this re-read!
Emma Woodhouse is a beautiful, caring and witty female. She has two sides to her personality- one where she is the caring daughter ready to sacrifice and forego marriage for the sake of her father and also has a very good understanding; and secondly, she is very witty and self-willed. She knowingly or unknowingly will influence people to her will, not realizing initially that she is doing it. Loaded with fancies she presumes are all right if she thinks they are, she will do all she can to accomplish those. There is a transition in her as the story progresses. She has an inherent goodness within her, coupled with the influence of Mr. Knightley over her thoughts and actions, which sways her to self-realization and leads her to correct her actions and eventually come to understand her own heart. The harshest lesson learnt by Emma is when Harriet Smith turns out to be full of presumptions and self-consequence because of her encouragement and presumes to make Mr. Knightley the object of her affections.
The reason why Emma’s character is endearing is it is a very beautiful blend of different characteristics. In addition to all her natural qualities, she also experiences envy. Though she herself is the center of the universe for her loved ones, she can’t bear the same being done with Jane Fairfax. Emma is the character who would like to learn from her own experiences, even though she was being warned and then later own up that she was wrong! She learns, accepts and grows.
Mr. Knightley is undoubtedly one of my favourite heroes! He is elegant, graceful, down to earth and a very straightforward individual. His on your face ability is what I liked best. He does possess negative emotions like jealousy but is humble enough to own them. And more than anything else, I liked that he was ready to move from Donwell Abbey to Hartfield just for the sake of Emma. Thought and written off in a time like that, it was really a commendable job by Jane Austen. Mr. Knightley’s superiority of character, his penetration into a person’s personality and understanding of societal norms is what makes his character stand apart. I have no proper words to describe how much I like this character, and the in his own lines, ‘if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more!’
Both, Emma and Mr. Knightley love each other, but realization dawns on them only when there is danger of the other being lost to them for ever.
Jane Austen was such a prolific writer that even her secondary characters are read with much keen interest and remembered long after one has closed the book.
Jane Fairfax and Frank Weston Churchill are the most deceptive characters in the story, Frank excessively so. And though I knew what was coming on account of this being a re-read, I still felt the same annoyance on Frank’s behavior as I did the first time I read it. His being forgiven all major mistakes he willingly makes, was rather too indulgent on his family’s part and rightly made him the child of fortune. Jane Fairfax did what she did under the circumstances she was faced with, and her behavior is very natural to the one in her position. What I was surprised at was Mrs. Weston’s immediate acceptance of Jane Fairfax instead of Emma as a daughter in law. She is disturbed which is evident and she does like Jane since the beginning, but a very quick transition it is in her acceptances. Mr. Weston though good natured and jovial, possesses a very loose tongue.
Miss Bates’ character was very amusing. And Mr. Woodhouse actually generates sympathy in one’s heart for him. Mr. and Mrs. Elton, full of self-importance and pretensions very well deserved each other. It really ingratiated my nerves whenever Mrs. Elton came into the picture! Harriet Smith was a very malleable character.
The beauty of Jane Austen’s writing is it was so natural. The story flow goes smoothly enough with no dull moment ever and everything seeming to progress in the usual fashion of our day to day lives. The stories are always complete with everything being answered and cleared by the time the end is reached. It does not end when the hero and heroine confess their love for each other, but when they have resolved all difficulties in their paths, and discussed each other’s feelings and contemplated the future.
Some of the lines and dialogues are unforgettably lovely and beautiful. Some of these are very relevant even today. One would remember them forever! Who writes such dialogues as:
“What is passable in youth is detestable in later age”;
“Better be without sense, than misapply as you do”;
“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief”;
“Fine dancing, like virtue, must be its own reward”;
Some thought provoking such as-
“It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public”;
“A very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce in a very small, and generally very inferior society, may well be illiberal and cross.”;
“Woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.”;
“There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves”;
“Where I have a regard, I always think the person well-looking”;
“Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly”;
“A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer”;
“It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment”;
Some feeling dialogues-
“Emma I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured that allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it…”;
“But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does chuse me, it will not be anything so wonderful.”;
And so many, many, many more! Like,
“A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt for regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.”
“You will not ask me what is the point of envy.-You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity.- You are wise-but I cannot be wise. Emma I must tell you what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment.”
“…I have gone too far already for concealment.- Emma, I accept your offer-Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer to you as a friend.- Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?”
Beautiful, beautiful lines which I shall always love! I am just so full of them; I can go on and on forever. But the long and short of it is that you should not let this book pass unread, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read it. You will perfectly understand, what made Jane Austen, Jane Austen!