Sunday, October 12, 2014
Subtleties Upon Repeat Reading
Obviously I've read Emma before, but I don't know it nearly as well as P&P. Almost all of my detailed memories come from the Gwyneth Paltrow movie (though of course, I've watched the Kate Beckinsdale and Romola Garai versions, not to mention Clueless - and Aisha, the Bollywood version of Clueless :)) So I did find a lot noteworthy in rereading the actual bit. It was also interesting following along the story in two mediums simultaneously (you can see I didn't read it very fast, as the videos only came out twice a week :)) Seeing the videos, which of course only contain the familiar outline of the story, emphasized how much I love that familiar outline :) But more than that, how much richer the book is.
The story of Emma is really fantastic, right up there with Persuasion and P&P (it's the prototypical boy-next-door romance, corresponding to P&P's hate-at-first-sight). But it's a very different book than both of them. Persuasion is of course a more serious work, written late in Austen's life. But Emma is quite a bit less light and bright and sparking than P&P. I know it's considered by many to be Austen's greatest (most sophisticated?) work, and this is probably why. There's more character development and maybe just a little bit less happily ever after. The same wit and keen observation are of course ever present, but I think a little more biting.
I think what most struck me on this round of reading was the characterization. I have to admit, I didn't like any of the characters as much as their movie selves (except for Mr K of course, he's da bomb :)) Emma, rather than being charmingly selfish in the beginning, is rather too self-deceitful for comfort (especially for a repeat reader, who knows just how many mistakes she's making). As for Frank and Jane, it seems like the former has few redeeming qualities, leading one to wonder what the latter sees in him. And all these less than perfect souls make the book... a bit uncomfortable at times, I have to admit. I felt that discomfort in the ending as well, where, despite the happily-ever-after, Mr. Knightley's and Emma's union seemed just a little bit... I don't know, country gentleman as opposed to aristocrat (rough around the edges?).
It seems from this review that maybe I didn't enjoy the book all that much... but of course that's not true :) The romance remains utterly blissful and the writing delectable. But I think Emma's comparative grittiness (compared to P&P that is) took me a bit by surprise. I may have been suffering from a surfeit of Heyer aristocracy and/or excessive familiarity with the "good parts" (see previous review for more on that). But I don't mean to distract from the perfection of the book, don't get me wrong. I loved getting to know Emma a little better and JA is, as always, the master.