Thursday, April 22, 2010

"I recommend a little gruel before you go."

by Jane Austen

Many literary critics have proclaimed Emma to be the most accomplished of Jane Austen's novels. That may well be, but I don't personally number it among my favorites. That said, it easily deserves its five-star rating; I haven't read an Austen novel yet that doesn't.

Emma is, of course, the story of beautiful, young, wealthy and accomplished Emma Woodhouse. Of her, too many kindnesses can not be said. At least, that is the attitude displayed by everyone around Emma. She's heard nothing but praise and exaltations her entire life, and has come to quite believe her own billing. And while she generally means well, Emma has grown into an unforgivable busybody and snob.

Emma lavishes most of her attentions on her dear friend Harriet Smith. While Harriet is of a lower status and desirability than Emma herself, Emma feels confident she can improve upon Harriet, introduce her to all the right society, in short, make her a most advantageous match. Never mind the perfectly nice farmer who is already in love with her.

And so, Emma insinuates herself into the affairs of Harriet and several others around her. She is certainly not the most sympathetic of Austen's heroines and my feelings about her tended to fluctuate from chapter to chapter. Nevertheless, no conflicted feelings got in the way of the joy brought about by a patented Austen ending. Additionally, Austen proves yet again that humor based on an intimate knowledge of human nature is timeless. I defy you not to laugh over the antics of Emma's possessive and gruel-loving father. Austen's social satire is as sharp as it ever was.
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