Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Jane Austen's Emma Kills Me Every Time

Like most girls in their twenties, I own every Jane Austen novel published.
I have my worn-down-before-it-ever-came-to-me copies:


And then I have my never-touched-in-my-life-except-to-buy-it pretty anthology copy:


(Plus some hardbacks my parents bought me in high school, too.)

I like Jane Austen. Actually, I think Jane Austen is fascinating. I think she is witty, clever, and deliciously underhanded. I love her stories, mostly because they're surprisingly funny and sarcastic. Novels aside, I love reading Jane Austen biographies. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about Jane Austen and I love talking about, reading about, and thinking about the hundreds of arguments that literary scholars and historians pitch at each other, stretching from "Was Jane Austen pretty?" to "Was Jane Austen a closet lesbian involved romantically with her own sister, Cassandra?"

(I don't think so, either.)

BUT. I am not a Janeite. I can't quote lines from many of her novels or, at the drop of a hat, tell you the main man in each of her novels. I don't care about a lot of the small subplots in her stories and I can't keep track of whose house is named what. And, in all honesty, Pride and Prejudice is one of my least favorite Austen novels. My favorite (in case you couldn't tell from the title of this post)?



I like Emma because she is basically every twenty-one year old girl I've ever met (myself included), only she's a fictitious character who was the brainchild of an author who lived two hundred years ago. If you've read Emma and not liked it, or thought that Emma was a spoiled daddy's girl (which she is), then you probably disagree with my above statement.

But what I mean is this:
Even though Emma is extremely coddled and has more than her fair share of pluck, she is ridiculous. And, more than that, she is ridiculously clueless. She thinks her opinion is alway the right opinion but, three years ago, I often thought the same thing- particularly when it came to my friends' love lives. I love Emma. She has so many traits that my friends and I had when we were her age- traits that we thought made us so unique- that it's hard to not like her. Simply put, Emma is an extremely likable character, even if it means that, by liking her, you're shaking your head at her latest antic.

If you don't already know (since there are 500 Emma and Emma inspired films out there. Clueless anyone?), Emma is the story of a young and rich girl who has no real interest in being married. Instead, she wants to marry off everyone around her. Particularly, she wants to marry off her pretty, naive, newfound friend Harriet, a seventeen-year-old girl below Emma's social status. While planning out Harriet's future, Emma is shocked and appalled each time her plans foil on themselves, particularly when Harriet's "suitors" react in the exact opposite way Emma had predicted. Basically, Emma is a silly, humorous young woman who has the best intentions but doesn't always use her head.


There are all kinds of hidden meanings in this book and, if you read closely, you'll realize that, for all her airs and humorous antics, Emma is just as lonely as anyone else. Aside from Harriet, she has no real companion and, though many Jane Austen fans argue about whether or not Emma actually loves her final love interest, I choose to think that she loved him all along, but maybe that's because I'm a romantic (thanks, Mr. C.). I don't want to say much more about this novel because, if you have somehow managed to never see one of the films or read the book, I don't want to take away from any of the humor this story offers. It's a funny one, and a romantic one too... even if Emma's man isn't as dreamy as Mr. Darcy.

And with that, I think I'll go watch Clueless.