I just finished reading Emma (actually listening in this case) for about the third time. I like this book. I think some of the reason I like it so well is that I watched the Gweneth Paltrow version of Emma before reading the book. Although the movie is pretty inaccurate in itself, it’s a happy film and I always got a good feeling watching it. I have a sneaking suspicion that this has coloured my view of the book.
What I like about Auten books in general is that she has such a good variety of characters. Just when you’ve had quite enough of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Bates comes along to entertain you. Both characters on their own are maddening, but are quite amusing when taken in turns. Although I really would like to slap Mrs. Elton into the middle of next month on more than one occasion in the course of the novel. She is horrifically annoying, which just serves to illustrate Austen’s talents. Austen’s characters all inspire emotion in the reader, lots of emotion. You usually either love or hate them and the aversion you feel for those you hate is usually quite strong – to the point of wanting to slap them into the middle of next month (Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Norris – slapfest anyone?). She uses the feeling she creates for the characters to make her point. No one in their right mind would actually want to emulate a Mrs. Elton or Mrs. Norris, rather you would probably go a great deal out of your way not to. She uses the same method to illustrate points with her “good” characters as well. Nothing makes you cringe so much as Emma’s blunder on Box Hill when she insulted to good Mrs. Bates so distinctly in front of half of the party. The more you like Emma, the more you cringe at her insolence. Austen uses this to point out that even the rich have both material and moral obligations towards those less fortunate than themselves.
Finally, I like that all of her messages in the book are as applicable today as they were then. The settings may have changed, but the implications are the same. No one is going to like you if you are constantly putting people down, scheming in other people’s lives is never a good idea, we have obligations to others less fortunate than ourselves etc. etc.
Oh yes, and the romantic bit is good too. Nothing like a good romance.