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Thread: Emma - A disappointing read

  1. #1
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Emma - A disappointing read

    Having recently read and adored Henry James' A Golden Bowl, I next turned to the easier Jane Austen. Knowing that Emma was one of Austen's best, I had expected more than a well constructed soap opera.

    Persuasion is a deeply moving and nuanced account of discerning Anne Elliot's drift into spinsterhood; Pride and Prejudice a glorious comedy with a cornucopia of irony. But in the more serious Emma a silly girl finds a sensible, if jealous, man while a silly man plays games while his fiancée fades away. Meanwhile gullible Harriet flounders, and Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse are vaguely amusing (mere shadows of the magnificent characters that are Mr Bennet and Mr Wickham). Yet, by chance, all live happily ever after - ho hum.

    Should I read more Jane Austen?
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

  2. #2
    Haribol Acharya blazeofglory's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    Having recently read and adored Henry James' A Golden Bowl, I next turned to the easier Jane Austen. Knowing that Emma was one of Austen's best, I had expected more than a well constructed soap opera.

    Persuasion is a deeply moving and nuanced account of discerning Anne Elliot's drift into spinsterhood; Pride and Prejudice a glorious comedy with a cornucopia of irony. But in the more serious Emma a silly girl finds a sensible, if jealous, man while a silly man plays games while his fiancée fades away. Meanwhile gullible Harriet flounders, and Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse are vaguely amusing (mere shadows of the magnificent characters that are Mr Bennet and Mr Wickham). Yet, by chance, all live happily ever after - ho hum.

    Should I read more Jane Austen?
    Had I been in your place I would have chosen something different. I love reading something that stirs up my thoughts like the Brothers Karamazov. Of course the book you are reading is a light read and Henry James is comparatively the better one. Since you have asked I think you should read something that will not waste your time. However who are we to judge? Maybe what you find in Jane Austen is something different than what I may find.
    I have gone thru Pride and Prejudice I got something womanish and that did not satisfy my mannish drives, something venturesome and philosophically searching. That said I am not in for a gender bias. This is a matter of choice and the rest rests with you.

    “Those who seek to satisfy the mind of man by hampering it with ceremonies and music and affecting charity and devotion have lost their original nature””

    “If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Really, I think Emma is Austen's best novel. It takes the comedy of manners to an extreme and delivers a relatively pleasant read. I think where this novel shines best is in its description of the limitations of a bright, rich woman's position in the 19th century. I disagree that she is merely a silly girl. She is an intelligent girl, but she is bored out of her mind. All she can occupy herself with is archery and matchmaking, except she is blind to the fact that Harriet's class and illegitimacy limits her prospects. Her naivety and overwhelming self-confidence leads Emma to make repeatedly bad decisions. This is essentially a reflection of the separate spheres concept of gender popular at the time. The feminine was seen as emotional and gentle, while the masculine was seen to be best at rationality. Thus, Emma as a self-sufficient woman who rejects the necessity of marriage is cut off from the "male sphere." Likewise, Knightley is an emotionally stunted bachelor. Ultimately, they educate each other in their separate spheres to create a sort of perfect couple. I see a certain reflection of Wollstonecraft's argument that woman need to be masculanized through education and men feminized.

    Austen wrote about Emma that she was trying to create "a heroine who nobody would like." I think when we look at how Austen approaches her characters from a realist perspective, we may begin to understand how Emma is a critique of the position of women in the early 19th century. The happy endings and neat tie ups at the end are simply a trope of novel writing of the period, not a sign of Austen's frivolity.

    I'm not a huge Austen fan, but it is ridiculous to reject an author who is possibly the first great English novelist (maybe second or third if you consider Fielding and Defoe as great) as a "waste of time." People who reject her writing as "womanish" love stories for young girls are ignoring her vital role in advancing literary realism and the genre of the novel. All of her work is masterfully crafted and it is hardly a fault of her writing that it is an easy read. Henry James himself was one of the greatest supporters of Austen's work, and she was undoubtedly a major influence on him.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    I once read an article on charming Churchill's role, not as nasty pr*ck who 'cheats' on his fiancée, but rather as plot device: whenever he writes a letter, characters comment on it while the reader can follow those commenting characters and get into their mind. Just like in their first discussion, Emma and Knghtley clearly display the same view, but a different initial viewpoint on Harriet Smith. Churchill is not so much a soap-opera character as one who highlights the clouded minds of both the main characters and the community: he is charming so he canot possibly do anything wrong.

    I would agree with OrphanPip and say that it is extreme in its comedy and hilarious. It is less serious than Persuasion, but more carried through than Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice was a fun story about two people who really need a kick up the backside for their own arrogant views. Emma is more hilarious because everyone in that village thinks he/she is right, not only Knightey and Emma themselves. Even the community has a voice! If Knightley is jealous, it does not really put him in a bad light, but rather in a ridiculous one: he doesn't even know why. That's a ot worse than Darcy who just had to face his own demons. Knightley has ust failed to see that he oves this neighbour of his and then becomes jealous of this schoolboy.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Really, I think Emma is Austen's best novel. It takes the comedy of manners to an extreme and delivers a relatively pleasant read. I think where this novel shines best is in its description of the limitations of a bright, rich woman's position in the 19th century. I disagree that she is merely a silly girl. She is an intelligent girl, but she is bored out of her mind. All she can occupy herself with is archery and matchmaking, except she is blind to the fact that Harriet's class and illegitimacy limits her prospects. Her naivety and overwhelming self-confidence leads Emma to make repeatedly bad decisions. This is essentially a reflection of the separate spheres concept of gender popular at the time. The feminine was seen as emotional and gentle, while the masculine was seen to be best at rationality. Thus, Emma as a self-sufficient woman who rejects the necessity of marriage is cut off from the "male sphere." Likewise, Knightley is an emotionally stunted bachelor. Ultimately, they educate each other in their separate spheres to create a sort of perfect couple. I see a certain reflection of Wollstonecraft's argument that woman need to be masculanized through education and men feminized.

    Austen wrote about Emma that she was trying to create "a heroine who nobody would like." I think when we look at how Austen approaches her characters from a realist perspective, we may begin to understand how Emma is a critique of the position of women in the early 19th century. The happy endings and neat tie ups at the end are simply a trope of novel writing of the period, not a sign of Austen's frivolity.

    I'm not a huge Austen fan, but it is ridiculous to reject an author who is possibly the first great English novelist (maybe second or third if you consider Fielding and Defoe as great) as a "waste of time." People who reject her writing as "womanish" love stories for young girls are ignoring her vital role in advancing literary realism and the genre of the novel. All of her work is masterfully crafted and it is hardly a fault of her writing that it is an easy read. Henry James himself was one of the greatest supporters of Austen's work, and she was undoubtedly a major influence on him.
    This is one of the best posts I've ever read about Emma Orphan. I don't know how much you enjoy literary critics, but you might like Wayne Booth's articles on the contra-indications within the novel against the fantasy ending that pairs Emma with Knightley. Posts like yours make me wish I had the time for really in-depth discussions, and I do not, sadly.
    Last edited by Jozanny; 03-16-2010 at 08:12 AM. Reason: spelling

  6. #6
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Please don't misconstrue my post as a general criticism of Austen: Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice are wonderful, and in no way 'a waste of time'. The latter, explicitly a comedy, is the funniest novel and the finest satire I've read, so I'm puzzled by Kiki's suggestion that 'Emma is more hilarious'.

    While I completely agree with OrphanPip's remarks on Emma, historical significance and discerning social comment don't necessarily make for a good read. Like Blazeofglory, I also 'love reading something that stirs up my thoughts', and Emma did not.

    What more of Jane Austen should I read?
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    Sometimes you may find yourself wanting just to read for pleasure, rather than to be stirred, if so, Northanger Abbey, Good characters, simple and charming. Not a book that needs pouring over and dissecting, never irritating or overly dramatic, just a real pleasure.

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    As a huge Austen fan, it frustrates me to see Austen's characters so dismissed. Emma, though appearing superficial and vain, is an intelligent, thoughtful girl whose spoilt upbringing has encouraged her to belive her own views as the most important (just look at how she treats her father!). Emma was the first Austen i read and i immediately fell in love with the fact that Austen was not afraid to create a character with serious -and more importantly irritating! -flaws, and still manage to endear them to readers and show their personal growth throughout the text. I do understand where you are coming from though - there are just some characters that drive you mad (Fanny Price*cough cough*)

    I definitely recommend Northanger Abbey, however if Emma's vanity annoyed you, then Catherine's naivety may be worse! Also try Sense and Sensibility - I found it very easy to relate to Elinor. Please dont give up on Jane Austen!

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    Registered User humpty dumpty's Avatar
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    Despite being an Austin fan, I do agree with Gladys on some points. Having read her Pride and Prejudice (three times!) I was very disappointed with Emma. I found it very boring and predictable, and couldn't get myself to go beyond the first few chapters.

    Though this is certainly not true of her other works. I have not read Northanger Abbey yet, but Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park are definitely must-reads
    Last edited by humpty dumpty; 06-02-2010 at 05:09 AM.

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    I decided to give some thought as to why Emma is the Austen book to which I most frequently return. To begin, I shall compare the character with others of Austen's heroines. Emma certainly does not have the seemingly stolid 'sense' of Elinor Dashwood; nor yet the wild 'sensibility' of Marianne. Emma would consider herself a calm and reasoning person (for her stance on marriage, and supposed perception of others, etc.), but those who know her well, know her to be self-deluded.
    Although Austen created Emma as a character that only she might like, it seems that the extreme shyness and melancholy of Fanny Price's character is a put off to many. Although Emma is often disliked, she has something of cheerfulness and even openness present in her character. (Although some could argue against the idea of openness, I believe Austen intended to imply it through Mr. Knightly's statement on the subject.)
    Emma is, of course, blind towards her own faults, but she lacks the general naivete which makes the heroine of Northanger Abbey, Catherine, somewhat irrelevant to the modern female. (imo)
    In comparing Anne Eliot or Elizabeth Bennett, Emma will almost certainly be worsted. However, the manifold struggles Emma goes through in learning her weaknesses may be said to give the book more depth than the sparkling Pride and Prejudice.
    Emma involves a whole community. It is not so much the journey of a character towards love, as the unfolding of a character study.

    When it comes down to it, my preference for Emma lies in the fact that I see myself in the flawed character. Not to say that I am rich, clever or handsome, but I certainly have the hubris that attends all three. Everyone wants to be Elizabeth Bennett, who never offends from rudeness or paucity of perception, but only when defending what seems to her to be right. However, I confess I see more of Emma in myself, which means that I really should hate her, doesn't it?
    Last edited by L.M. The Third; 06-02-2010 at 05:22 PM.

  11. #11
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L.M. The Third View Post
    Although Austen created Emma as a character that only she might like, it seems that the extreme shyness and melancholy of Fanny Price's character is a put off to many. Although Emma is often disliked, she has something of cheerfulness and even openness present in her character. (Although some could argue against the idea of openness, I believe Austen intended to imply it through Mr. Knightly's statement on the subject.)
    Emma is, of course, blind towards her own faults, but she lacks the general naivete which makes the heroine of Northanger Abbey, Catherine, somewhat irrelevant to the modern female. (imo)
    In comparing Anne Eliot or Elizabeth Bennett, Emma will almost certainly be worsted. However, the manifold struggles Emma goes through in learning her weaknesses may be said to give the book more depth than the sparkling Pride and Prejudice.
    Emma involves a whole community. It is not so much the journey of a character towards love, as the unfolding of a character study.
    Quote Originally Posted by laurarose View Post
    Emma, though appearing superficial and vain, is an intelligent, thoughtful girl whose spoilt upbringing has encouraged her to believe her own views as the most important (just look at how she treats her father!). Emma was the first Austen i read and i immediately fell in love with the fact that Austen was not afraid to create a character with serious -and more importantly irritating! -flaws, and still manage to endear them to readers and show their personal growth throughout the text.!
    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    I would agree with OrphanPip and say that it is extreme in its comedy and hilarious. It is less serious than Persuasion, but more carried through than Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice was a fun story about two people who really need a kick up the backside for their own arrogant views. Emma is more hilarious because everyone in that village thinks he/she is right, not only Knightley and Emma themselves. Even the community has a voice! If Knightley is jealous, it does not really put him in a bad light, but rather in a ridiculous one: he doesn't even know why. That's a lot worse than Darcy who just had to face his own demons. Knightley has just failed to see that he loves this neighbour of his and then becomes jealous of this schoolboy.
    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    It takes the comedy of manners to an extreme and delivers a relatively pleasant read. I think where this novel shines best is in its description of the limitations of a bright, rich woman's position in the 19th century. I disagree that she is merely a silly girl. She is an intelligent girl, but she is bored out of her mind. All she can occupy herself with is archery and matchmaking, except she is blind to the fact that Harriet's class and illegitimacy limits her prospects. Her naivety and overwhelming self-confidence leads Emma to make repeatedly bad decisions. This is essentially a reflection of the separate spheres concept of gender popular at the time. The feminine was seen as emotional and gentle, while the masculine was seen to be best at rationality. Thus, Emma as a self-sufficient woman who rejects the necessity of marriage is cut off from the "male sphere." Likewise, Knightley is an emotionally stunted bachelor. Ultimately, they educate each other in their separate spheres to create a sort of perfect couple.
    All this analysis is surely impeccable but is there anything here that raises the novel above a mere soap opera with a solid plot? Where is the searing psychological insight on the distanced couple found in Persuasion, or the dazzling irony showered on the action by Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?

    Based on advice, I might tackle Sense and Sensibility next.
    Last edited by Gladys; 06-02-2010 at 08:13 PM.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

  12. #12
    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Are you saying that irony (such as that present in Pride and Prejudice) raises something over a mere "soap opera"? Irony obviously has great potential and power, but I still don't see how Mr. Bennett's irony adds substance, since his is essentially noticing the irony of life from an arm-chair, but not using it to much purpose. Fond as I am of it, I've always thought of Pride and Prejudice as a lighter, more predictable, book. Not quite "soap opera" - but then, I don't know anything about those.
    I don't wish to argue, or offend you. I find your differing opinion interesting.
    Last edited by L.M. The Third; 06-02-2010 at 08:37 PM.

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    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    Have you thought of reading "Mansfield Park"?
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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Really Gladys? I thought Emma her best novels of the ones I've read. Form wise, it was perfectly constructed and the wit was extraordinary and Austen's prose is always so good. I thought the characterization was very good too. Perhaps it wasn't your type of story. Actually I don't think any of Austen's novels are my type of story, but I suspend that for the creativity of the work.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Virgil, it made me smile to see you were the last poster here! Your opinion gets my stamp of approval.

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