Thursday, 7 June 2012

Emma

Listening to:

invisible pants by Drop Trio, in their album Cezanne.

Just read:

Jane Austen, Emma.

I think this is probably Austen’s most cheerful novel. This cheerfulness makes the whole novel very likeable; if you haven’t read it, you should just go grab a copy and read it right now. The general cheer stems in large part from the main character, Emma Woodhouse, who is young, optimistic and more than ready to interfere in other people’s lives. This interference is what drives the plot forward, to humorous effect, but it also allows for a little character development. The varying levels of success that Emma manages in her various hare-brained schemes eventually do have an effect on her, and she gets to learn who the really valuable people in her life are. And so everything can get nicely wrapped up at the end with a happy romantic conclusion.

The generally cheerful tone is helped along by the fact that there are no real villains. Mrs. Elton, something of a young Mrs. Bennet, is insufferable, but there to be mocked. Otherwise, the nastiest moment, the big crisis if you will, stems not because someone is desperately ill, or because a younger sister has been seduced by a scoundrel, but because Emma says something thoughtless.

While there may not be any nasty characters, there’s plenty of careful observation of what difficult circumstances can do to genteel life. Emma Woodhouse is rich, but many of the people she mixes with are not. If you are looking for “shadow” in your literature, this is where it comes from in Emma. The darkness or shadow is mostly off-stage, but the unfolding of the various sub-plots is very decidedly tied up with economic circumstances. In Emma, Austen paints one of her broadest pictures of early 19th century life, even if she simultaneously manages to confine all the action to one little village.