Il club di Jane Austen – Emma
Published for the first time in 1812 anonymously, Emma is one of my favourite Jane Austen‘s novels.
The main character, Emma Woodhouse, is a rich, beautiful and independent woman who tries to rebel against the monotony of her life organizing weddings. Her economic position, in fact, allows her to spend her days in idleness and the presence of a hypochondriac father prevents her from cultivating friendships with people of her age.
Her neighbour and best friend is Mr Knightley who, much older than her, follows closely her life and progress and is probably the only one who can contradict her.
Although this novel is in the same historical period as the others by Austen, it is very different from the previous ones, above all because of the difference in the economic condition of the main characters. While the other Austenian heroines, in effect, are driven by romantic love, Emma does not feel anything of all this. On the contrary, she sees marriage only as a business that she does not want to participate in, in order not to lose the emancipation her richness guarantees her.
Emma, in fact, is described as a superficial woman and sometimes her behaviour shows her only as a spoiled and presumptuous child. Far from being like the Scarlett of Gone with the Wind, Emma, however, remains a character that evolves and finds the key to her feelings. She, in fact, considers herself superior to romantic and passionate love, and even when in the novel one sees her bound to someone, in the end, he discovers that she had only believed herself in love.
Her male counterpart Mr Knightley is the perfect gentleman. Above Mr Darcy‘s wisdom due to his age, and like the Edmund of Mansfield Park, he represents a sort of Western Genji. Following closely the growth of Emma, in fact, he tries to shape her according to his pleasure even if the girl, unlike Fanny, is very lazy and does not deepen her studies. She is however endowed with a bubbly character that makes you smile and fall in love with her despite her shortcomings.
Secondary characters, as always, are very interesting.
Mr Elton, the parish priest of the city, and his wife are both social climbers who impose their presence in social contexts. They make meagre figures because they use ways of doing that they believe are typical of the rich but that in reality the latter would never use for their vulgarity. They also have a little Mr Collins in them.
Adorable is the character of Mrs Weston, which seems to me a much more mature and lucky version of Charlotte Collins. She only wants the good of the people she loves, the most important of which is Emma. Her husband, Mr Weston, on the other hand, is gifted with the same goodness as his wife but makes me feel tenderness. In fact, the man has not been able to impose his will and continually suffers for his unfulfilled hopes.
Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are the characters that I hated the most. The first because it has behaved incorrectly and the second because she is the representation of perfection and is flattered by everyone in an overly exaggerated way. Nobody likes who is perfect, let alone Emma Woodhouse!
As for Emma‘s father, Mr Woodhouse is one of the most exhilarating characters in the novel. His hypochondria often leads him to see what is not there and not to notice instead what happens under his nose. The scenes that see him in are very funny and, although sometimes he is repetitive, he does not bore the reader.
Miss Bates is that good but a bit unbearable character that serves as a starting point for the change of the main character. In fact, a lack of kindness to this logorrheic spinster by Emma makes her gain a bitter reproach from Mr Knightley. This reproach will be at the base of the moral of the book, namely that those who have greater chances must not deride and taunt those who have less but must try to help them to make their lives less disadvantaged.
Themes and style
Another important theme is that of misunderstanding, especially in the field of love. This happens several times, both to the protagonist and to the other characters. It often happens, in fact, that someone images another in love with a person to whom he only act with kindness.
Emma is absolutely the novel that could be defined more than any other of the Austen a coming of age novel because, thanks to the figure of the homonymous protagonist, there is a growth, a maturation that only the awareness and the fall down can give. Moreover, thanks to the figure of Mr Knightley, even if love and romanticism are not the main themes, we can define this story as one of the most romantic described by Austen, for me to melt the heart.
Austen‘s style is as always fresh and full of vitality so as not to weigh at all the length of the novel. It is a different reading from the other novels of the same author, but for this reason, it is really worth reading.
Born in 1775 in Steventon, Jane Austen became one of the most famous English writers thanks to the irony and satire she used in her novels.
Daughter of an Anglican pastor with a large family, she had the opportunity to learn French and deepen her studies, which allowed her to dedicate herself to writing.
She never married, despite the fact that she was in love with the young Lefroy, who was removed from her because of their different class.
In 1800 she moved to Bath where her father died, leaving her, her mother and her sister Cassandra in a precarious financial situation.
She spent the last years of her life in the Chawton cottage, where she fell ill – probably of Addison’s disease – and in 1817 she died.
For further information: Jane Austen e il suo tempo