The funniest and most sparkling of Jane Austen
's novels, and the last one publish
ed in her lifetime
. It is the story of Emma Woodhouse
, and rich
, of old friend Mr Knightley
, of the intrigue
s of Jane Fairfax
and Frank Churchill
, and of a singularly eventful
trip to Box Hill
- er, well, eventful by Austenian
standards anyway. Boffo. A good
...That was how I wrote it on Everything 1. Now here's some more (written 11th April 2001) for Everything 2...
Emma is the brightest of Jane Austen's comedies. Emma Woodhouse is a very intelligent and personable young woman with a lively sense of fun - or as the opening sentence says it far better than I can, "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."
She has a keen eye for romance and sees herself as a matchmaker. She believes herself instrumental in the marriage of her former governess, now mother-figure and friend, Miss Taylor, to their neighbour Mr Weston.
She does not envisage a romance or even a marriage for herself, which is oddly blind of her, for the reader knows upon his first appearance that she is to marry Mr Knightley, an old family friend, who has borne with her as a child and stood up to her freaks and foibles, the only person not dazzled by her superior talents. He cautions her against the folly of her matchmaking endeavours, but she playfully persists, believing that in such matters she has the superior discernment, skill, and subtlety.
Emma plucks from obscurity an artless, amiable, unintelligent creature called Harriet Smith, a "natural daughter" of some unknown gentleman, deposited at the local school: in her Emma sees potential for transformation into a goodly lady. She sets Harriet's sights on Mr Elton, the new clergyman. He however mistakes the intentions for those of Emma herself, and so encouraged, leaps upon her in a carriage and fulsomely woos her, which she rejects with horror.
With this her plans for poor Harriet are in ruins, and this reveals to herself the follies of playing at Lady Bountiful with other people's affections.
Her insight keeps failing her, yet she persists. Two new characters appear on the scene. Frank Churchill is Mr Weston's estranged son, prevented from attending on him as much as he would like by a superior foster-parent; but now Frank turns up in the village of Highbury and makes himself very popular. Even Emma begins to think that in him she might just possibly have met someone worthy of her hand. Another is Jane Fairfax, also that rare thing the equal of an Emma Woodhouse: as beautiful and talented and refined, but reserved where Emma is forthright. She and Mrs Weston worry whether Mr Knightley might not be paying too much attention to Miss Fairfax. Miss Woodhouse feels natural feminine feelings on this point, and cannot like Miss Fairfax entirely, however much she tries.
Jane is the granddaughter of Mrs Bates and niece of Miss Bates, two poor but honest worthies who are the object of Emma's kindly attentions. Mrs Bates is deaf, and proud of her Jane; Miss Bates is silly, and chatters too much: she is one of the many good comic creations of the novel. A serious point is made against Emma when in a pleasure expedition they all make to the local scenic viewpoint of Box Hill, Emma carelessly says something slighting and less than wholly kind about Miss Bates, within her hearing. Mr Knightley's reprimand mortifies her. This is another element that makes her think seriously about herself.
As does her remarkable discovery that Harriet, recovering from her slight at Mr Elton's hands by the well-meaning notice of Mr Knightley, now thinks that she might aspire to his heart: and Emma, to her growing horror, realises that she cannot rule it out on his part, but wants dearly to, for if anyone is to marry Mr Knightley, she, Emma, must.
Another comic character is Emma's valetudinarian father, who subsists on gruel, very thin gruel, and fears his guests will be harmed by any food they take, unless they be very small portions. He recommends his own doctor to anyone at the slightest hint of any illness.
Emma was the fourth and final novel published in her lifetime. By now Jane Austen was very famous indeed. The Prince Regent loved her novels and had copies in all his residences: by the intercession of his chaplain, who conducted a chatty correspondence with Jane Austen, he begged for the honour of having a novel dedicated to him. She did so, coolly, for she did not much approve of the Prince Regent. It appeared at the beginning of 1816, and with that she turned her hand to her last and greatest novel, Persuasion.