Have you ever met a smart, pretty young thing who, thanks to her presumptuous and patronizing ways can’t stop grating on your nerves, despite having her heart in the right place? And no, I am not talking about any young lady lawyers here. I am just describing Emma – the lady as well as the book.
Emma is supposed to be the story of a spoilt, rich 22 year old girl who learns to grow up. It should ideally have been a peppy, fun read. However despite being penned by Jane Austen, one of the most prolific authors in English literature, it is quite a let down. To be fair, Emma the character does create an impression on your mind, though it’s difficult to believe that the she is the creation of the same Jane Austen who created the perfection of Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice.
As its title conveys, the story revolves around Emma Woodhouse, a well-meaning but conceited young girl, who in her cocksure and irritating manner assumes that she has the perfect talent to find life partners for the people around her. This stems, not so much from experience (she has one match to her credit, which too is more thanks to providence that Ms. Woodhouse), but from her general assumption that she has more sensibility and understanding of the situation than people around her. How her foolish conceit leads her to mess up her friendships and almost lose the man she discovers she’s in love with forms the premise of the book.
Initial part of the book is quite entertaining. Emma as a character has been sketched quite well. Her pride, her class-consciousness and a very general superiority complex is abundantly seen. That she has her heart in the right place is evident from her caring affection towards her father or her love of her old governess. Somehow as a busybody young lady lawyer, I can associate with Emma (To an extent mind, mind you!)
Mr. Knightely who is the hero to Emma’s heroine, cuts an impressive figure, a relief among insipid people like Emma’s hypochondriac father Mr.Wodehouse, the mean social climber Mr. Elton or the bimbette Harriet. With Mr. Knightely, Ms. Austen has evidently stuck to her prototype of the perfect leading man – authoritative, influential, gentlemanly. Even his physical attributes are similar to her epic hero Mr. Darcy (There. I just committed blasphemy!). The conversations are witty, the book looks like it’s headed somewhere fun. That he is the only one who can keep Emma in check only adds to his charm.
However the latter part of the book disappoints and how! The introduction of the second lead couple, which is supposed to add some element of variety and spice, just ends up being drab. Jane Fairfax is a quintessential Miss Goody Two Shoes. And Frank Churchill Weston, who is supposed to be an affable, charming rascal is neither. He just comes across as a silly child-man.
The story, which at the start of the book promises to be perky and rich with happening, disintegrates into isolated incidents set at a dull pace.
The end of the book is quite predictable. While Frank Churchill is redeemed in our eyes a little and Jane Fairfax made more human, Emma is humbled. Mr. Knightley of course, keeping in line with Ms. Austen’s usual practice, is proven right and wiser than anybody!
I have always believed that the essence of Jane Austen’s books lies in the poignant, colorful portrayal of her all characters. Most writers do justice by their leads, but leave the peripheral characters half baked. Ms. Austen, however, gives due standing to every character, even the inconsequential ones. However, while Emma too is rich with a throng of very different characters, somehow most of them are portrayed as ridiculous, turning more into caricatures than characters.
The story, if not exactly path breaking, is quite relatable for most female who’ve at some point in time, tried to set people up, to a disastrous end. (yours truly is guilty as charged!)
The book is fun to read, if you have some time on your hand and are in the mood for a laces n eyelashes kind of romance! I’d give it a 3 – 3.5.
Fair Warning to the men followers of this blog – READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL!
Deepika Divekar, Guest blogger