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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jane Austen's EMMA a delight

When Stephanie from thewrittenword.wordpress.com put up her Everything's Austen Challenge (Link here: http://thewrittenword.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/introducing-the-everything-austen-challenge-with-prizes/), I was excited because I had just bought a hardbound collection of Jane Austen's novels at the new Barnes & Noble on Lexington & 86th St. in NYC, and now I had the perfect excuse to crack open the book and read.

Stephanie has challenged us to do six Austen-related things (read her novels, watch movies based on her novels, read novels somehow related to Austen), and I resolved to meet the challenge. I had never read any Jane Austen novels (mea culpa!), but I had always wanted to; now I had someone who was willing to hold me to it.

I started by reading Emma, the novel considered by many to be Austen's best. From the very beginning, I was under Austen's spell. "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." The opening sentence entices the reader with the enchanting Miss Woodhouse.

Austen's characters are memorable, from the worry-wart widowed father of Emma, who is constantly in a state of concern for other's health and well being (I think the stereotypical Jewish or Italian mother from sitcoms were based in part on him), to the insufferably egomanical Mrs. Elton, who believes herself to be the sun upon whom all of the other planets (people) revolved around. She is a hoot!

We see everyone who lives near Emma's home of Highbury through her eyes, and she has is a keen observer when describing her family, friends and neighbors. We know that Miss Bates is "full of trivial communications and harmless gossip", and that Mr. Knightley is a "sensible man", who "has a cheerful manner which always did him good". Each character is easily distinguishable from the others, not an easy task when the book is populated by so many characters.

One can see the origins of today's chick-lit in Emma. The people in the novel are most concerned with matters of the heart, and who was dating whom, with Emma as matchmaker extraordinaire, at least in her own mind. When more than a few of her machinations go awry, she is dumbstruck, and vows to mend her ways.

Reading the novel was like being dropped into Highbury for a long visit. I became invested in these characters' lives, and felt as if I had attended their gatherings, right along with them. Austen does telegraph where she is going with this story, and readers should be able to predict the conclusion, which will bring a smile to the reader's face.

Up next in the Everything's Austen Challenge for me: Watching two versions of Pride & Prejudice. I also hope to get to the other six novels in my Jane Austen Collection. Thanks to Stephanie at the Written Word for providing this enjoyable summer entertainment.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

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