Emma by Jane Austen is a novel set in Highbury, the country side of England, adjacent to London. The main protagonist of the novel is Emma Woodhouse, a rich, handsome and clever girl, who happens to have too much free time, with nothing significant to do.
Emma, with her fertile imagination and over-zealous good will, decides to be a match-maker. Her first case is the matrimonial alliance of Harriet Smith, an innocent, easily influenced orphan. Harriet has already been attracted to a farmer, Robert Martin, who also proposes to her, but Emma considers the match below her dignity and persuades Harriet to reject him and she skillfully leads her towards a gentleman, Mr. Elton.
However, Elton seems to be more interested in Emma. Soon, a new charming man, Frank Churchill enters the village and Emma unknowingly gets entangled in a polygonic lovestory.
The novel with its 389 pages long narrative explains and tries to resolve this multi tiered love story, and as is imminent in any good love story, it has a happy ending.
Emma is my first novel by Jane Austen, and her ability to write an interesting story in the restricted British country world, with very limited framework to work within, did amaze me. She introduced a lot of interesting characters in this novel. Her heroine Emma has many faults and is projected as a self-centered creature, who only values her own judgment and is ready to play with others’ emotions to satisfy her own vanity. But, once she realizes her faults, she sincerely tries to set things right and pacify all the frayed nerves and comes across as a good-natured girl.
The character of Emma’s father is even stranger; he is always worried about his own health and recommends everyone to take all the precautions to avoid cold, even in hot summer months. There is talkative Miss Bates, who is prone to slip of tongue, and is always obliged to others, for tolerating her. The shallow nature of Mrs. Elton can easily be contrasted to the sweet affable nature of poor Harriet. Frank Churchill, with his flirtations and energetic gallantry provides a stark contrast to the reticent, calculated, and yet, the easily understandable chivalry of Mr. Knightley. With such motley of characters thrown in a single novel, there is no doubt that Jane has got the foundation right for a fantastic romantic book.
However, the book tends to drag at some points, with its endless parties and dinners, and limited gossips; often too much importance is given to a minor event. I really got bored to read how much interest, a single walk in rain by Miss Fairfax, could evoke in Jane to devote a full chapter to it. Since, the novel was written in 19th Century, it is but understandable that the syntax and spellings and even the meaning of some of the words differ a lot from their present forms and it does make the book, a little difficult to read. A case in point is the word, son-in-law, which is used as a replacement of step-son.
But, it was heartening to read such an old story, set in a time when everything was to be said secretly, veiled under the shroud of politeness and correctness, due to the stiff lipped British civility. This secrecy leads to a great many confusions and misunderstandings and makes the story even more interesting.
I would like to call Emma by Jane Austen, a perfect comedy of errors, where the situations give rise to chaos & mayhem and the confusions prevail till the very end.
Jane Austen was regarded as a closet writer in her time and was not given much credit, but, even after 200 years, her novels seem to impress our generation. Recently, I read that Emma is being adapted into a Hindi movie, Alisha, starring Sonam Kapoor and Abhay Deol. I am waiting to see how much justice is done to this beautiful story by our Bollywood.