Unfortunately, I must begin by saying that this was my least favorite of all the Jane Austen novels I’ve read thus far. It was a little too long for my taste, with really a lack of events. Granted, a novel can be lovely without a wildly detailed plot. In fact, in the afterword of the novel, the editor describes Emma as Austen’s “masterpiece.” Imagine my surprise upon reading this, for I certainly did not think so, and most Austen fans I know do not list Emma as their favorite. I acknowledge the editor’s reasoning as sound, however. Austen, in Emma, manages to create a vividly realistic world populated by people the reader can believe are actually living, breathing, and walking around somewhere in the world. Or were in the past, since this isn’t the early 19th century anyway. As ever, she has painted a perfectly dainty and elegant world of hand-scribed notes, country balls, and breezy cotton dresses. By detailing these somewhat mundane things, Austen does indeed place the readers right in the middle of her characters’ convincing, everyday lives.
It is the repetition in the novel that rubbed my nerves a bit raw. Emma’s attempts at setting up her friend Harriet with various men go inevitably, wildly wrong. Poor Harriet has her heart dragged all over the county by Emma, gathering dirt and getting scraped and bruised. Emma even prevents her (at first) from marrying the man that Harriet is truly in love with from beginning to end. Mostly what irritated me about Emma’s misadventures was the predictability of it all. I know that I will get a lot of flack for saying this, but I speculate that this is not simply a problem with Emma, but with Austen herself. That’s not me saying I don’t love Jane Austen. The idea of women actually getting the man they want and being settled securely for life is a nice thought, and makes me swoon just as much as the next girl. But even the attempts at conflict are so dreadfully dull, and due to the reader’s ability to predict the outcome, inspire no suspense whatsoever.
Having said all that, most of the people I know who read Jane Austen (and are bigger fans of her than I am) really do enjoy the book. So I would read it anyway, simply because it’s Austen, and a classic, and her “masterpiece.”