December 29, 2008
Book Review: Emma, by Jane Austen
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I know it has been a long time since I have put up a book review, but I came across Emma the other day and I thought about doing a review on it.
Emma, by Jane Austen
Emma is a lighthearted book about a matchmaker, Emma Woodhouse and how she pairs up people for marriage that look like good couples, but then they start to run into crazy problems. Soon enough, Emma has to start thinking about her own martial situation… and I will leave it there. The book is a satire that makes fun of social nuances of the Victorian/Regency period and also some of human nature. Emma is perhaps one of the ‘lighter’ books in Austen’s series, both in tone and characters. Emma Woodhouse is a bit of a spoiled but somewhat lovable faulted heroine.
One of my favorite quotes by Emma in the book:
I deserve the best treatment because I have never put up with any other. –Emma Woodhouse
So here are the stats in my book:
Style of Writing: For a book written in its time period, it is actually more simple than some of its contemporary works. But it isn’t a walk in the park either. You may run into one or two words you don’t get now and then, but if you get the Barnes & Noble copy of the book, there are footnotes to help you out. It is third person narrator (with hints of first POV) and has a jovial tone compared to some of Jane Austen’s works. If you have read Pride and Prejudice, Emma is probably closer to that style of writing than any other book by Jane Austen. Basically, intermediate to people who don’t read often, but pretty easy for people who are into British Literature.
Themes: One obvious one from the get-go is the connection of marriage and social status. If you marry someone ‘below’ you, your status decreases, etc. etc. for women. For men, their status is pretty bent until they marry a ridiculously rich/poor woman that affects their wealth or if they go into the Navy. But I found this novel to be a bit more feminist that Austen’s other novels because we see a main character who is pretty intelligent but who can pretty much only use her intelligence for matchmaking. We see women in Europe in this time period quite oppressed and primarily confined to *only* their families, marriage or something of a close communal drama. We don’t see many women scientists, women in government, or revolutionizing the world, but when you see Emma matchmaking people, it seems as epic as the former, so I think the book also touches upon the role of women/the feminine sphere of British society. This book also deals with faulted relationships because people couldn’t be completely open with each other, so we see the individual expression vs. social propriety here. Emma also is a very creative/original person, but she can’t really express that in her society, partly for being female and partly because going against norms is a big no-no at the time. There is also a huge theme on misinterpretation/faulted perception especially with Mr. Elton and Harriet as Emma thought they were in love with each and caused their marriage to have further issues, etc. etc. This book makes fun of a lot of things, but I think one of the biggest points it tries to bring out is how a huge flaw of society is the balance between propriety and individualism.
Character development: Emma is definitely a believable character who has flaws and at the end of the book, matures more and still has flaws–which I like because often authors would over idealize a character by the end of the book, but I don’t think Austen does. Mr. Knightley also contrasts Emma’s personality very well but instead of being too spoiled, he often can be too openly candid that it can be slightly insulting, but he also improves by the end of the book and still retains some flaws. (Note: He is a lot more refined than Emma.) Harriet and Mr. Elton are excellent foils and although there isn’t a huge development on their part, they do bring out a lot of human nature as well as many other characters in the book.
Symbols: Marriage, Mr. Elton’s portrait, parties, TONS of puns/multiple meanings of conversations, Mr. Elton’s riddle, wordplay, the pencil stub Harriet keeps from Mr. Elton, and often Jane Austen uses eyes as a symbol as well.
Plot: Definitely one of Austen’s better books and I found it quite humorous. It is strong in following different people while keeping the strong wordplay and developing Emma as a character.
Islamic rating: 9/10 (For load of boy-girl interaction in an un-Islamic context. XD) Technically I can’t promote that, but otherwise, I don’t think there is anything else….
Book Rating: 9/10 I only docked off a point because I love Pride and Prejudice more. XD. No, sometimes you have to backtrack in the book to catch some of the wordplay and it is a bit thick and it may not be a book for everyone. (Although I love it.) Again, all my book reviews are subjective and I am only assuming you are reading them for my opinion. Some people love this book and others… well, not so much. But it is considered one of Austen’s better works.
This book reminded me a lot of the concept of fate and free will. In Islam, we believe that marriage is something preplanned since our birth and isn’t something we can ever *truly* take into our hands as Emma attempts to. And then you see because of her decisions, it causes fiascoes for other people. There is also a concept of male and female spheres/roles in society and Emma reminded me of how I think some of those roles in the Muslim society are often misinterpreted. Either going way too the right or too liberal. Maybe if a Muslim reads the book, you might see parallels of female problems in Emma that kind of apply to Muslim societies that currently exist. We don’t see many Muslim women in Muslim countries taking positions in government, being renowned scholars, etc. It can be because womens’ primary role in society is to take care of the family first, but even still, there are very few women in the arts/ achieving high goals and society often inhibits them or plays unfair to them. (Not in all cases, I do not mean to sound like a feminazi, but women are equitable to men and should have the opportunity of helping the world as well and society kind of ‘shuns’ their gifts.) But Emma deals with a lot conflicts with man vs. society that I think Muslims can relate to in more ways than one.
Anyway, that is my review and I hope you liked it!