Wow! Emma is certainly no Fanny Price (much to my relief). I must admit to loving Emma, even though she is arrogant and meddlesome. She is unapologetic about who she is (good and bad), in contrast to Fanny Price who is really nobody special. The more I read, the more I enjoyed Emma’s character, but I started to wonder why… I mean what is so great about her. She is a busy body, she ‘s arrogant, she’s flighty, and she’s blind to anything outside of her own schemes and plans. I really had to think about what was so special about Emma, and I think I found it. She is an exceptional woman in her ability to be honest with herself once she has been smacked with the truth. This revelation hit me after she and Mr. Elton had their uncomfortable conversation on the return trip from Randalls. In that moment, she knew two things : 1) she had been wrong about Mr. Elton and Mr. Knightley had been correct and 2) that her match-making had hurt someone who didn’t deserve to be hurt. These are two bitter pills to be swallowed, but she does so and makes the difficult trip to tell Harriet that she (Emma) had been horribly wrong. She doesn’t hide herself behind a fake illness, doesn’t avoid the calls, or just cut herself off form Harrier. She “mans up” and tries to do the right thing. Most people have a hard time admitting their mistakes and living with the consequences, but Emma owns it and that earns my respect. Is she contrite and humbled by her mistake? – yes and no. She is repentant for having hurt Harriet, but she is not sorry that she encouraged Harriet to refuse the farmer’s proposal. She promises to give up her match-making, but catches herself right back at it. Emma has the best of intentions, but she has incredible difficulty making her intentions happen. Maybe this is another reason I love her so much… she’s me. I tell myself all the time I’m going to do a better job with X or make more of an effort in dealing with person Y, yet in spite of all my best intentions, I find myself like Emma – with a well-organized list of books to read but just never really getting it done.
In Emma, Austen continues to deal with some of her favorite themes. We see again a great respect for the idea of familial love and ties. The Woodhouse sisters are quite devoted to their tedious and demanding father, but there is never resentment or disgust with his personality quirks. Both sisters just take it all in stride – they treat him like the “aged one,” and I love that. Interestingly, Mr. Woodhouse doesn’t drive me crazy. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t drive Emma crazy – she just goes with it, and tries to manage the situation as it unfolds.
One of my favorite moments so far is when the Knightley brothers greet one another at Hartfield:
…John Knightley made his appearance, and “How d’ye do, George?” and “John, how are you?” succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other.
This makes me think of the scene in Grease where Kinickie asks Zuko to be his second at Thunder Road. They love each other but are careful to hide it under a layer of “cool” as thick as their hair cream.
I love the way these characters love each other. It’s bumpy and imperfect, but that’s what makes it genuine, believable, and sincere.