Emma Woodhouse is a wealthy, exquisite, and thoroughly self-deluded young woman who has “lived in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” She traverses a gentle satire of provincial balls and drawing rooms, along the way encountering the sweet Harriet Smith, the chatty and tedious Miss Bates and her absurd father Mr. Woodhouse – a memorable gallery of Austen’s finest personages. Thinking herself impervious to romance of any kind, Emma tries to arrange a wealthy marriage for poor Harriet, but refuses to recognize her own feelings for the gallant Mr. Knightley.
What ensues is a delightful series of scheming escapades in which every social machination and bit of “tittle-tattle” is steeped in Austen’s delicious irony.
Reading Austen can be a challenging thing in these modern times. Living in a world where visual entertainment is king and pretty much anything can be said in print, the florid language and social propriety of an Austen novel can leave some readers struggling and in some instances exhausted!
That’s not to say our club disliked Emma (per se). There were those who found delight within the many pages and, as most lovers of Austen do, found themselves totally ensconced within the social whirlwind of the early 1800s. And although not everyone had managed to finish, there was determination amongst the ranks to do so.
We had a great discussion on the Regency era and the importance of social standing, the class system and the all-important family lineage. We all felt Austen’s writing was clever in its orderly and efficient depicting of life among the gentile. And in a world where fictional entertainment was confined to either the theatre or the novel, her stories played an important role in the literature of the day.
So, the general opinion was that, as a book club, ticking an Austen novel off our to-read list was an imperative. The fact that we found both pleasure and a new found respect for the classics made this month’s read more than worth our while.