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Emma (Fine Edition) Hardcover – 1 Oct 2009
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|Hardcover, 1 Oct 2009||
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About the Author
Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) was a major English novelist, whose brilliantly witty, elegantly structured satirical fiction marks the transition in English literature from 18th century neo-classicism to 19th century romanticism. Born in the village of Steventon, near Basingstoke, in Hampshire. The seventh of eight children, she was the daughter of a clergyman and part of a close-knit family. In 1801 the family moved to Bath until the death of her father. Then, after a period of impermanent homes, in July 1809 the Austen ladies moved to Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, where Jane was to complete most of her major works before her early death.
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Set in and around the fictional village of Highbury, Surrey so we also take in the bigger houses and estates in the area. At one of the larger houses lives Emma with her father, her sister being already married. Jane Austen before she started writing this had already said that she was going to create a character that people would probably not like, but in fact Emma has been liked, and still is, as we see her develop in this tale.
Thinking herself a matchmaker so we see Emma going about trying to find a suitable suitor for Harriet, although she has one, which so Emma believes is beneath her. And with her dabbling and outspoken manner so we see the consequences of her actions, not even realising when others are in thrall to her charms.
With some unforgettable characters, such as the fussy, dithering and rather old maidenish Mr Woodhouse, we also have the non-stop talking Miss Bates, who makes a great comic character, as well as others. With Highbury also appearing here quite a bit, so the place really comes to life, instead of being just a backdrop, showing Austen was on top form and creating something with a bit more realism and substance.
Full of wit and insight into the characters this has some great sparkling dialogue and is a joy to read. A comedy of manners, as well as what we nowadays term a romantic comedy, this also takes in the place of women at the period and social status. There is lots of incident here with its dances and other events, as well as a lot of eating – so probably not the best book to read if you are on a diet.
With so many adaptations most people have already seen this, if not read it before, but it certainly pays to read this and come back to it, as it is something that is just so enjoyable.
This book, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a bit of a humorous dig at some of the gothic romances that were around at the time. The heroine, the naive Catherine Morland, drinks up these torrid tales and when she finds herself in a situation that could be interpreted in the light of the likely events of one of these novels she imagines all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, she misses all kinds of hints of a real intrigue going on before her, the behaviour of some new friends that she becomes acquainted with in Bath, when she travels there in company with a rich neighbour of her family.
My teenage self didn’t give Catherine credit, and I was unfair there – she is a mere 17 years old when our story unfolds and she is unremarkable in lots of ways – she isn’t particularly clever or beautiful, but she is a nice girl with good principles. She is very naive in the ways of the more worldly people than herself and she’s unused to having to understand the subtext of a conversation because in Catherine’s experience people have always said what they meant rather than playing the game of society manners.
‘...but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’
Catherine’s main fault is a result of her reading matter – she’s been allowed to read what she likes and the result is that she favours reading some very lurid gothic novels without realising that they delineate some really unlikely events. The first few chapters of the novel are very heavily ironic on this very subject. I started highlighting the amusing parts on my kindle but I had to stop when I realised I would basically be highlighting the first few chapters in their entirety!
‘Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.’
Henry Tilney is a most amusing hero, certainly the most amusing of Austen’s. He is fond of wordplay, obviously intelligent and not immune to flattery. I have seen people compare him to Elizabeth Bennet in his teasing observations and you can certainly see some similarities; they are both charming, although Elizabeth wants a partner in life who understands her teasing, and Henry is content with something less, though there is every likelihood that Catherine will come to understand it in time!
The Thorpes are interesting characters although deeply obnoxious – you see Isabella Thorpe reeling in the naive Morland siblings, and John Thorpe, her brother, is a wonderful character to read. He’d be horrible to spend time with, but I can find plenty of amusement in him on the page! As ever, with Austen’s work, a lot of enjoyment comes in her prose style. There are so many quotable quotes, such as:
‘The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’
And the novel itself unashamedly defends the work of novel writers, arguing that, although some novels are full of histrionic nonsense, some will also be of much higher calibre:
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.
If you have never picked up 'Northanger Abbey', or haven’t read it in a long time, I suggest that you give it a go, and prepare to be amused. A 5 star read.
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