Emma by Jane Austen
Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected.
Emma is, by far, not only my favourite Austen heroine, but my favourite Austen novel.
In many ways, she’s awful. Determined to matchmake after she believes her governess marrying is all down to her, she considers herself an expert in love. Her blind determination in matching her friend up with men leads to an entertaining set of blunders, embarrassment, and a steep learning curve. Emma knows nothing of love and its nuances, and this becomes abundantly clear as each little gaffes come to light. She’s an Austenian pain in the arse, but I love her dearly.
She is, in many ways, a strong woman. She admits when she’s wrong; she owns her mistakes graciously and truly does learn from them, apologising for them, and feeling the mortification that would be expected. She has a strong love for those close to her, and will defend and aid them ferociously (even when such defending and aiding is perhaps not the best thing for them). Emma is far from perfect; that’s why she’s my favourite.
Austen’s wit is superior here. She shows us all of my favourite Austen themes - the flaws of aristocracy, the frightening gender roles performed, the insanely polite yet subtly malicious dinner table conversations - with an excellent degree of underlying commentary; something not quite said, but implied between the lines of every paragraph.
All of the characters here were gorgeous. The blabbering Miss Bates (don’t we all have an auntie like that), the insufferable Mrs Elton, the exasperating yes-man that is Harriet Smith. I knew and loved them all for their flaws, and Austen allows these people to become real, despite the passage of time, and, you know, the fact they are fictional.
A tale of seemingly first-world Regency problems, Austen’s real message seems to be to own your inexperience, and remember being too confident in your own abilities isn’t always a good thing, whether for you, or others around you.
Emma, I love you. All of the others are passive, dreary, and let’s be frank, far too polite. I hope you continue your meddling (although maybe more sensibly), and never let your big heart shrink.