When I was a freshman in college at Rutgers University, I was in a Political Science seminar. Our professor loved literature, and would assign many works to read, using the perspective of Political Science to analyze them. There was one author, though, whose works he could not fit into the scope of Poli Sci studies: Jane Austen. He did take the time to point out what a wonderful author she was, saying specifically that if we liked shows like “Friends” we should read “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice”. I did enjoy “Friends” very much, along with most of the world, and being a college student who did love to read, I picked up “Emma”.
Many may have views of classical literature as stiff, or even nonsensical. While it does take a certain amount of imagination to fill in the background, and understand a culture where people barely worked and spent most of their time at dinner parties, the story of Emma Woodhouse is classic, and written in such a way that, when the reader steps back and considers it, proves Jane Austen to be the first master of the Romantic Comedy.
Emma is a wealthy but down-to-earth twenty-one year old, living alone with her widowed father after her governess left to marry a neighbor. While Emma is sad to see her governess and friend leave, she is delighted that she “made the match”, or at least guessed that Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston would fall for each other. Enjoying this triumph, she decides she is going to find someone for the vicar, Mr. Elton. She finds a teenager from town and befriends her. After convincing her not to marry a respectable, though in Emma’s eyes low, farmer she leads Harriet to fall in love with Mr. Elton. He has other plans however, wanting to marry Emma herself!
This is just the beginning. Soon Mr. Weston’s grown son from his first marriage, Frank, comes back to town after being raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle. Frank is dashing and rather flirtatious, seeming to ask Emma to fall in love with him. She thinks about it, but decides against it, deciding maybe Harriet should be with Frank instead. But instead, Harriet falls for Emma’s brother-in-law and good friend, Mr. Knightley. This all leads to great confusion when everyone’s feelings and secrets are revealed. I will stop my synopsis here, without revealing the ending.
This is just a brief run-through of the main story line, but within the plot there are events and characters that are so wonderfully written. The characters come alive with Austen’s use of conversation, and the reader really starts to feel their emotions-at least as much as the author allows. “Emma” is full of twists and surprises, to the characters themselves as much as the reader. I am not sure I can do the excellence of this story justice. I will simply encourage that those of you who may enjoy a good romantic comedy to give “Emma” a reading, and enjoy the classic romance.
I will leave off saying that I enjoy “Emma” so much that I actually named my daughter after it-NOT after “Friends” character Rachel’s daughter!