I picked up this book off of the discount rack at a regular book store. I probably paid a couple dollars for it and I am sure I wanted to impress Heather by looking smart and reading it. Some years later, I picked it up.
The edition, the Everyman Library paperback, is not the best edition aesthetically, which figures since it was on the cheap shelf. It’s a paperback with lightweight paper and, most appallingly, rife with typographical errors.
Unlike when I read Kafka, I did not read the supporting introductory essay before I delved into the book. I did glance at the timeline of Jane Austen’s life, though, to clarify the time period in which she was writing. I also admit that I read the back, which reveals the entirety of the plot as well as any Cliff Notes. It’s just as well, though, since I could focus on the characterization and catch hints that I knew would indicate the conclusion.
The book centers on Emma Woodhouse, a 20-year-old daughter of gentry who has recently lost her nanny/confidante to marriage and who decides to help elevate a young lady of unknown origins. Miss Woodhouse decides to make a match (as one would expect in an Austen novel) for Miss Smith. Emma tries to set her up with the vicar, then the local gentleman farmer, and finally the son of her nanny’s husband. Emma, the novel lets us know, is not as insightful into the human condition and heart as she thinks she is. She misinterprets signs, feelings, and motivations of almost everyone around her and eventually ends up attached to the local gentleman farmer. This summary is slightly more obscure than the back cover for your non-spoiler pleasure.
When reading historic novels, I often wander into thoughts of who the target audiences for these books would have been in the early 1800s when the book was out initially. Surely, it speaks of the upper class without disdain which is so fashionable in serious fiction now. It focuses on young (late teens or early 20s) people making matches and courting. I guess it was targeted to those markets, or merely whatever literates wandered England at the time. So it meant something different to them 200 years ago than it does now, but I read it just the same.
Well, that’s all I got for now. I never really did go back to read the introduction nor the end material, but I have the luxury of reading this because I wanted to (and it was on my To Read shelves). I don’t have to put together some sort of coherent paper (obviously) and defend arguments against the patriarchy vigorously enough to pass a class. Which is nice, in a way. In all ways, actually.