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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Emma Read Along: Discussion Questions, Volume 1

A number of you have been asking when Emma was going to be our AIA read along book, so in case you didn't hear, I'm pleased to tell you: THE TIME IS NOW.
I have a special connection to Emma, which I'll be talking about later in the month, but for now, I'm just going to get straight into our discussion questions for volume 1 of the novel. If you are participating in the read-along*, you are by no means required to answer these questions -- they are simply meant to get you thinking about the book, to give you some talking points in your own discussion, and to help guide the conversation in a more immersive group experience. If you'd like to talk about something completely different, feel free! If you have questions of your own that you would like to have discussed, then by all means, include them in your discussion blogs/vlogs/tweets, and send them my way and I'll try to add them in!
And if you don't vlog, blog or tweet, or just aren't keen to discuss this in those venues, feel free to leave your comments, answers, and suggestions in the comments!

Now, onto Qs for Volume I:
[For reference, volume one ends with the disappointment of Frank Churchill's failure to arrive as planned, and a conversation between Emma and Knightley on what kind of man Churchill must be.]
  1. Brief Background on YOU: Is this your first time reading Emma? First time reading Austen? Have you seen any film adaptations, or anything that aided you in reading the novel? Anything else you think we should know about you, before we get into the discussion?
  2. First Impressions: What are your initial thoughts on Emma (the novel), Emma (the character), and Volume I as a whole? First impressions of other characters? Any characters or events that particularly stand out to you?
  3. Busy-bodying: Austen is famously quoted as saying that Emma was "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," and indeed, some people do find Emma off-putting or irritating. How did you respond to Emma as a character? What do you think of her perception of herself, especially given how things turn out (even as early as volume one), compared with how she thinks they should/will turn out?
  4. Follow up: We've had many instances of women who meddle in other's lives throughout Austen's works, and they generally do not fare well -- both in their treatment in the novels and in the court of reader opinion. Do you think Emma gets off easier than you'd expect, and if so, why do you think that is? (Wealth, youth, well-meaningness, etc?)
  5. Incidents & Interactions: Discuss choice events & impressions of volume one. Which are completely up to you, and they can be favorite or least-favorite happenings; consider discussing your reaction, how things played out, expected/unexpectedness, set up for future events, etc. Consider:
    • not one but TWO marriage proposals, and Emma's reaction to them
    • character relationships, both new and long-standing
    • Emma's various schemes & means of filling her time
    • Expectations (Emma's expectations of what others should/will do, people's expectations of Emma and what she is capable of, how her life will play out, etc.)
  6. Everything else: Any thing else you want to point out or discuss? Any questions you have for other readers? Parts you didn't understand? Final comments on volume one?

If you participate in the read-along discussions, please make sure to link up your answers on the AIA Linky (or use the hashtag #AustenInAugust on Twitter)!

* It's not too late to join the read-along! You can pick up free copies from all over the damn place (kindle | HTML | ePub | audiobook) and join in with us in reading Emma at any point this month! You can participate with the discussion questions, or join the twitter chat at the end of the month! Or you can tweet out thoughts, comments and questions at any point with the hashtag #AustenInAugust!

Click here to return to the Austen in August Main Page


  1. Hoopla is another free audio and ebook source for reading along - all you need is your library card to check them out !

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  3. Well, I guess I'm arriving lately for this conversation, but hopefully not too late. Emma is the 1st Austen novel I'm reading, though I've watched Clueless, P&P with Keira Knightley, and Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, and also read critical essays by Harold Bloom and Allan Bloom, which ignited my interest. I really agree with H. Bloom that, for Austen, Emma's flaws are just the excesses of her qualities, and I have a love-hate case with Knightley, because he's so preachy, but also so kind, but he's so self-conceived, but he's so tender, but he's condescending, but he's in love, and he's so harsh and judgmental with Frank Churchill, and I know, it's a bit of jealousy talking and it's funny ("I am not prejudiced!", I was delighted to see him baffled for the first time), and he's lucky enough that Austen will prove that his first impressions were right, but in a wicked way, I almost wish that Churchill was a marvellous man, just that Knightley would have to bite his tongue for once - nothing is more unsufferable than a character who's always right, that's simply not fair! I can't recall if that happens in the 1st volume, but I love how Austen comments that Isabella is a "worshipping wife", indicating quite clearly that John's flaws have only grown larger with the marriage, and that contrasts with the strong-willed Emma - she'll never allow Knightley become so rude and inconsiderate, and so their marriage will be more balanced. That's a point Austen is always making, comparing the relative happiness of different pairs. I find the misconceptions of Emma and her dramatic imagination big FAILS one of the most eternal things of literature, the desire for aesthetic realization, kinda parodying Austen's own field of action as an artist (she's a matchmaker for her characters, obviously succeeding where Emma fails), as H. Bloom again says.

  4. I mean, this may sound a bit farfetched, but if you think about it, Emma is to comedy what Hedda Gabler is for tragedy. I can't imagine Emma saying things like, "I want for once in my life to have power to mould a human destiny", but it's clearly what's going on inside her on all that Harriet affair. Churchill is a wicked version of the real-life-playwright, delighting with his flirting, his secret engagement, his manipulation, his messing-with-your-heads-you-ignorant-fools.
    I like how Bloom compares her to Shakespeare's Rosalind in As you like it, though Rosalind isn't betrayed by her imagination like Emma. And the other Bloom, the Allan, commenting on Darcy, talks of the unsocial aspects of virtue, and maybe that's what annoys me in Darcy and Knightley. Of course they eventually learn that virtue is not a self-contained thing, that they can't act like they were gods, above other people, not owing any explanations or satisfactions. I have to finish the book to see if Knightley passes through an agony worthy of comparison with Emma's (why do I delight so much in her despair? why do I find that so funny? am I sadistic?)

    1. Oh, I SO very much want Knightley to have a little bit of a harder time. Just like he wants Emma to have some opposition, I think he really needs some; he is just this side of smug, you know? And that is an excellent point about Isabella, and how maybe, if left unchecked, Knightley could end up just as insufferable. (I don't think so, mind you, I think he has a little bit better sense than that, but...we all do become more so as we get older, and I'm sure eventually he'd get to be too much).
      Very good comparison of Darcy and Knightley; I think it's presented as more of a fatal flaw in Darcy, maybe because K. isn't quite so aloof, but it's an element that is definitely present (and even cultivated by those who surround him) in his character, too.
      (As for Churchill, I can't imagine him as a redeemed character, even if it did give Knightley a little what-for, just because I wouldn't want to be robbed of my enjoyment in despising him. lol! But a similar character (ish) that I definitely DID want to see redeemed and the hero of the story, was Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park. There's not much I love about MP, except Henry, and I was very sad to see him fizzle out... )


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