Home  |  Reviews  |  Vlogs  |  Interviews  |  Guest Posts  |  Fairy Tales  |  Jane Austen  |  Memes  |  Policies

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Emma Connection

I talked a little bit about it in my first set of responses to the Emma Read Along, but I feel a special connection to Emma. Though I believe Sense & Sensibility was the first Austen movie I saw, Emma was the first Austen movie that I understood to be an "Austen movie," and the first I fell in love with. Though my obsession with Austen wouldn't be full-fledged until I read Pride & Prejudice, Emma was the first Austen novel I read, and for the last few years of my teenagerdom, rereads of it were frequent.

I was surprised to find -- years and years later, after I'd started reading JAFF and hosting yearly Austen events; after I'd discovered that there were so many more Austen-obsessives like me out there -- that Austen considered Emma a character that few besides herself would love. I was even more surprised to find out there was some truth to it. Though I could understand readers not falling in love with Fanny, the reserved heroine of Mansfield Park, that people would dislike bright, confident, playful Emma was a shock to me, and also a bit sad. I probably took it personally -- I had always considered myself to have a healthy dose of Emma in my personality.

Now, I know it may be a bit...well, Emma-like, really, to call a character "bright, confident, and playful" and then immediately compare yourself to them. You have my permission to roll your eyes at me. But it wasn't just in the traits that were likable that I found myself reflected in Emma; she's a know-it-all, occasionally biting or dismissive, and as prone to being over-ambitious as she is to being unmotivated to follow through. I was all of these things, too. They seemed very human failings to me, as understandable for Emma's character as her positive traits, based on her situation and upbringing, and on simple human nature. That she had these flaws to overcome -- flaws that, with her youthful over-confidence, went mostly unacknowledged by herself -- seemed very realistic to me, and thus made her character more real, more immediate, and more relatable and enjoyable.

Of course, Austen wasn't only speaking of her flaws as reasons why people may not like her: she's also young, pretty and wealthy, and in the circumstances, those are strikes against her -- you cannot have it all, and have the luxury of being flawed. And while I certainly didn't have those crosses to bear (no Woodhouse money and status 'round her), it still always did (and always does, and probably always will) bother me when people take a dislike to Emma. Emma, whom I've always seen as mostly good-natured and well-meaning, if a little clueless (ba dum tss). Emma, who tries so hard to give those she loves the best life she can envision for them (even if she doesn't realize that it may not be what they envision for themselves). Emma, who just wants to feel important and needed.
Emma, who reminds me so much of myself at her age.

It's funny how we can cleave to characters, and feel so protective of them, how much we can hold them up as a mirror. And I think that's where Austen's real power lies. We all love the romance, of course, and the idea that things can turn out right. But plenty of such stories don't create legions of rabid fans centuries down the line. No, it's in the honesty, I think, of the humanity of Austen's characters that allows us, 200 years on, to connect so thoroughly and to feel so strongly about a set of characters who are nothing more than lines on a page -- and yet completely a part of us.


Click here to return to the Austen in August Main Page

6 comments:

  1. You've made a really good point about the depth and realism Austen puts in her characters. She creates people who are very flaws, very likeable and very real. That is true authorial gift.

    ReplyDelete
  2. " you cannot have it all, and have the luxury of being flawed." That's actually exactly the opposite of what I always assumed Austen meant by "no one but myself will much like her". I don't know why, but I always assumed because by the end of the novel Emma is unrealistically blessed to indeed have it all: she's wealthy by birth, both having family land/manor and marrying into it; she's in love with a man of impeccable character and unusually forward-thinking common sense, whose desires also align with hers perfectly in every way; her entire family is healthy and alive; everyone loves her, respects her, admires her; she's beautiful and vivacious and perfectly healthy; etc. While she starts flawed and has a self-improvement arc to travel (as do all good fictional characters), by the end she has achieved a state of ideal happiness that's almost (to me) too bright, too shiny....and totally unrealistic (for her time and ours).

    Although, given all of Austen's other female MCs come from poor backgrounds (and many considered plain), maybe her statement WAS more aligned with "nobody will like her much because she's unlike all of my other characters". Hrmmmm....

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was struck by your remark about where Austen's real power lay and I agree that it is in those characters that we hold up and love, love to hate, like, or don't like, but can't be indifferent to.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think you hit the nail on the head...we connect with the characters because of their honesty. It makes sense as to how they still reach us and we still fall in love, or dislike, with these characters 200 years after our beloved Jane wrote about them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think you hit the nail on the head...we connect with the characters because of their honesty. It makes sense as to how they still reach us and we still fall in love, or dislike, with these characters 200 years after our beloved Jane wrote about them.

    ReplyDelete

Tell me all your thoughts.
Let's be best friends.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...