Emma by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice (1813) is the best known of the novels of Jane Austen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Austen). There have been at least six major treatments of the novel on film and television not counting spin-offs such as the 2004 Bollywood ‘Bride and Prejudice’. As entertaining, hilarious and insightful as the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is, I prefer Austen’s novel of 1815, Emma.

The plot is fairly unremarkable. Man meets young woman; there is a great deal of misunderstanding and happenstance which require character development to overcome; the young woman eventually plucks the right husband from the treacherous waters of life among the Georgian gentry in England. What makes this, and Austen’s other work, classic is the psychological penetration. This is delivered with razor-sharp strokes of the pen and a delicacy of irony which has never been equalled. She gives portraits of relationships whose insights go far beyond a description of the tight codifications of behaviour required for the mating game in her class. Austen, indeed, was able to carve universal truths into the ‘two square inches of ivory’ which was the setting of her tales. If you can’t appreciate this sparkling comedy of manners, try harder. With time only for one Austen novel, my recommendation would be Emma.

To learn more about Jane Austen go to The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen (2006) by Janet Todd (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cambridge-Introduction-Austen-Introductions-Literature/dp/0521858062/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389210526&sr=1-1)

Still useful is Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage (1995) edited by B.C. Southam (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Austen-Critical-Heritage-1870-1940/dp/0415134579/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389211536&sr=1-1)

For fuller treatments in the form of commissioned essays reach for The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (2010) edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cambridge-Companion-Austen-Companions-Literature/dp/0521763088/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389210768&sr=1-1)

Luckily for us all Claire Tomalin got round to writing a superb life – Jane Austen: A Life (2012) which it is hard to see being surpassed any time soon. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Austen-Life-Claire-Tomalin/dp/0241963273/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389211029&sr=1-1&keywords=tomalin+jane+austen) This is a pure pleasure to accompany your enjoyment of Austen’s fiction.

If you need help picturing the costumes try the 1996 TV movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118308/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3) with Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr. Knightly. Available on DVD at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Emma-DVD-Kate-Beckinsale/dp/B000NJWAME/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1374312891&sr=1-2&keywords=emma.

Emma became the subject of a BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time‘ programme on 19th November 2015, two hundred years after its publication. With Janet Todd (Professor Emerita of Literature, University of Aberdeen and Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge), John Mullan (Professor of English at University College, London) and Emma Clery (Professor of English at the University of Southampton). Chaired by Melvyn Bragg. (Cf. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pd3b9)

358 pages in Wordsworth Classics paperback edition.

First published 1815

ISBN 978-1853260285

Jane Austen

Dissected human nature with a devastating irony

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