Sunday, January 5, 2014

A is for Austen

Finally, I have read my first Jane Austen, and let me just say that I'm glad this is finally over. Austen, over and done with. If I could sum up in just one word all my thoughts on this novel, it would be, well, meh. What's the deal with Austen? And why does her characters have to be so, well, meh.

My feelings as I read through this novel during the first few days of 2014 can be described in 3 stages. First is anger and frustration. Yes, I was angry at and frustrated with Emma, she of the flawed character who simply has to mess with everybody else's lives. Apparently, Emma has taken it upon herself to do all the matchmaking among people who matter in Highbury. It doesn't matter that her success rate is just 1 so far. In this day and age, she's be labeled as a manipulative and meddling b****.

So yes, I was angry, and, yes, I was frustrated. And my frustration is directed toward all the people who play along with her, specifically Harriet who foregoes the love of a certain Robert Martin in favor of someone that Emma likes. Why? Because, as per Emma, Martin is just too poor a match for her dear Harriet, who is clearly smitten with Martin and is thrilled at his marriage proposal. Kill me now.

Angry enough to bite the book
Second, I was confused. Why won't people just say what they really think? Why all the gossip and speculation, which clearly are exercises in futility? Why would Frank Churchill keep his engagement to Jane Fairfax a secret? I think of all the chapters that could have been removed should people just follow their romantic inclinations and not lead clueless people to false hopes. Cruel, cruel, cruel.

I was confused with Emma as well. Why does she have to appoint herself as the matchmaker of Highbury? It just doesn't add up! If she were being paid to do so, now that would one hell of a motivation. But clearly she just wants to poke her nose in people's asses.

I'm confused with the "weighty" issues they discuss in Emma. It really is important to talk about, and at length at that, how beautiful one's handwriting is and how one person's handwriting appears so much stronger than the other. Oh, and of course it would be a dilemma to find out that there would be 9 guests instead of just 8, which they originally planned. That truly is a problem that needs to be resolved in at least 2 pages. I scratch my head in wonder.

A bit pacified but confused
But I soldier on and persevere. And by the end of this novel of about 400 pages, I just felt relief. All ends well. As I have seen it from page 1, all will end in a wedding, well, 3 weddings in fact. Emma realizes that she does love Mr. Knightley, Harriet ends up with Robert Martin, and the engagement of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax is brought to everyone's attention. If I were living in Highbury, I would've kidnapped all the characters, locked them up together in a room, and offer no food until they just be honest with one another.

Still, I am happy that I finished Emma, even though it didn't offer any motivation to read more Austen novels. Pride and Prejudice? Thanks, but I'll just watch the movie again. And that Darcy—that's someone I also couldn't understand.

A smile of relief
Read this book if:
  1. You love flawed heroines.
  2. You'll read anything that has female characters wearing corsets.
  3. You love a comedy of errors, of sorts.

18 comments:

Kaz said...

Happy New Year Peter!!

This was possibly not the best Austen to start with - I'd have suggested Pride and Prejudice, actually. Not just because it's my favourite of them all, but because it has a real sparkle. 'Emma' drives me nuts too. When I get on an Austen jag, I read it again along with all the rest, but I don't enjoy it nearly as much as the rest... So don't write P&P off entirely - it's quite a different beastie!

Jack said...

Thank you for having the 'nads to say this! The only thing that makes me curious is how it was decided that such mind-numbing drivel warranted the title of "classic" in the first place. Jesus, just kill me with a bullet and spare me the agony! Apparently, in order to be a classic, a work has to be real old, and real boring, in equal parts...

Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! I guess the main reason I didn't start with P&P is that I somehow knew what was going to happen. With Emma, it was more of a shot in the dark. Hmmmm.... maybe someday I'll read P&P!

Hello, Jack! LOL at your comment about the classics! If that's the case, then I hope none of your books become classics! *kidding*

Jack said...

I don't think we need to worry about that happening, but as to the rest, you know it's true. The classics that aren't boring, the Vernes, the Doyles, the Kiplings and Haggards, are consistently viewed askance by dusty-tome book snobs whose main purpose seems to be to convince us that they're smarter than we are because we don't "get" it. "Why, that Poe fellow might elevate one's heart rate, and if you read Doyle, he'll have you being curious about convoluted clues. Can't have such nonsense going on among people of refinement." They're always relegated to a second tier, sort of "sort-of classics," begrudgingly allowed space at the eccentrics' table, but "We'd better not catch you reading them!"

Lynai said...

Haha! Congratulations to your first (will this be the last?) Austen. I haven't read any of her works (I started P&P but stopped after a few chapters, because it's so boring(sssh!)) I see Austen as a must-read for every book lover and I felt compelled to read her, but, as in your words, meh. Haha!

Happy new year, Peter!

Peter S. said...

Hello again, Jack! I love reading your thoughts on the classics. So true!

Hi, Lynai! Happy New Year to you too!

Arabella said...

Wow Peter and Jack that was a refreshing point of view! Actually I have to confess I have always struggled a bit with Austen and felt guilty for not loving the books, I have friends who love them and I have always felt like I must be missing something. I did read a selection of her letters which I liked a whole lot more than the novels, she could be really biting in her letters which I had not expected, she sounded quite bitchy but funny in the letters. I did re-read Northanger Abbey recently and was pleasantly surprised, I did enjoy it way more on this reading than the first but then it also seems to be the least typical of her novels, it is shorter and more genuinely funny at times. I read it thinking I really should give Austen another go. I have a sneaking suspicion that the tv and film adaptations have a lot to answer for and a lot of fans of Austen watch the stories more than read them, maybe I am being unfair. On the subject of adaptations I have to say Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is definitely preferable to the novel and it is not often I will say a movie is better than a book but that is definitely one occasion when the movie is preferable.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Arabella! Wow, truly insightful! A bitchy Austen in her letters! That's something I would really want to read!

Jack said...

Hi, Arabella. Never apologize for what you like; your taste in entertainment is as individual as your fingerprints, and you don't have to explain it. There was a time in my life when I thought pro wrestling was just da bomb, and all that my prune-faced, holier-than-thou acquaintances managed to accomplish by looking down their noses and belittling me was to miss out on a whole lot of fun.

Regarding book-to-movie treatments, here's what they're up against with that: Some years ago Canadian Broadcasting made a series of Sherlock Holmes stories starring Jeremy Brett. Worth a look if you haven't seen them. They run one hour, and are as close and faithful to the stories as any screen production I've ever seen. And how many pages are in a Sherlock Holmes story to produce that hour on the screen? Average of twelve. So to find out how many hours it would take to put a faithful book adaptation on the screen, divide the number of pages in your book by 12...

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! Thanks for the reco regarding the Sherlock Holmes TV series. I'm a huge fan of Elementary! I'll go look for copies of the episodes.

Monique said...

TFG read Pride and Prejudice last 2012, and I didn't finish it in time for the discussion. I didn't finish it, period. I couldn't get past one-fourth of the book because GAH.

Peter S. said...

Oh, right! I wouldn't want to attend that discussion. FFP also discussed P&P, which I didn't attend as well.

bennardfajardo said...

I read P&P for TFG's discussion and, surprisingly, I liked it. However, I believe I have reached my Austen limit. You wouldn't see me touch her work in the near future.

Peter S. said...

LOL on reaching your Austen outer limit! But yes, I understand, there can be such a thing!

Marie said...

Lol! I wonder then what you think of 'Clueless' then? I guess I'll try harder to convince you to try another Austen. Given for your love for Gothics, perhaps Northanger Abbey? :-D

Peter S. said...

Oh, I love "Clueess," Marie! Now that's a classic. LOL!

rona said...

Hello!:) 'Emma' is my first Austen experience. ('Clueless' led me to Austen. That movie was based on her "Emma"). This is Jane's comment on her lady character, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." She's not my favorite Austen heroine, but I like her more than Fanny Price of 'Mansfield Park'.

Peter S. said...

Hello, rona! Thanks for dropping by! And thanks for sharing that info about Emma. It's a good thing that I didn't start with Mansfield Park!