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Written by BarbaraB
(1/28/2011 2:39 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Appreciating Emma, penned by Sarah Yorkshire
On my first reading I didn't bother to look too deeply beneath the surface of Emma's character because I was so appalled at the way she had to spend her life managing her father and being limited by it and felt quite sorry for her. I still have issues with Mr. Woodhouse's demanding ways but I can at least see that Emma, for the most part, isn't resentful about it.
On my second reading I became more appalled with Emma herself. If her behavior was something that affected only herself then I guess I could bring myself to say, "Take it away. Knock yourself out." :) But what bothers me about her behavior is the thoughtlessly negative and painful impact that it could and does have on others. I guess I am wont to consider those on the receiving end of her behavior whose lives can be affected adversely, those who might suffer unhappiness, even hurt feelings. It smacks too much of what we see a great deal of in the news today of people, because of their own boredom or insecurity, cast about to interfere in the lives of others or to unjustly start up smear campaigns against fellow humans because they don't like them or think themselves better or who see themselves as being in positions of power or have ulterior motives. Emma is twenty one and her efforts to protect her father's feelings, leads me to believe that she understands about feelings when she wants to.
True, EMMA is in essence a comedy and thus chock full of a lot of amusement and I wouldn't want to rain on your parade. I find that Emma can be amusing person also. She is also likable but it is a surface-likability in my opinion. You don't appear to like Fanny but Emma could take a page from her book. Fanny is skillful at self-reflection, something I see Emma as lacking. Self-reflection is a barometer useful in helping us gage our behavior and responses in life, a tool in helping us to become better, to improve as we go through life. Emma's interior lacks likability because there is a deficit there; she does not exercise her mind and heart together to consider her place in the world beyond someone who can get what she wants and how she affects those whose lives and feelings she trifles with.
I see where you are coming from...Austen's stories are light, airy and fun and enjoyable first and foremost on this level when we first read them especially. And if one wants to read them strictly for the fun and the comedy of it, forever, that's okay too. But classics like Austen's works are also literature and to me full of enrichment and enlightenment. Over the years of reading Austen, each novel several times over, through these group reads, I have come to understand how important author intent is. Obviously, one has to right to ignore author intent as much as they want to but I can't help but feel it is their loss. Literature is written to help us to stop and reflect on the human condition, the state of nature, our country and our lives, to leave the experience with something more than we had when we came to it.
I think Austen, along with the enjoyment of the humor, would like us to also look at her body of work with the same consideration, at least part of the time, as we would---say, THE GRAPES OF WRATH or THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. I really don't think Austen, while liking Emma approves of her behavior and would not expect me to either. I do believe we, any of us, can like someone, even love them without approving of the way they act. I am just hoping that Emma will eventually begin the process of self-relection and be on her way to real growth--to becoming as likable on the inside as she is without. I must say I do like and appreciate your enthusiasm for Emma and please know that this all certainly my humble and personal opinion. :)
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