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|21st Century Emma
Written by Sarah Yorkshire
(1/28/2011 6:10 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Want to add that I do not dislike the character but I, penned by AnnetteJ
I wonder if viewing Emma from a modern perspective affects the reader's opinion? Of course, this is our time, and none of us can know what it was like to live in the nineteenth century, or indeed the same social strata, that Jane Austen knew, but although everyone is quick to pick up on the 'wrongs' of Emma's personality that Austen was highlighting - her wilful ignorance of people's feelings, and her overvaluing of her own position - I think we are also overlooking the standards of that era. The class divide still exists, there are still the haves and the have nots, but it seems that the rules of polite society were more rigidly enforced in Jane Austen's era. So I think it's unfair to talk about 'bigotry' re: Emma and the Martins, at the same time as acknowledging that the Woodhouses are the 'first in consequence' in Highbury. Is it that the Martins are actually quite well off and cultured people, or simply that Emma looks down on them?
Highbury is a small community - Emma is not 'famous for being famous', she is the daughter of Mr Woodhouse at Hartfield. We cannot expect her to grow up in that role, being charitable to the poor of the parish and setting a civilised example to the village, yet not gain an inflated sense of self-worth. Mr Knightley is more grounded, but he is older and does not live such a rarefied, exclusive lifestyle. I'm making excuses for her now, but I don't want to - fictional characters should reflect all types of people from all walks of life, and saying that Emma hasn't earned the reader's sympathy like Harriet Smith, just because she is 'handsome, clever and rich' and not 'plain, self-educated and poor', is to underestimate Jane Austen's insight. Personally, I love that Emma isn't perfect, and that she grows enough to understand how her actions affect others and why she should change.
Just my perspective!
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