Read of the Week: Emma by Jane Austen

Our Project Coordinator from the South West, Emma was chosen her name sake for this week’s Read, Jane Austen’s Emma.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to vex her.”

I first read this opening paragraph when I was about 7 or 8 (but that’s as far as I got back then!). Immediately, I was drawn to this character who shared my name. My goal, at that time, was to one day be able to say the same about me: I resolved to change my surname to ‘Woodhouse’ and be the heroine of my own story…

Alas, by the time I was 21 I’d experienced a few things in the world to distress and vex me. I’d decided that a career in matchmaking was not my calling. And my parents thankfully dissuaded me from becoming Emma Woodhouse by deed poll.

Nevertheless, I still found myself identifying with Emma – wanting the best for her friends without thinking about her own happiness… and thinking she always knew best! I found myself frustrated with Emma – having the right intentions but going about it the wrong way. I found myself rejoicing with her when she finally realised what she’d been missing all along.

On the surface, it could read a bit like ‘chick lit’ – a silly young girl meddling in other people’s love affairs and creating some complicated ‘love triangles’ in the process. Underneath, we get to witness her journey of self-discovery and maturity. Full of wit and humour, honesty and tenderness, Emma shows us how humanly flawed we all are, but also the power of having people around us who love us enough not to let us stay that way.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote – a pun with a personal twist…!

“…What two letters of the alphabet are there that express perfection?”

“What two letters! – express perfection! I am sure I do not know.”

“Ah! You will never guess. You (to Emma), I am certain, will never guess. I will tell you. M and A. Em-ma. Do you understand?”

Understanding and gratification came together. It might be a very indifferent piece of wit; but Emma found a great deal to laugh at and enjoy in it…

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