#Emma200th: Volume 1

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This is the first post on my Emma thoughts for the readalong this month. Unfortunately, I read the first volume about two months ago and sadly have no vivid, charming comments that are floating to the surface of my aging brain right now. So, these will have to do:

  • Emma is a wonderful, entertaining, frustrating, amusing character. It’s hard to dislike her even when she is being so insufferably obtuse. Yet, when you step back from the humor and the sheer confidence she displays you realize that her actions, though cloaked in a tone of lightheartedness, really do have serious consequences that could ruin lives. Her sense of her own rightness borders on the dangerous.
  • How endearingly annoying is Miss Bates? We have many Miss Bates’s at the library – men and women (though mostly men these days) who spend their entire days in the library and take advantage of any slow times at the desk to bombard the staff with their thoughts, descriptions of their small daily outrages and pleasures and complaints about their health. I admit to feeling very Emma-like toward them some of the time and am very relieved when someone needing help approaches the desk and I can turn away. If I have time I do try to give them attention (except for the creepy ones…but that’s a different story) and these Miss Bates’s are always grateful, but they do try our patience.
  • Austen is really skillful at building up interest in and curiosity about Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, isn’t she? By the time they arrived in Highbury I was so dying to know if they were really as described by the various characters and by their letters.
  • The amount of walking the characters do is impressive! And it also seems that a lot important of thoughts and conversations are had by them while walking.
  • I love the scenes at Randalls on Christmas Eve. The snow worries of Mr. Woodhouse, the cheek of Mr. Elton, Emma’s confusion about his lack of concern about Harriet and then the scene in the carriage on the way home – fabulous.

This week I’ll immerse myself in volume two and very happily. After an unfortunate experience attempting to read Jonathan Franzen this weekend I need something that is more of my taste to brighten my days.

Are you reading Emma this month?

What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

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This delightful book is written by a Jane Austen expert, but it is in no way dry or academic. It examines twenty ‘puzzles’ or themes or curiosities that run through all of Austen’s novels, things such as ‘Is there sex in Jane Austen?’ and ‘Why is it risky to go to the seaside?’ The chapters are very in depth and use lots of quotes from the novels, yet they are short and snappy to read. I breezed through this book and really enjoyed the discussions that draw from each of Austen’s works. I definitely felt a desire to reread all of her novels with this new information in mind. Reading this feels like attending a class with that funny, warm, wonderfully brilliant favorite professor from college. I could listen to him all day.

Even if you’re not a rabidĀ fan of Austen or a Janeite you’ll find much to like in this book. It delves into the history of social customs during this time period and also discusses aspects of her own life and experiences that affected her books. I found it to be insightful, witty and very entertaining.

Am I Becoming a Janeite?

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I’ve always appreciated Jane Austen novels, of course, but I’ve never considered myself a Janeite. I’ve only read Pride and Prejudice one time – when I was 17. I remember thinking it was okay (however, I did stay up until 4 in the morning to finish it). At that time in my life I was more enamored of Madame Bovary or Tess of the d’Urbervilles – novels that are more tragic and melodramatic than Austen’s works. My next experience with reading her was when I was just graduated from library school, unable to find a librarian job and living with my parents. I was very discouraged and turned to books for escape. One of the most memorable of these books was Northanger Abbey. I remember spending days immersed in this novel. It did help to relieve my sadness. And then I read Sense and Sensibility when I was living in a small town in Arkansas, lonely and friendless. It was also a source of solace for me.

In subsequent years I’ve tried to read Emma and Mansfield Park several times, but have just concluded that I must not like Jane Austen all that much anymore – until now. Emma is such a good book. I absolutely love it. I’m a bit over half-way through and find myself sneaking paragraphs during the work day. It’s completely satisfying. And now I am very curious about Jane Austen herself, her life, her world and how she planned her novels. So, I’ve started What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan and have The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne on my nighstand. I’m also planning to read a few more, if not all, of her novels in the coming months. I’m waiting to make my selection until my book club chooses our 2016 books as there are three Austen novels up for consideration and I’ll work around whatever is chosen for next year.

This is the most excited I’ve been about an author or about reading in months. Thank you, Jane Austen!

Are you a Janeite? Which of her novels is your favorite?