I’ve struggled with Jane Austen in the past, and Emma was no exception. While I enjoyed the first couple of chapters, once the host of characters entered the picture, I had trouble keeping straight who was who and who was related to whom and who wanted what.
I won’t lie: a major reason I bumped Emma up from obscurity on my Classics Club list to now was in anticipation of the web series Emma Approved, a modern adaptation from the team who modernized Pride and Prejudice in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I hadn’t finished Emma by the time the series started, but I began watching it anyway, finding that it helped illuminate the main characters for me.
But it only emphasized how frustrated I felt actually reading the book.
When I started getting towards the end of the novel, I felt that things were falling into place. When I could finally keep up with the plot and the prose, I flew through the last fifty or so pages.
Perhaps, by the time I reached Emma‘s last act, my mind was finally in sync with Austen’s story and writing. I had read about three hundred pages, and the last fifty seemed to click like the others had not.
A few days before I reached this last part, I was discussing my progress through Emma over lunch with a friend of mine who’s a huge Austen fan, and she said that even she has to recalibrate her reading to Austen whenever she returns to her works.
So I wondered if I was doing myself a disservice by waiting so long in between attempts at Austen. With my enjoyment of the last part relatively fresh, would it have been best to strike while the iron was hot and read another Austen novel soon thereafter?
Part of me wanted to try, but another part remembered the struggle through the first three hundred pages. I finished Emma in early November, and since then, I thought I had decided I’d much rather read new authors or authors I enjoy all the way through. (After all, let’s face it: at this point, I’m more of a Brontë fan than an Austen fan.)
But a recent conversation with another Austen fan friend of mine makes me want to reconsider this stance. She told me that Pride and Prejudice and Emma, which are the two Austen novels I’ve completed, are in fact her least favorite Austen novels.
So I now pose this question to Austenphiles: given my ambivalence to Pride and Prejudice and Emma (as well as my failed attempt to read Persuasion), what Austen novel would you suggest for me next?
And regardless of my feelings on Emma, I have found myself enjoying Emma Approved more and more with each new episode. Dare I say that this modern adaptation is making me retroactively like the novel more?
This was Book #15 off my Classics Club list.