On Reading Emma and Getting In Sync with Jane Austen’s Novels

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Hammond-Emma24

By Chris Hammond (1860-1900) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I get the feeling that I’m probably not the right person to be discussing Emma, so this is less about Emma itself than about my experience reading it.

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.

And yet…

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.

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10 thoughts on “On Reading Emma and Getting In Sync with Jane Austen’s Novels

  1. My personal favourite Austen is Mansfield Park which I recommend to everyone I possibly can but the Austen I found the easiest to read was Sense and Sensibility. Good luck!

  2. I really struggle reading Austen too, but I have been trying to make an effort to read at least one book of hers a year since 2012 (and I had read one a few years before that in college) until I finish all her novels. Why? Because I love Jane Austen adaptations! I fell in love with those first, and then tried to go back and read the book.

    So far I have read Pride and Prejudice, which I liked but not as much as I enjoyed watching the 2005 movie or The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which you need to watch if you haven’t yet!); Northanger Abbey, which I have never seen an adaptation of so I think I did a better job of attuning myself to Austen’s writing style to understand the story; and I read Persuasion last year, which I think was the biggest struggle with Austen so far, but I still liked it alright (I chose this one after reading and enjoying a Persuasion retelling).

    All that to say, I love Austen’s stories but not necessarily her writing style! But since I consider myself a fan of her stories, I feel I need to read her actual work too.

    Glad you’re enjoying Emma Approved! I am loving it just as I did The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! They’re so well done!

    • I’m with you regarding adaptations, but I actually haven’t seen any other than those of the books I’ve read. I did not completely enjoy Pride and Prejudice when I first read it, and then I later really enjoyed the 2005 film and the LBD. Then again, I did read P&P as a teen and haven’t picked it up since watching multiple adaptations, so I might enjoy the book more now.

      I’ve actually been wondering if I should try Northanger Abbey next, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • I’ve had a few different people say the same. It’s definitely a book I want to read at some point, but we’ll see what I end up picking for my next Austen. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I enjoyed almost every Austen I’ve read, with the exception of Persuasion, but I have yet to read her most “mature” books, the ones she wrote as she grew older – Emma included. So I wouldn’t call myself an Austenphile. But if P&P wasn’t your thing, I’d say go for Northanger Abbey next. They have some similarities, the satire side of them being the biggest one, but they’re quite different otherwise, and NA is quite more humorous.

    Yay for loving the Brontës! :=)

    • Northanger Abbey is definitely starting to seem like a good choice for my next try. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate hearing from a fellow not-quite-Austenphile.

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