Right, now then, brace yourselves... in fact pull up a chair because the shock is going to be huge...
I HAVE FINISHED READING EMMA.
I have had to use the search box on here to find out that I was ambushed by Jane Austen last December...
I had quickly read 150 pages and then I changed tack. I had read sufficient for the characters to establish themselves in my mind and then, much like the guests at Randalls on Christmas Eve, I allowed myself the luxury of what I can best describe as being mentally and very happily snowed-in with the book, adopting a much slower reading pace and loving it unreservedly as a result, and even better tucked inside the book the long-lost 'other' postcard that Bookhound had bought me years ago...
2013 dawned and with it, for me, more changes than Miss Woodhouse could ever have imagined dancing at a ball... the decision to stop work, the prawn allergy, Tinker's Cott to be done top to bottom, and the Tinker moving here to be with us, and through it all I have picked up the book on and off to the point, as I now realise, that I have thus read Emma contemporaneously with the passage of time in the novel.
Christmas at Randalls...
A trip to Box Hill in June...
I approached the Box Hill outing with some trepidation because I recall feeling about as wretched and as 'abhorred in recollection' as Emma, after a trip there as a teenager, and sadly long before I might have appreciated any Jane Austen connection, but I do love the way a book stirs up memories and associations.
To cut a long story short ...
Geography school field trip... took literally and 'tripped' going down the steep side...legs ran away with me... ran faster than Usain Bolt towards main road... primeval terror... fortunately no cars coming... am writing this today.
Emma Woodhouse was unlikely to forget her visit either as the tangled web of agitation, mortification and grief overcomes her, and is only properly dispelled by a an evening of backgammon with her father.
I probably got home and played Sounds of Silence on my guitar (Em - C - Em - C - G etc) or something equally teenage and introspective.
So this has been very interesting indeed, and in the end I would only read one chapter, very slowly in a sitting. I have now decided this is the very best way for me to read Jane because there is so much to miss, and that I know I must have missed in the others I have read (this was my first read of Emma.) I would think about that single chapter intermittently for days and weeks before picking the book up again. I also felt under no pressure whatsoever to 'finish' it for a deadline, a lovely feeling of freedom, and one I am bringing into play much more frequently with my reading. I am definitely a stroller rather than a galloper these days.
In my imagination, and despite not having seen the film, I discovered clear pictures of houses, people and localities and with not a clue how Jane had done it. All the little nuances formed effortlessly, the people were to my liking, or maybe not, making Emma a book I have lived within and feel quite sad to leave.
I haven't read around the book at all. In fact I haven't wanted to, beyond dipping into John Mullen's really excellent What Matters in Jane Austen. This raised my awareness, alerting me to the cleverness and the puzzles and things to notice like the weather, and games and money and blushing.
I thought quite long and hard about Emma's relationship with her father and came up with all sorts of hotch-potch theories.
Jane Austen cleverly makes it easy to calculate ages and time lapses; Emma would have been five and her sister Isabella eleven when their mother died, and I felt that Jane Austen understood the impact of that loss on them both. We may think it is us who have invented all that was ever known about bereavement, but I think Jane perfectly demonstrates, in Emma, a young woman, who despite the loving care of Miss Taylor, still unwittingly shows all the emotional signs of a child who has suffered loss at a tender age, and with it a father who cannot let her go.
So easy to see Mr Woodhouse as selfish and self-centered, but now I see him very differently. He has lost his wife, maybe every loss thereafter cuts him to the quick and he can't bear it.
I understand Emma in my own way too and I think she may be edging ahead as my most favoured Jane Austen heroine to date. Seemingly self-assured, confident and in control, and with her heart in the right place, yet childlike in the way that she perceives the world to revolve around her, and all that happens within it, the assumption that cause and effect is in her hands alone. Emma is resilient and leaves little doubt that she will survive, she is after all as Jane tells us...
'more equal to her situation than most girls would have been, and had sense and energy and spirits that might be hoped would bear her well through its little difficulties and privations,'
...but it could be argued that her want of emotional maturity, and her mis-directed emotional courage on behalf of others rather than herself, conceals all manner of attachment fears perhaps rooted in that past loss at a critical age.
I was indifferent about Frank Churchill, a man in the grip of his guardians... "what's that all about??" I scribbled in the margin and then the secret engagement to Jane Fairfax ...what was all that about.
Mrs Elton... well apart from the fact we were left in no doubt that she came from Maple Grove, where actually did she pop up from and into the arms of Mr Elton, and was she 'very pretty', 'rather pretty' or 'not pretty at all'. How hard for her must that arrival into the midst of the established and watching community of Hartfield have been.
I loved the garrulous Miss Bates, and the way that she unwittingly becomes the source of Emma's emotional turn-around.
How well Jane Austen portrays these... dare I say 'batty' women.
I marvelled at those moments when the reader intuits more than the characters... the episode of Miss Fairfax's piano comes to mind, and to think Jane acheived it all without the aid of a single post-it note.
Barking up the entirely wrong Austen tree I may be. Janeities may be having apoplexy at such hare-brained suggestions, the experts and the academics would frown and dismiss, but the book, and my slow read of it, has given me the space to think and ponder, and go off on a wonderful literary frolic of my own, with no recourse to received thinking.
I will be doing likewise with all the other novels in due course. The only one still unread for me is Persuasion (is that the 'trip' on the Cobb??) and then I will slowly return to the others... five Jane Austen novels, should take about three years at this pace and then it will probably be time to read Emma again and so, I have a feeling, it will go on...and on.
So any Emma fans out there??
Will I like Persuasion more??
Do you have a favourite and if so please do say why... I am up for turning.