book review: Emma by Jane Austen






EMMA by Jane Austen
★★☆☆☆
originally published in 1815




I know that sometimes when reviewing classics I have to fight against the impulse to defer to centuries’ worth of scholarly analysis when my own opinion doesn’t align with the masses: but in this case, I will confidently own the fact that I hated every single second of this book. And I am sure that I will be met with backlash, but this is a subjective blog review. My opinion on this book quite literally does not matter. Please keep scrolling if this offends your Austenite sensibilities. But I do want everyone to know that I think Emma is garbage.

However, what I will also own is the fact that I didn’t choose a particularly prudent moment in my life to read this book. I am going through a situation that made being asked to sympathize with a privileged, entitled, manipulative protagonist feel like having teeth pulled. I know that these qualities objectively make Emma Woodhouse a more interesting character — but I quite literally could not care less! There is nothing on earth I would have resented reading about more in that moment.

Anyway, personal baggage aside, I found this book to be tremendously bloated and self-indulgent. I know that Austen novels aren’t exactly page turners on the best of days, but my god, there was not a single thing here that managed to earn my investment. When I wasn’t irrationally furious about the way Emma was treating Harriet (ok, fine, maybe my personal baggage isn’t totally aside), I was bored out of my mind. I can imagine that a lot of readers are compelled by the fact that Emma doesn’t need to marry in the way that other Austen heroines do, but I found that that took away the very limited intrigue that Austen novels hold for me.

I should also confess that I just don’t really *get* that famous Austenian wit that readers find so endearing, and which seems to be a huge draw for Emma in particular. I just didn’t find this book particularly charming or funny or lively and if that element is taken away, what on earth is even left?

The one thing I will hand this book is that the narration is executed very well, but that doesn’t justify there being 500 pages of it. And make no mistake, the length IS the problem. I felt that a similar length was warranted in Mansfield Park which used those pages to develop theme and social commentary; Emma, in contrast, unfolds like a very straightforward parable, whose trajectory and moral can be summed up in a single sentence, and I have very little patience for this kind of book, where I feel like I get the point about 20 pages in and am then made to suffer through an agonizingly slow pantomime acted out by dull, lifeless, and/or irritating characters.

I should probably give Emma a second chance at some point in my life but I can fairly confidently say that I do not want to, so, here we are. Sorry. At least I will always have Clueless.

9 thoughts on “book review: Emma by Jane Austen

  1. I love this review so much!! It’s been years since I read Emma and all I remember is getting partway in and thinking, “I know exactly how this will end” and that I was absolutely right. I had little patience for Emma when I was a teenager and I think I’d have even less for her now.

    Liked by 2 people

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