Read Emma by Jane Austen Free Online
Book Title: Emma|
The author of the book: Jane Austen
Edition: Finisterra Books
Date of issue: October 29th 2011
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 481 KB
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Reader ratings: 7.1
ISBN 13: 9780982954331
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This is a book about math, mirrors and crystal balls, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Village life? Sorta. The lives of the idle rich? I mean, sure, but only partially and incidentally. Romance? Barely. A morality tale of the Education of Young Lady? The young lady stands for and does many more important things than that. These things provide the base of the novel, the initial bolt of fabric, the first few lines of a drawing that set the limits of the author to writing about these thousand things rather than the other million things that lie outside those lines. They are the melody to which the symphony will return again and again, but with variations so you’ll never quite hear it again with perfect simplicity. You just have to recognize them to be able to understand the rest of the piece. And that is all. The melody is never the point- the point is everything that comes in between each time it repeats, which then dictates why the repetition is different the next time it all plays out.
You can’t just tune out everything that comes in between. Because then you’ll miss the story about math, mirrors and crystal balls. I missed it the first time around, and I’m sort of upset that I did, because this part of the story is way more engaging. Let’s talk math first. First time I ever wanted to do that without moaning with boredom, so already, points, JA! Austen’s work sets up fascinating equations that keep building and building on top of each other until you get one of those fantastically scary creations that cover the entire wall of a room where the genius who wrote it all out is leaping up and down, exhausted, all, “Eureka! I’ve done it!” only in this case, the genius can actually explain it to you in a way that makes her efforts seem worth it. Once you understand the first couple operations of the equation, then it’s easy to see where the next ones come from.
But to bring it down out of the world of the abstract what I mean is that I think Austen is absolutely brilliant at decoding every little minute detail of the duties, privileges, guilts, obligations, and routines that go into human relationships. Just like how in math if you add instead of multiply in one part of an equation it screws the whole thing, Austen shows us why one simple infraction of this delicate balance in relationships is such a major drama and can screw the whole thing for you. Yes, it’s one simple action, and no matter how justified it is that you forgot one thing amongst the fifty things you’re supposed to do, your answer is wrong and all the other correct work you did is completely invalidated. Red mark. Final. You’re wrong, and you know it and everyone knows it and to put this in Sorkinese you just have to stand there in your wrongness and be wrong. She reveals the little town of Highbury- or even really just the upper echelons of its ruling class- to be a labyrinth of constant choices where there are fifteen steps that one has to go through to narrow down your options. This is where its sort of about village life in that you can’t just do a straight cost-benefit analysis in any direct way because you will have to deal with the consequences of that action every day and it will materially affect your life in way that you can’t avoid like you could with a more anonymous society, or one in which people moved around more. Of course there isn’t as much action as other novels. It takes so much time to get through the lead up and the aftermath of every decision, and every time you skimp on any of it, it comes back to bite you in the ass.
When Emma tries to go out to dinner, depending on the situation she’s got a different set of a million questions to answer and/or tasks to complete. When it’s the one where she goes over to a couple’s house who are “in trade” and therefore her social inferiors, she’s got to come up with formulas that a) make it okay for her to want to be invited in the first place, b) make it okay for her to want to refuse it, then simultaneously c) make it okay for her to want to accept it, then d) figure out a way to see to her invalid father’s comfort (she has to ask him to go, go through a whole thing where she tries to persuade him even though she knows he won’t and shouldn’t come, then she arranges a dinner party for him while she’s out, then she has to arrange that those coming will be comfortable because her father has a tendency to starve people at dinner because he thinks he’s helping them be healthy) then e) make sure that she’ll be received in a style that befits her (she is invited to dinner while “the lesser females”- the term Austen uses- are only invited later in the evening), then f) finally practically arrange for herself to get there and get home which you would think would really be the only thing to worry about the first place. Even when she’s going out to dinner with her best friends down the street, she’s still got to worry about her father’s comfort, the harmony of her difficult family relationships, and who is conveying who by what carriage and why. She has a confrontational thing with Mr. Knightley outside when he comes on his horse rather than in his carriage, which is made worse in that it follows up the reveal that he only used his carriage to go to the other party to convey the “lesser females”, which is actually a big plot point that the whole thing turns on. Mrs. Weston thinks that for Knightley to be so thoughtful he must be in love with Jane, but no, Mr. Knightley just understands math better than anyone and comes up with the right answer more times than anyone as well.
I think it’s interesting that its brought up several times that Emma is always “meaning to read more” or improve herself to live up to the model of Jane that is always before her (the character who is perhaps only second to Mr. Knightley in coming up with the right answer, and even then she’s more impressive about it since she’s doing it with the handicap of having made a conventionally bad decision before the opening of the action), but doesn’t. I entirely understand it because I think she does meticulous enough work every day to make her household and relationships function in the way that they do. I mean, think about it. How many of these people are really suited to be living in such close quarters, where they are forced into repeated contact? Almost none of them. I think this really helps to explain one of the reasons why she befriends Harriet- she’s outside the equation, an X factor that Emma can throw in that might open up new possibilities, which might allow for different and more exciting things than seem currently possible with the options open to her.
Her whole arc with Frank Churchill is sort of the same thing in that it represents another kind of escape from how hemmed in she is. He represents really the only person to whom she can really interact as an equal- someone to whom she doesn’t really have any obligations other than to enjoy herself and speak in a way that is not controlled by what she should be saying or should be doing. He’s not a total X factor in that he’s been mapped into the social hierarchy of the village even in his absence, but the way he’s been mapped means he’s been marked out for Emma. The way in which he’s thought of sort of gives her permission to think of him as belonging to her in a way that allows her to think and act selfishly in a manner that she mostly recognizes as wrong (hence why she almost immediately realizes that she’s not in love with him and would never marry him) but which is also a sweet relief.
But that’s why the two golden children can’t be together. If they were, the math of obligations and ties and duties and privileges would be upset in a way that would rend asunder the balance of life in a way that could never be repaired. When Emma and Frank Churchill end up together, you end up with the 2008 banking crisis and Occupy Wall Street. Their choice to be together might have represented a choice that would have set them “free” in many ways, but free to be lesser than they could be or should be. It’s interesting to me that Austen had Knightley and Jane (her models of what it means to make correct choices, remember) step back to let Frank and Emma make that choice, and then we see how violently both characters freak out about having the higher, better models of humanity removed from them. Those two characters don’t want each other, because honestly at the base of it all, math motivates us- math gives us reasons to get up and move and do it again. Frank and Emma know they can’t do anything for each other- they could only live in self satisfied ease, beauty and comfort, and that’s not enough.
Mirrors and crystal balls are the complement of this math. They’re always haunting the background of all the choices that are made in the novel. Austen is pretty methodical and amazing in how she’s able to make the whole novel a Hall of Mirrors that justifies the title of Emma even better than the fact that she is the main character. Most of the people in the town represent what Emma is and what she is not, and even more importantly, who she could be and who she is afraid she’ll be. Austen brings this out most consciously in the comparison to Miss Bates- who is not coincidentally Emma’s mortal enemy and bête noire. Emma has a conversation with Harriet where the scary specter of her turning into Miss Bates is discussed, and she outlines everything she feels makes her different from Miss Bates. For someone who turns up her nose at people in trade and prosperous farmers, she must have surprised herself by making her main point that she is rich and Miss Bates is poor and then having all other differences proceed from that. I don’t think its coincidental that Miss Bates is perhaps the most memorable character from the whole novel-she’s allowed to ramble on in conversations to the point where it almost seems like we’re experiencing Emma’s nightmare, not an actual person. Nor is it surprising that its Miss Bates she finally acts out on when she loses her shit- of all the equations and all the math she’s done in sorting out her life, Miss Bates is the one constant, loud, obnoxious reminder of the fact that not only is it possible that she’s added instead of multiplied, its possible that just like Miss Bates, math rather than affection will be all she has to rely on.
Her second nightmare mirror is Jane Fairfax, and I think it’s definitely not an accident that Jane is essentially the creation of Miss Bates for most of the novel, who seems to (at least from Emma’s perspective) be actively trying to create the creature most designed to make Emma feel insecure, a person who exists to annoy her and slap her down at every turn, and all in such a sweet guise that there’s no way for Emma to slay the dragon- she just has to let it come at her again and again for her entire life. Emma spends most of the book reacting against, too, and around the mirror of Jane- and by whom she thinks that other people judge her, although this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Much like with Frank, Jane is the natural person to be classed with Emma, by mathematical equation (age, sex, education, social class), but unlike Frank, Jane doesn’t have the potential to set Emma free. Instead Emma feels further hemmed in by her, almost until the point of suffocation, because it seems like people are telling her that she should be the incarnation of the math, which Emma hates. I think that’s what the whole “one cannot love a reserved person,” thing that repeats the whole novel was about. Yes, you should strive after the right answer as much as possible, and it always has to be there in your head, but you can’t let it rule you. You have to be brave enough to be a person sometimes, too, which is all Emma’s about and all she keeps saying the whole novel. Jane is the total opposite of that.
Mrs. Elton is another mirror, with an exaggerated version of Emma’s pride and classism (which Emma usually ends up setting aside, but its always there). Harriet is some fascinatingly complex thing in her psyche where she’s simultaneously this self-hating symbol of what she thinks other people think of her (in that Harriet is the opposite of that) and perhaps also some twisted martyr like version of what she thinks of herself. Mrs. Weston is an idol, which could make her the same sort of suffocating symbol as Jane, but she escapes from that by being in another class and age that cannot be compared to Emma, and through her unconditional love. Other characters also reflect to each other and therefore back onto Emma again as well. The two Knightley brothers, to each other and to the other men of the village, Mr. Weston to Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Woodhouse to Mr. Knightley and back again, and so on in a round, but it all comes back to Emma.
The book actually reminded me of the feeling that I had towards the end of Madame Bovary, which was odd. That was also a book about living in tight spaces, which seemed to get smaller and smaller whenever you turned, and where the escapes offered to you seemed to have something lacking from them. I was gasping for air by the time that they got to Box Hill, which is I think exactly what Austen intends. But this Emma is not like that Emma. That Emma ignored the math more and more. She wasn’t breaking the rules so much as she was proposing an entirely different game. Austen’s Emma commits an infraction, but still recognizes the rules and the game and the players and has no desire to change them. Ultimately, I think the turning point is Emma realizing that she isn’t locked in the closet at all and she never was. I think there’s so much deception and hidden secrets because and misunderstandings because Emma needs to realize, again and again, that the labyrinth she’s built for herself is of her own making, and bears little to no relation to reality, and it’s damn good thing that it doesn’t. She has to get out of her own head and the crazy garden of fears, paranoias and dreams she’s created there and realize that it doesn’t matter whether she’s the fairest of them all or not. What matters is keeping intact the equation that’s lead to the right answer so often that she’s gotten careless about remembering that it still matters that she does it right, even when she’s moved on to calculus and imaginary equations.
I’ve always related to Emma Woodhouse more than any of Austen’s other heroines, and this reading did not change that feeling. I still think she changes and grows in incredible amounts, in ways that make sense to me and seem genuine. I still want to hang out with her, and I’d still love to be a fly on the wall in her therapy sessions (you know if that weren’t a terrible thing to do) because I feel like she would help me to express a lot of things I feel myself- which she does every time I read this novel. Every once in awhile I come back to the question of why Austen thought others wouldn’t like her. I’ve decided at this point its because I think that her other heroines represent a type or statement of some kind that Austen was reacting to or working through, whereas Emma I think isn’t evocative of anything so sympathetic or recognizable in the symbolic universe. She seems like the most messy, true to life, screwed up, actual person that Austen wrote about. That’s not to say that the other heroines aren’t realistic, they are, but just that they’re tied up with these other languages and ideas and conversations in a way that Emma isn’t. She’s just sort of… this girl who’s trying to be a person and that’s all. She’s maybe the most modern in that respect. I don’t think I am expressing this well. Whatever, she’s still my Austen bestie. That is the important point here.
Anyway, this is unbelievably long at this point so I’ll just offer an executive summary of my above points here: Whatevs, haters. JA, FTW! <} 4EVA!!
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Original Review:This is one of the Holy Trinity of Austen (yes, I just made that up). And in my opinion, deservedly so. Emma is far and away the heroine that I identify the most with of all the Austen women. Jane Austen thought that nobody would like her when she wrote Emma... except maybe she underestimated how many people have things in common with her. She has so many deep flaws that are so easy to completely hate, but she means so very well, and is really a deeply caring person. She just has absolutely no self awareness yet, and has not matured enough to change her opinions when faced with opposition. Here is where she learns how. It reminded me so much of myself at a certain age, and even on some level right now. She's a snob, she's rather a bitch at times, she's condescending, and not all that perceptive. But I just love her anyway. Perhaps because I used to or still have those characteristics and want to believe that even those people will learn and deserve love in the end, even from a Mr. Knightley. But also, I think, because Austen creates her so sympathetically, that it's hard not to love her. This book explains motivations a lot more than in the others, and one gets a few sides of the story of errors towards the end of the book, as everything is set completely right again. I liked that, that she didn't let it go, but tied up all her threads to her readers' satisfaction. Or at least mine.
PS- The Gwen Paltrow/Jeremy Northam movie? My first Austen movie. Got me into the genre, really. I think it's fantastic, and very sweet, and Jeremy Northam is perfectly well cast. Also: you'll see Ewan McGregor with an awful haircut, looking completely unattractive. It's kind of funny.
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Read information about the authorJane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.
Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about 35 years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.
Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture.
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