Greetings! I’m really sorry this is late. A is in a show right now, and that always gets the way of things here at Nerd Cactus. So you’re stuck with me. Sorry…
I wasn’t prepared to do this today. Luckily, I’ve got a backlog of books I’m ready to talk about at a moment’s notice. And so I dive into one of them today, even though I haven’t actually read it recently. I don’t need to, to talk about it. It’s something I know well enough that I can *always* talk about it.
The thing with Emma is…I don’t like Emma. Not the book. The character. And, really, that was Jane Austen’s goal. She set out to write a character no one would much like except herself. And, really, she succeeded. Emma is privileged. She is “handsome, clever, and rich” in a world where that makes her a triple threat. Because of her status, people look up to her. Because of her cleverness, people regard her opinion. And she is spoiled because of it. Spoiled, headstrong, and entirely too self-satisfied for her own good. Emma doesn’t understand how much she doesn’t understand, and imagines that her worldview is what the world really is. And it gets her–but mostly other people–in trouble.
On the other hand, Mr. Knightley is my favorite of Austen’s heroes. Yes…even more so than Mr. Darcy. A lot of people think he’s too bossy, trying to change Emma and unhappy with who she is. This is because a lot of people think loving someone means accepting them as they are. I do not. I believe loving someone is helping them to become the best version of themselves, and that is what Mr. Knightley represents. He is mature, moral, and possesses good judgment. Most of all, he is the only person in the entire novel to bother challenging Emma’s misconceptions and selfishness. When she insults Miss Bates, he calls her on it. When she convinces Harriet Smith to refuse Robert Martin, he realizes she’s put her own wishes above what Harriet really wants (and what’s best for Harriet). He is not trying to change Emma; he is trying to get her to grow up. And I think he brings out her best side. The only reason I prefer Elizabeth and Darcy as a couple is because they do that for one another, and I’m still not sure what good Emma brings out in Knightley. (I’m open to suggestions in the comments. My current theory is that he might be a tad too serious on occasion, and she might teach him to loosen up…but she’s actually the stuck-up…so maybe not.)
Emma is basically the story of Emma Woodhouse’s attempts to play matchmaker for all of Highbury. She gets lucky with her former governess–Miss Taylor–and a widower named Mr. Weston, and decides she has a real gift for the “profession”. Emma is basically Queen Bee of Highbury society, and used to getting her own way, so, when things don’t turn out the way she expects them to, she starts digging herself an ever-deeper whole until things come to an inevitable head. Because this is Austen, everyone ends up happy…except maybe Elton, who picks an awful human being for a wife. But, really, you read Austen for the satire (or, at least, I do), and that is eminently enjoyable here.
You see, Emma is rich and, thus, does not want to marry. This makes her different from Austen’s other heroines, for whom the search for a desirable marriage and financial security are paramount. She is not a Romantic like Marianne Dashwood, and has very little understanding of her own feelings, which is reflected in her misconceptions about others. Where Emma finds her place among Austen’s heroines is in the generally dull and restrained nature of her life. She has never left Highbury, and though she is beloved there, her experiences are very narrow, so she is not worldly or cosmopolitan at all. Thus, her worldview is shaped only by what makes its way to Highbury; it is because Frank Churchill represents drama and excitement that she becomes so attached to him. And, in the end, Emma becomes Austen’s exploration (and perhaps protest) of the narrow confines of a wealthy woman’s life. It is also, perhaps, Austen poking fun at the marriage plot itself, though the novel ends as her novels always do. Is this Austen’s indictment of the inevitability of marriage for women, and the fact that they have no other means of escape? Probably. Austen herself never married and experienced first-hand the limits of society on women. (Which is why I really wish Charlotte Brontë had been a little less bitchy about Austen’s novels, since Jane Eyre deals with many of the same themes.)
Anyway…what to drink? Well, I’m choosing a Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade, with or without alcohol. Why? Like many of Austen’s novels, there’s a touch of the effervescent about a sparkling beverage; the bubbles tickle your nose, maybe make you giggle. And there are some very amusing, light, bubbly moments to be found in Emma (even if most of them do not come from the main character). Harriet Smith not figuring out Mr. Elton’s ridiculously simple riddle comes to mind. There are also some sweet moments throughout the story, represented by the strawberries (not to mention a strawberry picking party). Most of all, however, there are some tart moments, where people behave badly or you don’t quite like the flavor (like lemonade without enough sugar). When balanced, though, you get something that is marvelously enjoyable, even if the main character can sometimes leave a sour taste on your tongue. If you don’t want alcohol, mix pureed strawberries (strained of seeds) and fresh lemon juice with simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar) and sparkling water. If you do, I recommend a sparkling wine…maybe even Champagne, to reflect just how fancy Emma is.
Well…sorry that this is late, again. I’ll be back tomorrow with Shakespeare!