Sunday, October 26, 2014

Emma (1815)

I will likely be testing this theory of mine again soon, but in many ways Jane Austen's novels work for me in ways that are similar to genre novels. If I haven't looked at them in a while they are instantly absorbing, and perfectly charming, and I want to read another right away. But they resemble one another enough that I don't always have the energy to actually finish the next one. I love this world of Jane Austen's that is so single-mindedly focused on achieving happy unions between consenting adults, and all the daunting complexities back of them. There is always a deeply practical woman at the center of it, a few good men and women, and a host of lovable (and one or two not so lovable) recalcitrants to round it all out. Emma concludes on three felicitous—if I may use a Jane Austen word—marriage weddings, a typical if hyper Austen climax. Much of the novel is attempting to figure out who will end up with whom. It does not achieve the dramatic tensions of Pride and Prejudice, but it's a very pleasant journey. There is comfort even in the characters one does not like, partly because they so much resemble people we've known and are thus reassuring of our judgments, and partly by the familiarity. Austen was a uniquely alert observer of people, so even when her plotting begins to go flat or wayward it remains a great pleasure to follow along with her characters. It works at levels that are at once gossipy and profound, and enormously complicated, with fractured families and webs of relations across them, laid against an ever-shifting timeline of seasons and holidays, with events both pedestrian and momentous occurring in a regular rhythm. The language seems to me unusually lucid by 19th-century standards, and the society, while plainly antiquated, nonetheless recognizable. It's people just getting on with their lives, respecting their fundamental needs for human congress, to love and to be loved, and to be accorded respect and dignity too, in a world where both are so very easy to lose.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment