Friday, December 11, 2009

tuesdays with emma.

Listening to: So This is Christmas by John Lennon
Kevin did not win Top Chef. And this makes me sad. But I still think he's a superstar.

A few weeks go, I mentioned reading Jane Austen's Emma once the new year rolled around. And some of you folks mentioned you might be up for reading along with me. Thus, I got super excited and launched out to find a copy of the book and then forgot to ever mention anything else about it. If you're thinking about reading Emma, or still trying to decide whether or not its worth your time, do read on. If reading Emma is on your list of priorities behind 1.) Watching the growing of the grass and 2.) Beholding the drying of the paint, then this post might not be your favorite. I'll be back next week with more holiday related antics.

First the Logistics:

I'm thinking maybe we could start talking about the book the second week of January? That will give everybody some time to detox from Christmas. Then maybe we could talk about ten chapters every other week? That would put us finishing the book in March. I'll stick the dates down at the end of this post. If you have a better idea, or if that doesn't sound good, do let me know!

And now for the Funtistics:

So the word "funtistics" was better in my mind than it looks typed out (because it sounds too much like tics), but roll with it. Reading Emma is going to be quite fun.

I was nervous at first. Have you seen this book? It's sort of a beast. Not only is it long but the covers all kind of stink. I went to several bookstores looking for a book that 1.) wouldn't require a monocle, a spyglass, and a decoder ring to read extra-ultrafine-small print and 2.) had a decent cover. All the covers look the same (Regency clip-art). Some hot-shot designer needs to release these books in a prettier format. Why should Darcy and Lizzy B. get get all the love?*

I finally found a copy of Emma that was a good size, and had decent sized words, and didn't cost much. Cover is meh but that's okay. If anybody deserves not to have her books judged by their covers, it's Jane.

(I think we should call her Jane when we talk about her books. I think she would want us to, don't you?)

I've already started reading the book. As I'm reading, I get more and more excited about talking about the book with you. Even though we aren't starting our discussion until January (dates forthcoming!), I wanted to share just a few things already rocking my world about this novel. And maybe persuade you to give it a go.

Because you might be asking yourself, "Why should I read about fine young regency bucks when I can read about werewolves and boys who sparkle?"

You might think the concept is great, but the language is daunting. I won't lie - I'm with you. It takes awhile for me to fall into the rhythm of Jane Austen's writing.

You might think - Alas. That book is a beast! I do not have time to indulge in such whimsy.

You might be wondering why I occasionally write sentences like: I do not have time to indulge in such whimsy.

All those are good reasons. But.

There are a couple of aspects of the novel that made me go, "huh" just in the first few chapters. Those same huh moments are also good reasons you might want to read Emma this winter:

1. Emma brings the sass. In the immortal words of the poet Fergie Ferg, "She's got that boom boom pow." When I met Emma (in, ya know, a literary way), I was slammed with her personality. While I'm pretty sure I've seen most of Jane's movie adaptations (except Emma), I've only read Pride and Prejudice. That book centered around Lizzy who always struck me as the kind of girl who backed up from a scene and took it all in. Her humor was kind of dry. She was confident (in my opinion) but she wasn't confident in a demonstrative socialite sort of way. Emma strikes me as more intentionally social. Emma is plucky. The book starts with Emma going on about who she's going to set up next in her group of friends (she's really into matchmaking). And when I hear her voice in my head, it sounds a little bit more frivolous. For now. Even though those traits could make her seem a little bit froo-froo and unrealistic, they don't. So far, she seems bright, open hearted. Maybe even a little bit childlike. Maybe.

But what I like most about this girl so far is the promise that she's about to go through a season of some intense self-discovery. This is the first line of the novel:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessing of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

(Pause here to say I'm glad calling a woman "handsome" has fallen out of fashion.)

Most women I know have had some pretty intense seasons of change before they hit their 20's. It's easy to read a line like that and think, eh, I might not connect to this character much. Even Jane Austen said she was pretty sure she'd created a character nobody (but herself) would like when she created Emma Woodhouse.** But I already like Emma. I like her a lot. I like her spunk. I like that she's sort of an imaginist (who might have to learn how to balance living in the real world vs. living in her imagination). I have a feeling the next fifty chapters are going to vex her a whole lot, and I think it will be interesting to see how she navigates it all.

2. It's a love story. I'm assuming regency girls had a type, just like modern girls usually have a type. For many regency chicas, from what I lift from these novels, it was the type who had enough money to make sure they had a comfortable life.*** But for Jane's heroines the kicker is usually (and I love this so much) someone who is a match for their humor and intellect. Someone who respects them enough to respect their opinion. Someone who is, dare I say it, willing to look at them as an equal and not as an accessory (regency fistpump!). And very often, it seems like the type of guy these girls think they want isn't really the best guy for them at all. Love sneaks up on them. I like that.

Which brings me to Mr. Knightley.

This Mr. Knightly fellow ... he's worth sticking around for. This is the first clue that Mr. Knightly is going to get all twisted up in Emma's heart:

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse and the only one who ever told her of them ... (Emma, Chapter One)

Not that I like that. I don't like it when people are overly critical. But from what I'm seeing, his criticism comes more in the form of engaging her with some humor, spunk, and smarts most of the men around her wouldn't dare try to do. My favorite romantic dynamic to read is the Beatrice/Benedict scenario where two almost-lovers spar and joke and don't realize there's a pretty intense attraction there until it just sort of happens.

For now, Emma and Mr. Knightley are just amicable. He's an old family friend, but I'm pretty sure she's not even registering him as someone she could fall in love with.****

And that's the beauty of what Jane can do with a novel. She makes you fall in love when you don't think you will. She makes you look at someone in a different light; not the flattering light that shines on various points of hotness, but the kind of light that shines through every broken place on a person's heart. In Jane Austen's books, the love story doesn't happen the way I think it will. It happens better.

And I'm quite fond of endings like that :)

Here's a tentative schedule (all on Tuesdays):

January 12- Discussing Chapters 1-10
January 26 - Discussing Chapters 11-20
February 9- Chapters 21-30
February 23- Chapters 31-40
March 9 - Chapters 41-50
March 23 - Chapters 51-55 (or wherever it ends)

As an added perk, PBS is running a new adaptation of Emma starting in January. I think it looks really good :)

Let me know if you're still in! Happy Weekending!

* As I typed that, I pictured "Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth" on a license plate. And it made me happy.
** I read this in a commentary but it only referenced a book called Memoirs. Don't know how legit it is.
*** Don't mean this in a judgemental way either. I think at that point in history, it was highly understandable. I love the way Charlotte and Mr. Collins illustrated that point in P&P. I got the vibe Charlotte was smart, bright, and totally lovable. And then she settles for weirdo Collins. But, at the same time, she was willing to make the most of it. Maybe she loved him in her own way.
**** The only bizarro thing about this is that Knightly is like in his late 30's and Emma is 21. I know it was a different time, and that's what I keep telling myself. But still.


  1. LOVE your off-the-wallness (NEW WORD ALERT) Natalie!! I'm all in for the book!! Thanks for the dates! I'm super excited about this!!!

  2. I am so excited for this. I'm stuck in "A Christmas Carol" now, a not-so-bright idea I had after I saw the new movie. I haven't had much time to read, so I doubt I'll finish it before Christmas. I need to put it aside and start reading "Emma" again. =)
    Don't worry, the whole age difference thing bothered me at first, too, but you get used to it. And in all of the movies, they never make Mr. Knightley very old, so that helps erase the much-older man image from your mind, LOL. Besides, it's not nearly as bad as Mansfield Park...she ends up with her cousin. I haven't gotten over that one yet.
    I'm super excited about that PBS version of "Emma." That Emma looks more like what I had originally pictured than Gwyneth Paltrow does. Strangely enough, this Emma also resembles my brother's girlfriend. I'm also excited about the other Austen movies that they're airing again. I taped them last time they came on, but the tapes are messed up, so I need to try again.


  3. Methinks I will join the reading party, though I might be the poky little puppy behind everyone else. :)

    Where is the "Beatrice/Benedict scenario"? I should know where this is from, but alas, I don't.

  4. I'm in!!! I was supposed to read it senior year, didn't finish Middlemarch in time, read the Emma sparknotes, and got a D on the paper. and ever since I've always wanted to read it! :) I have a Barnes & Noble classic edition with some good notes. I don't know if I can keep up with the reading along with everything else, but I'll at least try! :)

  5. AHHH :)
    ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is amazing. I have honestly had that book sitting on my bookshelf since 2004. It was given to me as a gift, and I had every intention of reading it, but you know how that goes. :) Now I have to hurry up and finish the last mortal instruments book (my latest addiction.) Wow. This is honestly great. I'm so in, well if I make it past semester test day with Ms. Brewster and AP English.
    I watched the movie with mom once. Let's just say it was comical. Everyone knows how "emotional" my mom gets over "EVERYTHING" and so we were watching the movie, and she cried through the WHOLE thing, just because she knew was going to happen in the end. And then when it came time she told me to shut up (i wasn't talking) cause this was her favorite part. LO AND BEHOLD I started bawling :) haha

    <3 Loves from emmy :)

  6. I always try to ignore the age difference between Knightley and Emma. I am surprised you haven't seen the movie version with Gwyneth Paltrow. Although her character annoys me at parts of it, Knightley is so wonderful at the end! I like that she can be an annoying character, though - she's very realistic! I am looking forward to reading your opinions about it, although I will probably be too busy to reread it with you.

    And that PBS "Emma" looks wonderful.

  7. I love Emma. I love how every movie/miniseries adaptation of it interprets the characters and situations slightly differently. The Kate Beckinsdale version shows you how much you would hate Emma if you were her contemporary, but she learns to be lovable. The Gwyneth Paltrow version shows how comical every bit of it is, just how frivolous Emma is, just how frivolous everyone is.

    So I was ridiculously excited to know that BBC had done one and will be broadcasting it on PBS this January... and I found it. I found it online and this week I watched all four blissful hours of the miniseries. And of the three versions I've seen, its role seems to be the one that shows each of the characters for exactly what they are - you're sympathetic to everyone, and it's clear who's a jerk and whose intentions are golden.

    I love it.

    Others may not love it as much as me, but I'm strange.

    Needless to say, I'm in for the read.

    BTW, I have a band for you to check out, I missed out on your last post. Eisley. Having spent some time in Texas, you may have heard them before. The vocals are a little hard to get used to at first but before you know it you're hooked. Their lyrics are so wonderfully poetic and strange and mystical and lovely and I think you'd love it. It's a homeschool family that grew up leading worship and listening to radiohead, watching the Cosby show, reading CS Lewis, and exploring in the woods. I think you would love it.

  8. I want a license plate that says Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth! Airbrushed!

  9. I'm definitely still in! I can't wait to see the miniseries... it looks so good! At first I wasn't sure, because so many people were saying that they didn't really care for it, but from what I see in the previews, it might actually be truer to the book than the Gwyneth Paltrow version (which I love regardless.)

    I've already gotten to chapter 10 (I found the most beautiful copy at the library!) and am loving this re-read.

  10. mc, this can be arranged ...

    RT, so glad you're in! :)