Thursday 19 December 2013

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes - R H Barrow

I finally finished Emma. And in her company thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday afternoon of rain and gales. The storms outside tamed by the gentle ambling of the inhabitants of Highbury. 

It really was a pleasant read. With all the reminders of why Jane Austen's works remain timeless classics. Easy reading. Charming characters. And enough twists and turns to ensure a healthy - and amusing - mental constitutional.

Before we began our study of Emma for A level, my English teacher gave us a very severe warning. You will love it or hate it. The marmite of English literature, it would seem. A warning well founded.

Emma cannot be considered an entirely lovable character. She is wealthy, beautiful and intelligent. Added to which she is spoilt, revered and headstrong. Hardly a person to insight sympathy. And yet I cannot dislike her. Never have and apparently never will.

Austen herself it seems did not dislike her either. Indeed, she is credited with declaring that in Emma she was creating a character that only she would like. You can almost feel her presence hovering protectively over her favoured protagonist. Explaining her misdeeds. Excusing her silliness.

"Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief", she muses. The warning is clear. Although the application not quite so. Isn't Harriet Smith the weak head? Worked on with vanity by Emma? Indeed it is so. Yet Emma is by no means immune to the effects of vanity. And in doing so, shows her weakness. And the result? Only ever mischief, says Austen. Never malicious.

Austen also works through the delightful Mr Knightley to show Emma's humanity and personableness. How masterfully he rebuffs her puerile meddlings and fertile imagination. "Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do". Her stoic acceptance of such discipline and put-downs must give evidence of a good heart. Indeed, her entire conduct towards her troublesome father shows her worth.

So the read was a pleasant one and has given me a taste for the rest of Austen. Now that I have found a job (hurrah!), I feel that I can indulge this taste. Although re-reading such classics really does feel like too much of an indulgence. Like time ill spent when there are so many other books waiting for my attention. Can I indulge guilt free? Mmm. We shall see...

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