Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Report: Emma

This is one of the most fascinating, and sickening, character studies I have come across. There are two sides to Emma -- something deep and nasty that doesn't come across in the movie adaptation or the loose, modernized version, Clueless.

On one side, Emma is a conniving sociopath obsessed with manipulating everyone around her to fulfill her whims, as well as the scared child who does everything she can to suspend her childhood and avoid starting her adult life. Much of the latter persona comes from the cruel, needy influence of her dad, who pulls the same manipulative tricks on her that she does on her friends and suitors. Emma's dad maneuvers to imprison her as some sort of nonsexual pseudo-wife/servant, just as she dominates Harriet, possibly in an expression of a repressed longing to capture her as a wife/servant for herself.

While Harriet slowly manages to break free of Emma's grip, Emma wrestles against the unspoken tyranny exerted by her dad, and the high-stakes chess game plays out in a vicious satire that leaves everyone hurting for most of the time. I loved it all except for the ending, which is exuberant and fulfilling in a romantic comedy way, but feels like a cheap cop-out that dismisses some of the harrowing truths Jane Austen was building toward.

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