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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.


Emma - Donada  Peters, Jane Austen Jane Austen wrote about everyday life among the lower English gentry of the early 19th Century. Thus, the book's characters are concerned about social class in ways that seem a bit strange to a 21st Century American reader. A modern reader is likely to find that the book consists of much 19th Century dialog about trifles. It is that, but Austen's skill as a writer is apparent in the way she portrays character traits and personalities through their spoken words. It seems as though half the words in the book are contained within quotation marks. But at truly climatic moments the story's narration slips inside the minds of the story's characters to describe their feelings.

Emma, in the book, is preoccupied with social class and match making while at the same time claiming no interest in marriage for herself. The story shows Emma's busy-body approach failing to achieve her desired goals in most cases. Her self perceived ability to understand the feelings of others is repeatedly found to be leading her to incorrect conclusions. But never fear, this is 19th Century writing so things will be OK in the end.

Some reviewers note that the book shows how women of that era were dependent on men for their security. That may be true, but this is a story about English gentry who have a quite pleasant life. (The servants hover in the background and are given about as much attention as we give to our kitchen appliances.) The women in this story may not be liberated in the modern feminist sense, but they appear comfortable with their environment.

The historical context within which Jane Austen wrote is what makes her books interesting to me. She predates the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and Mary Shelley. So I guess that makes Jane Austen the mother of the English novel. Jane Austen also predates Dickens and Hardy. Unfortunately, her being female had little impact on her contemporaries because all her novels were published anonymously during her lifetime. Jane Austen was a natural born writer starting at a young age. However, it can be argued that her books may never have been published had her family not been experiencing financial difficulties.

(I need to acknowledge here that Ann Radcliffe was a published female author prior to Jane Austen. So it may be a bit too generous to call Jane Austen the mother of the English novel.)