Jane Austen Read All-a-long Book 4: Emma

addtext_com_MTQyNjA2NDA2MTMyI gave up.

Full confession. I tried, I really did. I even broke down and got an audio version to listen to during my commute to and from work.

But I just couldn’t take it.

I think it in part an effect of this little reading challenge project I set for myself. This was the fourth Jane Austen book in as many months for me. (There are still two more to go.)

All those long discussions about such trivial matters.

Sure, they can be very funny, but how much time can I spend reading about how difficult it is to find a carriage to get someone to and from the ball, or who has a room big enough to host a ball, or how arrangements can be made to visit so-and-so without looking too eager for a visit.

On and on.

I really began to feel for Mark Twain who famously wrote,  “Every time I read “Pride and Prejudice” I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” 

Finally, just 75 pages from the end, I moved on. We all know how it’s going to end. Do we really have to drag things out?

Not this time.

I’ve only one other thing I want to mention about Jane Austen’s books in this post and that is how disturbing it’s been to see how much of her characters lives are paid for by the slave trade.

While there was not much mention of it in Emma,  it was openly discussed in Mansfield Park so much so that it has begun to color my reading of her in general. The incomes her characters seek through marriage, the large family homes and estates they enjoy, their positions in the world as people of class and leisure, are paid for by investments in plantations worked by slave labor.  Several of the men in Mansfield Park leave the narrative due to business across the Atlantic. There are jokes about having to enter the slave trade due to low levels of income in Emma. 

I’ve been surprised by how often it comes up and by how glibly it’s dealt with, brushed aside, so the story can get back to the more typical Jane Austen plot.

I’ve heard more than one historian suggest that it was slavery which made freedom possible.  From the ancient Greeks to the American colonies it was the work of a slave class which gave the upper classes the luxury of time free of labor needed to come up with ideas and ideals of freedom.

Reading Jane Austen this time around has brought home to degree to which slavery made her world, or maybe just her character’s world, possible.  Without all that money coming to England from sugar plantations, could any of them have devoted so much of their lives to such trivial matters?

Finally, there is a brief scene in Emma where the title character describes the unmarried life she longs to live.  One where she will be free to read, to write letters and to perfect her drawing skills. Reading this I had to admit that I am, in part at least, a Jane Austen heroine because that certainly sounds like a nearly perfect life to me most of the time.

I’m not giving up on the Jane Austen Read All-a-long, as I mentioned above.  Persuasion is in my TBR stack, set for post Thanksgiving holidays, and Northanger Abbey awaits the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to a growing pile of library books and a heave dose of noir detective stories.  Quite the opposite of Jane Austen, to be honest.

Sort of like a sorbet between courses, I guess.

I’ve you’ve been reading along or just have a review of Emma on your blog somewhere, please feel free to leave a link in a comment. I’ll be happy to add it to this post.  And by no means to I mean to discourage anyone from joining in for Persuasion this month.

It’s terrific.

16 thoughts on “Jane Austen Read All-a-long Book 4: Emma

  1. I thought that the book for November is Northanger Abbey, and that is what I am reading now. It has the same problems as Emma with all the tedious worrying about carriages, etc. In Northanger Abbey there are different worries but they do go on forever. I am hanging in there, though, and it is shorter.

    I liked Emma a lot. It was really slow getting to some point I cared about, but I did enjoy it. And posted on it. I will see if WordPress will let me leave a link in a comment, generally it just eats the link.

    1. I’ve been hearing about how much fun Northanger Abbey is so I’m saving it for the holidays. Next month’s Jane Austen Read All-a-long post will just have to feature two books, I guess. 🙂

      1. However you handle it is fine. I did finish Northanger Abbey, and it was fun. I may even fit Persuasion into November, although I doubt I can write my thoughts about both of them this month. Although I do have Thanksgiving holidays to look forward to (off from work).

  2. Oh dear, all Austened out. It is difficult thinking about that – but it’s also fascinating to examine one’s reactions to re-reading books – would you have thought about the slave trade the first time you read her? I’m hoping my Iris Murdoch readalong is going to bring out a lot of interesting points on that. And I’m reading one of hers a month for TWENTY-SIX months. Lucky I’ve done it before and know it’s OK! Northanger Abbey is perfect for between Christmas and New Year, by the way!

    1. I would never try this with Iris, too many books. :-). You are right that each reread brings your focus to something new. Slavery has been a very big topic in the news in the U.S. lately, so that’s one reason why I’m noticing it in places where I didn’t notice it before.

      1. That’s the great thing about Iris – so many lovelies! I would love to have you along for a book or two if you fancy it though, no obligation to read them all!

    1. The slavery reference is a very quick joke about being so without income we’ll have to enter the slave trade. The issue has been in the news so much lately, here in the U.S. that I’m hyper-aware of it thesedays. The topic was much more prevalent in Mansfield Park.

  3. I was interested in your take on what’s missing, because I followed rereading Pride and Prejudice with Longbourn by Jo Baker, a thoughtful, well-written retake on P&P which looks at events from the servants’ point of view. I’ll never read an account of a ball again without remembering the servants’ work to get the girls ready or the coachman waiting outside with his horses in the cold while the Bennetts are dancing inside. Ms Baker works in the realities of the war against Napoleon and a bit about those West Indies plantations as part of the story. I’ve got about 50 pages to go but would recommend her perspective as a potential antidote…

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Even the poorest Austen heroines have servants in their home. You can find books from the time that describe this life, George Moore’s book Ester Waters is a good one, but many of them have not stayed in print.

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