I think Emma is the only Austen novel with far too many eligible men.
Perhaps, it is the over-saturation of testerone that causes me some discomfort; some annoyance with the whole novel. I admit Emma is not my favorite Austen novel. Despite being heralded by scholars as Austen’s best work, I find Emma and her matchmaking tedious at times, but I think my general issues with the novel stem from Emma and Harriet’s marriage obsession fantasy world. But in all fairness, every Austen novel lives in a world of marriage proposals, intrigue, and the desperate need to marry well.
But Emma is different.
Living in her world, she encounters Mr. Knightley, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Elton, as potential suitors–all with money, all with respectable claims to her heart. Could one but imagine if we transported Mrs. Bennet into this world? She would have a heart attack from all of the eligible young man roaming about Emma’s social circle. Yet, Emma touts her desire to remain single, to live forever in the heart of her father (Mrs. Bennet would have knocked some sense into Emma if that odious woman could have lived at Hartfield). While Emma chooses her spinisterhood, she misappropriates her social influence as a matchmaker. To make matters worse, she succeeds with Ms. Taylor and Mr. Weston, and success puffs up her pride in her new “hobby.”
Unlike other Austen women, Emma is clueless about how men behave.
Despite all of the men surrounding her, she and Harriet form plans and desires and attractions based upon their misinterpretations of the men. Now, I could forgive Emma if the men in this book were subtle, but the men simply act as men. There is no subtlety about any of their actions. Mr. Martin proposes to Harriet, but he isn’t romantically attached because he forgot a book suggestion. Mr. Elton sends a riddle to Emma, but Emma takes it for Harriet. Most letters sent to one person are not meant for another.
As I read Emma, I have a plethora of face palm moments.
Could she really be this naive? But then I think back to my college days. All of us girls huddled in the dorm room, talking about guys–yes, we were clueless. We over-analyzed their actions, misinterpreted nice gestures as affection, and made complete asses of ourselves when they didn’t return our affection. Maybe, I am no better than Emma. Fortunately, we both wised up and stopped acting like naive little school girls.
What do you think of Emma? Too much naivety?
*Photo: Love Purity by Cillian Storm, obtained through Flickr.