Summary / Riassunto
Emma was published in 1816; the author, Jane Austen, wrote it in fifteen months. It is a brilliant comedy about love, or we should say it is about marriage. But with Jane Austen marriage is never a simple matter of social behaviour, it is much of an ordeal, since it is hard to find any character in her novels who succeeds in getting to marriage without facing a series of difficulties before. This is why Emma is referred to as “the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories and a matchless repository of English wit”, as the critic and writer Ronald Blythe points out.
The protagonist of the novel, Emma, is a young girl who is presented to the reader as a vital and witty and beautiful girl devoted to the follies of youth, since she “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her”. She lives with her father, old Mr. Woodhouse, a timid and anti-social man who hates all change, at Hartfield (let’s take note of the names, by-words that contain a piece of information about the soul of characters and places). Her favourite hobby is to ordeal matching and marriages between her friends. She has already succeeded in getting her governess, Miss Taylor, and Captain Weston married, and other marriage ordeals and love affairs – Harriet and Mr Elton, Jane Fairfax and her secret engagement with Mr. Frank Churchill, for example – are to follow.
From the very beginning, it is clear to the reader that Emma and Mr Knightley, the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband and an habitué of Emma’s house, are perfectly suited for each other, but Emma is only interested in other people’s marriage, not in her own, and her progression towards self-consciousness is also a progress towards independence from her selfish father and the dissatisfaction she hides behind her liveliness. So, Emma is also a story of self-deceit and self-discovery.
After a long series of misunderstandings, errors, intrigues coups de théâtre that discover the protagonists’ true feelings, the unconscious unity Emma and Mr Knightley have takes the right direction and the reader is finally given “the perfect happiness of the union”.
Must know / Da sapere
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