Vanity thy name is Emma

28 May

I know Pride and Prejudice is the one about… well… pride & prejudice, but hoo boy, does Emma have a fair dose of each herself. Between meddling in her friends’ love lives (with appropriately embarrassing consequences), being quite precise about social strata, and disliking Jane Fairfax largely because Jane is more accomplished and doesn’t even have the decency to be stuck-up about it, Emma has a major ego. This is of course, understandable given her level of nous relative to most of those around her, and her upbringing by a governess who became essentially an older-sister figure rather than one of authority*.

I find her to fit far more noticeably to the “flawed protagonist who has to come to terms with their own failings and ultimately becomes a better person” archetype than say, Ann Elliot (of Persuasion), whose mistake of being persuaded by sound advice from someone who ought to know is scarcely a mistake at all (Who can say what might have been? If she hadn’t turned down Wentworth, he might not have had the motivation to achieve so much in the navy). Elizabeth Bennett is supposedly the prideful/prejudiced one, but she comes across as relatively open-minded. Elizabeth is similarly the superior of much of her family, but – crucially – not all of them, which seems to give her a better sense of perspective. Her bias against Darcy is quite understandable given how aloof and anti-social he comes across on first meeting (in that sense, P&P is more about not weighting first impressions too strongly).

But maybe this is my own biases showing. I’m far more likely to judge someone on a bad first impression, or be persuaded against my preference by sensible-sounding advice, than I am to meddle in other people’s’ romantic pursuits; hence, I see it as a more significant flaw (excuse me… I seem to have something in my eye… I think it’s a log…).

Fortunately, just when it seems that Emma will prove to be the most annoying character in the book (because there’s always at least one Austen character that you want to throw the book at), along comes Mrs. Elton. If you know the book, no more need be said. If you haven’t (yet) encountered her, you have another great love-to-hate character to look forward to. In comparison, someone like Miss Bates comes across far more comically and less irritating (though requiring a spot of breath for her page-and-a-half monologues).

* Note that I am not saying older siblings cannot be figures of authority, especially given a large age gap and the absence of a parent/guardian. In cases such as this, however, where the two can interact on fairly level terms, it is difficult to maintain a sense of authority.

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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Emma


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