27. ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do. ”

With Emma, I have now read all of Jane Austen’s completed novels. When I learned about Austen in August, I decided the time was right to read a book I had been meaning to for quite some time. Austen never ceases to impress me as I find a particular aspect with each novel that separates it from the others. Trying to rank her novels has become an exercise in futility. Each time I read Pride and Prejudice, it immediately jumps to the top of the list. When I went back and reread Persuasion, I raved about the reasons why it was my favorite. Truthfully, each Austen tale brings something new to the table. I love Northanger Abbey for its humor and satire of Gothic literature. Persuasion takes the award for most mature with its theme of regret. Emma stands out among the other novels because it presents Austen at her most revolutionary in style with a strong heroine that is quite different from the others.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Emma Woodhouse is a dichotomy within herself. She is lovely yet quite snobbish. She is caring yet an incorrigible meddler in the love lives of her friends. Emma believes herself to be quite knowledgeable regarding the affairs of the heart yet suffers from horrible self-delusions. Despite her shortcomings, we cannot help but fall in love with dear Emma. The reason why she is in our affections is because Austen manages to carry us along throughout all of her romantic delusions. Also, Emma is quite charming and always has her heart in the right place. The book itself is written in what could arguably be considered Austen’s strongest narration as she manages to compose a completely third-person narrative but distorts the language in such a way that we are going right along with Emma’s delusional thinking.

Consider these two early scenes from the first volume. Our heroine has befriended a sweet and naive girl named Harriet Smith. Emma has taken Miss Smith on as her latest matchmaking project. Bolstered by the confidence of her previous successful pairing of her former governess to the wealthy Mr. Weston, Emma believes it her purpose to play matchmaker between Harriet and the wealthy Mr. Elton. When Harriet comes to Emma with the news that Mr. Martin, a successful gentleman farmer, has offered a proposal of marriage, our heroine quite carefully constructs her wording in order to persuade her gentle friend to reject it as she believes that Mr. Elton is a much better choice due to his high rank in society. Later, when confronted by her friend Mr. Knightley, Emma manages to convince us that Harriet’s refusal of marriage is the right choice. First time readers of Emma will find themselves believing in this delusional thinking creating a significant amount of surprise when the truth to a situation is revealed. This free indirect style Austen employs throughout Emma is a precursor to modernism and the stream of consciousness style of later writers such as Virginia Woolf. This is not a bad feat for an author criticized for merely penning silly romantic novels.

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.”

Another reason why I love the protagonist so much is that she stands apart from other Austen heroines. Emma claims no desire for marriage herself. Independently wealthy, she is quite content to live out her days as a spinster while taking care of her anxious hypochondriac father. Of course, Emma is already quite in love with someone but has not come to that realization. Instead she focuses her energy on others around her. Although all her heroines share certain traits with their creator, Emma without a doubt is the best representation of the voice of the author herself. One would think that a more appropriate choice of heroine in this case would be either Harriet or Jane Fairfax. However by presenting the story through the unique eyes of Emma Woodhouse adds another layer to Emma that allows it to stand out. I love her rebelliousness against male-dominated society feeling that a woman doesn’t need to marry a man simply because the man says it should be this way. How about that for early feminist literature?

As with her other novels, Emma is filled with several memorable characters. Mr. Woodhouse is hilarious but also serves an important role as the resistance to change. How often do we become set in our ways and become afraid to take risks? Everyone has a “Miss Bates” in their lives who is quite chatty but in a good-natured and well-meaning way. In the second volume, we are introduced to one of Austen’s most memorable characters in Augusta Elton, new bride to rejected suitor Mr. Elton. Some of her social faux pas had me genuinely laughing out loud. Then we have Mr. Knightley, the one character who isn’t afraid to call Emma out on her judgments. All of the scenes between her and Mr. Knightley are handled with a smart dialogue that has become Austen’s trademark.

I love the moments when Emma begins to understand herself. During a scene when all of the characters are gathered together, Emma insults her friend Miss Bates. In her eyes, she is merely joking. She becomes quite devastated when she realizes how her “innocent” remarks truly hurt someone so close to her. How many times have we made an “innocent” comment only to learn that our words truly hold power over how someone feels. This is one of two powerful scenes where our heroine begins to scrutinize herself more closely. The next scene occurs a few pages later when Emma has her epiphany moment of who has taken possession of her heart:

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress: she touched-she admitted-she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with ____________, than with ____________? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow, that _____________ must marry no one but herself!

This is such a powerful scene. Sometimes all it takes is a few moments of reflection to understand yourself a little better!

Personally, I think there is a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in all of us. We think we know what our loved ones need. Sometimes we are a bit “clueless” (see what I did there) to the love that is right in front of us (I know I was). Maybe we miss little details. Emma serves as a cautionary tale to perhaps look a little closer.

Of course, everything works out well in the end. Personally, I have always enjoyed the predictable happy endings. We know that Jane will make everything alright in the end. I’m glad I waited to finish my original Austen run with Emma. It contains all of her usual ingredients but blends them together in a slightly different way providing a much richer experience. In addition to a contribution for Austen in August, this review will also cover my classic by a female author for the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge.

I cannot wait to visit (or revisit) another work by Jane Austen. Her insights into human behaviors are timeless.

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

 

SnapShorts: let sleeping gods lie

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The writing on the stone was issued as both a challenge and a reward.

Legend has it that the Greek God of Laughter had the ability to make anyone laugh, by words, touch, or even thought.

If anyone can release this deity from his earthly prison by making him laugh, He promised to accompany that person forever.

He will never let you feel grief but instead will allow you to experience perfect joy and merriment for the rest of your days.

Every year I would visit and whisper a joke through the crack in the stone.

Once I thought I heard a chuckle but surely that was just the wind.

In my dreams, He appears and encourages me to return with his gilded promises of perfect happiness.

But I think he might be some type of trickster instead.

He wants me to do pranks, and some of them are not very nice.

Maybe it would be bad if someone actually released Him?

 

 

 

 

Summer Book Haul Part One-Teach Me to Outgrow My Madness

As I sit here trying to shove new books onto my collapsing shelves, I realize it has been quite some time since I did a book haul update. I’m dividing my entire summer haul over two or possibly three entries. I contemplated no longer doing these types of blogs, but realized that the books I buy say just as much as the ones I read. This week’s installment is dedicated to all the short story collections I purchased over the summer.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro: I couldn’t resist getting this book of five interconnected stories from one of my all-time favorite writers. Seriously if you haven’t read Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, please do so immediately. Music is an important part of the author’s life and described as an “essential character” in this book. I’m quite curious to see how that works.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories by Karen Russell: I’m always on the lookout for intriguing sounding tales from unfamiliar writers. This collection contains stories featuring fantastic elements in the vein of some of my favorite writers like Kelly Link. My excitement is off the charts!

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson: Since reading  We Have Always Lived in the Castle     last year, I’ve been dying to read more Shirley Jackson. I love how she is able to write both spine-tingling horror as well as humorous slice-of-life fiction. Based on the cover blurb, this book puts together some of her best short fiction. This was worth buying just for the classic title story that was my favorite short story from high school.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang:  I’ve been wanting to read more quality science fiction, and there’s been a lot of buzz online about Ted Chiang. Hopefully, I can get this one soon.

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburo Oe: Instead of several short stories, this one is comprised of four novellas. Honestly, I knew nothing about this writer before purchasing this book. Once again, I was attracted to it from the descriptions on the back cover. Perhaps Murakami has a contender in my heart.

The Mother Garden by Robin Romm: I bought this while on vacation at a used thrift store. This looks like a fascinating collection of shorts dealing with themes of loss and grief. The title story alone sounds promising. It’s about someone who decides to create a literal garden of mothers to make up for the loss of her own.

My only problem now is deciding which one I should read! My hope is that I can acquire some ideas through these writers to strengthen my own creative powers. Next week, I will write part two of my summer book haul (with a birthday coming up, maybe my accumulations aren’t over). I’ve made the difficult and painful decision to instill a temporary book buying ban while I catch up.

Have you read or heard about any of these books? Please comment below as I would love to read your thoughts!

 

 

26. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This intriguing opening sentence starts one of the greatest science fiction novels ever created. For this review, there is no holding back the sheer joy I experienced from rereading one of my favorite books from one of my favorite writers. Some books you read and eventually forget, while others are written all over your mind and body. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel I fondly remember from my childhood. This is a novel of pure philosophy set in a bleak future where firemen burn books as reading is considered the severest crime. My childhood self could not get enough of this novel, and upon finishing I begged my mother to buy Something Wicked This Way Comes. After all these years, would Bradbury’s dystopian novel still hold traces of childlike magic for me?

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

There are some books that will forever remain in my collection. I love my copy of Fahrenheit 451 as it looks like a rescue from a fire. With its frayed cover and wrinkled pages, I value this book higher than some of the most expensive books on my shelves. Ray Bradbury was an important part of my childhood with his stories that were amazing and filled with childlike wonder. This is a writer who dreamed big with his eyes wide open, and that sense of curiosity comes across in every page of his novels and short stories. I typically include at least one quote in my reviews, and I found it quite challenging with Fahrenheit 451 as there is a beautiful quote on practically every page. This will definitely be a review with multiple quotes as I struggled to find just the right one.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn books. Reading is forbidden as literature is viewed as the source of all strife and unhappiness. All houses are fireproof, and stories of firemen who actually put out fires have been reduced as nothing more than ridiculous fantasies. The world is placed in a mindless state, and electronic media pervades every household. Three-dimensional television programs that allow its audience to participate are commonplace in this world, and Montag’s wife Mildred spends her hours immersed in media when she’s not popping sleeping pills. One night while walking home, Montag encounters a teenage girl named Clarisse. He doesn’t know what to make of her free-spirited behaviors and sense of curiosity. Her question on whether or not he’s happy gives Montag plenty to think about as it starts him down a path of contemplating his place in life. He begins to question his own happiness and soon begins hiding books inside his house.

I was so impressed with the world Bradbury created and the frightening similarities to our own world. Free thought is discouraged, owning books is a crime, and human beings have become dependent on technology feeding them what they want to hear. Everyone is lulled into a false state of comfort. Simple pleasures have been forgotten, such as walking barefoot on grass, climbing trees, or sitting on the porch talking to neighbors. In fact nobody talks to anyone else as shown by the fractured relationship Guy has with Mildred. This is a fast paced-world where cars drive so fast that billboards have to be miles and miles long just so people can read them! Murder has become routine as anyone who does not quite fit into this society’s mold is eradicated. The suicide rate is so high that physicians no longer get involved; instead they just send techs. After reading this book, I felt so sad thinking about how society has degenerated closer to this vision of the world. Kids have become zombies on their games and phones, and families don’t converse like they used to do. Bradbury recognized the dangerous path society was already heading down.

The pace of this book can at times be quite frantic. The wording often creates a very bizarre and dreamlike state to mirror the way this world works. I enjoy it, but I also realize it might not be for everyone. I’m sure at the time it was written that Bradbury’s little novel raised many questions. Will technology eventually replace free thought? Are we moving towards a society where knowledge is replaced by mindless entertainment?

Through keeping the story narrowed down to just a few characters, Bradbury managed to create an extremely claustrophobic feel that really highlights the bleak world these people inhabit. This is not what I would consider a character driven novel. Although the characters are interesting, there was definitely room for fleshing them out further. I found the character of Beatty the fire captain to be the most compelling. Considering his extensive knowledge of literature, there was definitely more to his story than what we are told. However, that’s part of the beauty in the writing. It is left to us the audience to draw connections rather than have them blatantly handed to us.

“That’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and WORTH the doing.”

Unlike most of today’s modern dystopian thrillers, this one doesn’t just end with everything getting happily resolved. The world on the final page is still just as bleak as it was from the opening line. Actually, I take that back. There’s hope, which is a fairly powerful word. I love how Bradbury took risks with the story that wouldn’t have worked in today’s dystopian literature. For example, we wouldn’t have been left wondering about the fate of Clarisse. If this book had been written by one of today’s writers, she most likely have been an integral part of the story throughout or ended up in the rebel camp. Sorry if I’ve spoiled anything for you. Trust me when I say it won’t affect your enjoyment of the book.

I’m counting Fahrenheit 451 as a classic with a number in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge. So did this novel still hold the same magic for me as it did when I was a child? Actually, it was even more magical for me now.

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Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

SnapShorts: be careful what you wish for

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The advertisement made claims like “the moment you take possession of this love charm, you will feel confidence like you wouldn’t believe” and “others will find you irresistible and discover unique qualities they hadn’t noticed before.”

She paid an extra $12.95 for the two-day delivery deal.

When it arrived on her doorstep, she immediately removed the pendant from its envelope and put it around her neck eager for the magic to transform her.

The boys will look at me the way they look at my sister, she thought.

As she started walking down the street, she noticed that everyone stopped in their tracks to watch her completely mesmerized by the most beautiful creature they had ever seen.

All the attention she started getting was flattering. Soon she was getting more calls than her sister from the boys at their school. The mailbox was stuffed with love letters and cards. She had all the confidence in the world. She wore the charm to bed every night.

Soon men were showing up in the middle of the night to see her. The police were called several times.

During a stroll with her boyfriend one night, he became violent. She refused to run away with him and he chased her. She escaped but not before ripping the love charm from around her neck and tossing it to the ground.

It still lies in the middle of those woods unclaimed but working its magic around those that happen to pass by.

A young man proposed to a woman he had only known for a few short days during a hike.

A college student uncertain of his future stepped over it and immediately went home to write a novel that made it to the bestseller list.

If you happen to be walking in these woods, you might feel a surge of confidence yourself. Be sure to hold on to that feeling for as long as you can.