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Book Recommendation: Emma by Jane Austen

Speaking of Jane Austen, many people believe her works only pertain to love and marriage. However, they fail to see the full picture by holding this bias. Austen's works offer a much broader and more nuanced perspective. While romance is a central theme in her novels, it's not the sole focus. Austen's works delve into the social and cultural norms of her time, providing insightful commentary on various aspects of society. Emma, one of Jane Austen's most renowned works, is an excellent representation of Austen's discussion of social norms and self-growth.


Emma was published in 1815, and as an all-time classic, it captivates readers through its lively character and insightful plot. The story centers around Emma-our heroine, whose wealthy, blithe, and lives in a mansion in England countryside. One of Emma's favorite leisure activities is to be a matchmaker. Emma takes it upon herself to be a matchmaker for her friends. However, her matches often come along with humorous and unintended consequences. The book is a process of Emma revealing her own biases, imprudence, and imperfections, yet eventually coming to an epiphany and making amends. Although her intentions are good, her matches result in a series of misunderstandings and imperil her friendship. Ultimately, she realized her mistakes, made amends, and stabilized a healthy relationship.


Emma is a story of personal growth and self-discovery. As Emma realizes and navigates the complexities of love and relationship, she realizes her flaws and eventually achieves personal growth. She concerns herself with her best friend's romantic life but often engages in impulsive matchmaking. Following her errors, she often takes time for self-reflection but finds herself stuck in a repetitive cycle of making mistakes, reflecting on them, and then making more mistakes. Remarkably, even after one of her matchmaking attempts fails, she doesn't give up and continues to make new matches. Her journey towards self-awareness and humility is so genuine that it makes her a character readers can't help but root for. She remains uncertain about the number of mistakes she must make before progressing toward maturity. However, the book revolves around her journey, leading her toward a better version of herself.

Moreover, Emma is also a social critique that shatters societal expectations and gender-based restrictions towards women. "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her," writes Austen, in Chapter 1, page 1. Emma may have been a character conceived by Jane under the influence of a slight vanity. Jane had created the highly intelligent Elizabeth, the composed and reserved Elinor, the impractical Catherine, and the pitiable Fanny before Emma. These characters each had remarkable qualities as well as numerous shortcomings, but the most significant mutual limitation was their lack of wealth and social status. After Jane had passionately defended these women through her writing, she couldn't resist a small inner desire to create a female character who lacked nothing, could control her own destiny, and had the power to influence others. Thus, Emma Woodhouse, a woman of both talent and beauty, was born with a charming personality and ubiquitous adoration.


This character embodied the strengths of the four previous female characters Jane had fabricated: keenness, humor, independence, and beauty. Beyond these qualities, Emma possessed an unparalleled advantage—she had high social status in a society that values class differentiation.


I don't know if there was a novelist before Austin who wrote such a mostly positive female protagonist while openly depicting her selfishness, shallowness, pride, and self-importance. Reading about Emma's snobbery can sometimes be unbearable, but Austin conveyed that women do not have to be perfect through Emma. She made Emma so close to being perfect but overtly conveyed her flaws because she knew that no one is perfect, and she shattered the impracticable societal expectations of women. Society believed women should be well-educated, intelligent, and beautiful, yet they shouldn't be assertive. They needed to have noble origins but also be approachable. They had to have depth of thought but shouldn't express their ideas too prominently. Emma's presence precisely challenged the emphasis on the "perfect woman" in society then.


Emma is not perfect, yet she possesses admirable qualities such as kindness, optimism, and a genuine love for her family, her life, and herself. Austen's message is clear: women don't need to conform to rigid societal ideals of perfection to lead fulfilling lives and deserve love and happiness. Emma's story is a testament to the idea that authenticity and self-acceptance are key to finding genuine happiness and meaningful relationships, even if one doesn't fit the mold of societal expectations.



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