The novel's title, Emma, declares directly the subject of the story: the "handsome, clever, and rich" Emma Woodhouse. Emma is the second of two daughters of an simple, elderly widower. She is a young woman of great importance in her social circle, and is very witty, and the problem is... she knows it! She enjoys arranging other people's lives, especially in the area of matrimony. The story, set in the early 1800's during the "Regency" era, opens with the marriage of Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, a match which Emma prides herself on having arranged herself. Encouraged by this "success", she takes on match-making for other people around her. But whether it is with the sweet, simple, artless Harriet Smith; the handsome and engaging vicar, Mr. Elton; or her former governess' charming stepson, Frank Churchill, her plans all seem to go ridiculously wrong, and her efforts to match up others cause her to nearly mistakeand loseher own perfect match in an unlikely, longtime friend.
Though not necessarily considered a Christian book, Emma presents values and lessons very applicable to the Christian life. It is exciting to see throughout the story, as Emma's plans go wrong, that she realizes that she is not as good and clever as she thought, and that she has very much to learn herself, after having thought and acted for so long like she had "nothing to learn", as Mr. Knightly says. When she insults Miss Bates at the picnic on Box Hill, her eyes are opened to the difference between charity and true kindness. I also appreciate her regret towards the end when she realizes she actually has harmed Harriet by trying to make her self-sufficient and socially superior like herself. Emma learns the importance of humility and true love (love towards others as well as between a man and a woman). Though the book doesn't point to Jesus Christ as our example, or refer the reader to rely on the Holy Spirit for help to do right, we can draw useful lessons from Emma and willingly turn to Christ for His help to apply them.
I had watched two movie adaptions of Emma before reading the book, and though I enjoyed them, I didn't like the character of Emma very much at all. However, reading the book definitely endeared me better to the characters, deepened my understanding of several of the events, and, overall, supplied me with a better opinion and enjoyment for book the story itself, as well as Jane Austen's writing style.
Austen does write with delightful color and taste. True, in some parts, a long conversation with the talkative Miss Bates or the self-satisfied philodox Mrs. Elton may get a little wearisome, but otherwise it is very entertaining and picturesque. Often a side-comment, from herself, or from one of her characters, sets me giggling. She also builds the story very well, creating anticipation in the reader to find out what happens next. Many unexpected twists and turns, colorful characters, grand surprises, and meaningful conversations make it a delightful story not to be forgotten.
Note: The first picture in this post is from the Mirimax adaption of Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly. The second picture is from the A&E version of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsdale as Emma and Samantha Morton as Harriet Smith. Both are excellent adaptions (I prefer the A&E one personally), and I recommend both, but I do suggest your reading the book first to get a fuller understanding of the story and the characters, and simply for the enjoyment of a good winter's read. If you are not a reader, however, you may just want to watch the movies. ;-)