Some of my friends and I endeavored to provide some of our own, modern opinions of Emma to accompany the opinions Austen gathered back in the day. Most of these were collected in the late 1990s, but you are welcome to add your own opinion to this compendium. Please get in touch with me to add your sentiments.
Our Modern Opinions of Emma
From Steve Harvey:
I just hours ago finished reading the book, which I found thoroughly delightful, albeit somewhat of a departure from my usual reading tastes. Most of the 'literature' I read is fairly contemporary - anything from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Henry Miller and Norman Mailer. It was actually a small book called ABC of Reading, by the poet Ezra Pound, that led me to Jane Austen. The book is a general overview of the evolution of writing throughout history, and how to approach it critically. Since Pound was a talented translator of numerous ancient languages, much of the book focuses on the ancient Greek epics and so forth, and he generally has a low opinion of the English language in the grand scheme of things -- in terms of the English novel, the only two writers he has to recommend are Henry James and Jane Austen.
So, my curiousity raised, I picked up Emma and found it a much livelier, more absorbing read than I had been expecting. It was neither a dry, stifled period piece nor trite, romantic fluff. Well, it is romantic fluff to a certain extent, but at the same time it parodies those same conventions, and provides some very astute insights into human behavior at the same time. It is this, I think, that impressed me most about Emma - the characters are all very believable and three dimensional, and each of them possessed the capacity to endear as well as annoy. Even characters such as Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates, who start out as one-trick ponies, so to speak, become genuinely interesting characters by the end of the book.
I think it is unfortunate that Jane Austen is regarded as "chick lit," as there really is something for most anyone in Emma. There were a number of times when reading where I remarked to myself "Ooh! Valuable inside information as to how womens' minds work!"
The story's interests are as timeless as the perpetual dance between man and woman, but its sensibilities stand in contrast to those of today. in a world that too often turns adversarial when serious subjects are raised, it's truly refreshing to see a heroine that ultimately finds the source of most of her problems in the mirror. in emma we find characters that are more than convincing - they come to life through the subtle insights we gain into their natures. and yet the story is eminently introspective in its tone, so that we find the deepest insights revealed in Emma herself.
I think that Emma is so universally liked because of the believability of the characters, and how many people - including myself! - find themselves very much drawn to Emma because of how they relate to her. The reader can easily picture the characters in their minds as Jane Austen describes them. As many people have said about Emma, the themes of the novel are as true today as they were nearly 200 years ago - love, marriage, money, class... I wondered about the class thing, but when I thought about it, there certainly IS a very big 'class/status' thing still happening in the world!!!
Everything that happens in Emma - TO Emma - is believable, in that it is easy to picture this happening to yourself, or anyone. Anyone can easily misinterpret people's feelings, anyone is capable of completely ignoring the pleas of their own heart as a unconcscious sacrifice to the happiness and love of other people.
And besides, who CAN'T love the fact that, because the characters are so believable, there could be a 'Mr Knightley' out there somewhere?!?!?!? ;-D Then again, as they say...
"Not one in a hundred men have 'gentleman' so plainly written across them as Mr Knightley!" :)
Also, Emma is not just the simple story it seems like on the surface. There are many levels besides the one of the main character gaining self knowledge. There's class structure, the woman in society in that period of history, and a psychological dimension. I didn't just read the book and put it aside. I would gain different insights during the next several weeks, say while I was shopping or driving in the car. I think the mark of a great book is that it stays with you and causes you to keep evaluating.
From lizzie k.:
Emma is so good because it is funny and sad and fantasy-like and realistic all rolled into one. Jane Austen did a suprisingly good job with this novel.
I would agree with all of the above regarding the timelessness of Emma. The things being explored here, even though part of another century, are still near and dear to our hearts. Just as Casablanca will forever remain a classic example of self-sacrifice, even though World War II is long past, Emma will always be held up as a humorous and instructive example of human foibles.
And yes, as someone posted earlier, the thought that there might be a real-life Mr. Knightley out there gives one hope to go on, whether already married or not! As Kali says, why always the Eltons and Churchills, and never the Knightleys? ;-)
I was dubious at first; the thought of reading a boring Jane Austen novel! But I had no choice - it was for the H.S.C. (I'm Australian!) To tell you the truth, though, it really grew on me! Jane Austen said she wrote Emma as a character she thought no one would really like - well, its hard not to like her. She's snobby, she's ignorant, she's naive, and she leads Harriet astray to no end. If Mr. Knightley wasn't there to counteract her nature, and criticise her once in a while, she might have been insufferable. But she can admit she's wrong, in the end, and that's one of her redeeming factors. Plus the way she makes such a fool out of herself with Frank Churchill is a scream! I must say, he's one of my favourite characters, because I have friends just like him!
So, I suppose I like Emma because it is such a great rant on English Regency society, its ideosyncracies, and Emma! One can't help feeling that marriage for her is a bit of a let down, though. She should have stuck to her guns, and kept Mr. Knightley on the side!
We love Emma because it shows us ourselves. It delights in the hidden motivations that drive us, blind, us, and make us who we are. It shows us people struggling to grow, to become more than they have been. It shows us a talented, young, imperfect woman trying to come to terms with a world less ready to bend to her will than she had hoped, but which ultimately doesn't let her down. It reveals polite deceptions, grave deceptions, self-deceptions, and it invites us to ask big questions without flinching from the answers, because if we want to grow we won't flinch from them. One of those big questions is what makes up "the best blessings of existence"--and the reason I love Emma is because I find in it an answer that I can live with and even live by--the best blessings of existence are to be found in relationship, in community, in having and maintaining what Mr. Knightley calls "an English delicacy towards the feelings of other people".
I agree. We love Emma, because we are in many ways Emma, blundering our way through life and realizing that we aren't so smart after all. I also love Emma because its part wish-fulfillment. Emma is lucky - she has Mr. Knightley. Everything is resolved in the perfect happiness of the union. He loves her faults and all. He is always there to love, guide and protect her. It's a great love story and growing up story.
Imagine for a moment if Edith Wharton were writing Emma. Emma would probably become Georgie Rivers, or old and alone like Miss Testvalley.
From Kali (Me, duh):
Though I love it in many ways, the purest sparkle of the story lies in the fact that the novel is a brilliant practical joke. It's played on us as readers and on Emma herself - we assuming superior insight because we have the power of the narrator on our side, and she because...well, because she's ALWAYS right in situations social, moral, and intellectual in Highbury. ;-) In reality, however, we, and Emma, often follow the wrong clues and instincts. Red herrings abound, though the truth - in much quieter and simpler terms than Emma's elaborate readings of the false indicators - is plainly positioned amongst them. Mystery; finesse - how they pervert our understanding!
I think that Emma was designed - along with it's immediate predecessor, Mansfield Park, the novel with numerous red herring themes - to stick it to all of the Austenites who were so delighted with themselves at understanding and appreciating Pride and Prejudice. Most especially the Prince Regent, to whom Austen dedicated the novel, though she hated him for playing his wife, among other things. Though I may be reading too much into it, I think that the Churchill-Fairfax relationship might be in part a pointed barb directed toward the less-than-ideal relationship between the Prince and Princess of Wales (see her letter to Martha Lloyd from HC's page).
And yeah, who doesn't want to marry Mr. Knightley?
Emma is so likeable, so endearing, because she is so alive. While proud and condescending, she is everything I want to be; beautiful, charming, intelligent, rich, and Mrs. Knightley! And her situations, too, though they take place over 200 years ago, are much like any we would encounter today. Emma pines after an unattainable love (so she thinks), flirts, is "dumped," tries to control her friends, and suffers the company of a woman as full of herself as Emma, but without the impeccable manners. That's one reason Clueless did so well; Emma is timeless, perennial. There will always be Emmas in this world.
From Tanisha Keshava:
I think that I prefer Emma to all the other Jane Austen books except Pride & Prejudice, which I love just as well. Emma has this unique sense of carefree freedom and happiness. The charaters in the book are so very close to life. Also I feel that this theme of "hooking up" people is very real to most teenagers (I am 15). So I guess I understand what Emma thinks and feels throughout the novel. On the whole, this book is full of fun and blunders, and turns out to be a wonderful romance.