“Happy those, who can remain at Highbury.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It has become my tradition these last three years to read an annotated edition of a Jane Austen work during the holiday break. After thoroughly enjoying the experience with Harvard University Press’s Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition in 2013, I decided to give another Harvard University Press edition a try. And this year my choice must definitely be Emma, after all we did just celebrate its bicentennial!
My rating of 4 stars is for the annotations and comments provided by Bharat Tandon, for Jane Austen’s novel alone my rating would be 5+ stars. I think Emma is a brilliant masterpiece and, depending on my mood, often designate it as my most favorite Jane Austen novel.
Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading Bharat Tandon’s’ annotations:
- Bristol Means Something Very Significant: When Jane Austen says that Miss Hawkins was a daughter “of a Bristol – merchant, of course, he must be called” she is implying to her audience what she presumes they already know. That if you were working in Bristol at this time you were most assuredly involved with the slave trade. The dash she uses after Bristol and the inclusion of “of course, he must be called” confirms that she is hinting at something she cannot say outright. For me, this was a jaw-dropping disclosure! Never in all my previous readings of Emma did I make such a connection! Wow!
- Definitions, Etymology, and References: With this edition there was a lot of annotations devoted to Jane Austen’s word choice. The editor canvassed the definitions of the words she chose (and how they differ from our usage today), the history of word origins, and how some of her turns of phrase may be in reference to another work or author. Understanding the older meanings of words and phrases helped provide a stronger understanding of what Jane Austen was trying to convey. I also liked being “in” on some of the allusions and “inside jokes” she was imparting to her audience.
Compared to the other two annotated works I read, I felt this edition was a little sparse and light with the overall amount of notes and insight. There were so many pages completely free from annotations. So I’m afraid the new-insights and discoveries didn’t reach the extent for which I was hoping. In addition, I did feel that there seemed to be more emphasis placed on language and less on the overall themes and analysis. I am curious to see if I like David Shapard’s The Annotated Emma better.
For readers who are looking for an attractive edition of Emma to display and and peruse, this would be a great choice. The layout is elegant and all the images are stunning and appropriate to the text. This edition is also beneficial for readers who want to learn a little more about Jane Austen’s Emma but not spend much time reading a lot of scholarly notes and text. For readers already familiar with a lot of history and context of Jane Austen’s time, this edition may not be as illuminating and edifying as desired.
Since rereading any Jane Austen work (even without annotations) is like a new experience, and readers often make new discoveries on subsequent re-readings, I thought I’d share some of mine here:
- The Knightley Brothers Are Indeed Most Snarky!: (First heard this label applied in Emma Approved, and it fits well!) I never realized some of the sarcastic digs and instigating remarks both brothers make. They definitely aren’t afraid to speak their true mind!
- I Shall Always Love Emma: I first read Emma before I heard she was an unlikable character, and established no impression of dislike towards her myself. And even on this reading I still cannot summon any dislike towards her. I love Emma. I love that she is very flawed, that her flaws are real and understandable, and that she strives to improve.
- My Dad is Starting to Resemble Mr. Woodhouse: When visiting my parents (who live 25 minutes away) my dad always tries to talk me into spending the night and laments my driving home and all the “dangers.” He also protests when we travel: “I don’t know why you need to go the Dominican Republic. What is there for you to do? The beach? We’ve got beaches right here. Why can’t you just stay here?” I laughed out loud at the similarities!
Emma: An Annotated Edition is a beautiful and engaging edition that would suit a first-time reader as well as an ardent admirer. I definitely recommend this edition for readers, who like me, always long to be in Highbury!
~ Reviews of Past Annotated Editions ~