Hi friends! I hope your Mondays are off to a great start! As you might already beware, the talented, award-winning author Karen Cox has a new book about to release and it is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma! I can’t tell you how excited I am about this – I love Emma, I love Mr. Knightley, and I love Karen Cox’s writing! Karen has prepared IMHO an amazingly insightful and astute post about Emma Woodhouse. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Emma Woodhouse: Jane Austen’s gift to you, the modern woman.
At first glance, it seems impossible that a 200-year-old character from Regency England could speak to me, a modern-day reader, but Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse is, in my opinion, a heroine for modern times.
A lot of readers aren’t too thrilled with Emma, and it’s easy to see why. It’s all about her (except it really isn’t—more on that later.) For heaven’s sake, even the novel itself is named after her! From the first phrase of the book, we are primed to envy her when we learn she is “handsome, clever, and rich.” She’s the kind of heroine that sparks a reader’s resentment—for what she has and for the blessings conferred on her by birth and good genes, through no effort of her own. In the little town of Highbury and on her estate, Hartfield, she is privileged with a capital P.
And then there’s her behavior during the novel. A gentleman’s daughter with a limited view of the world, she comes off as vain about her own intelligence and her dubious importance. She’s nosey. She’s a snob. She’s wrong-headed, self-deluding, and headstrong. No wonder Austen called her “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”
Well, gentle readers, I like her. I always have. And I think she speaks to modern women, probably more specifically than any of Austen’s other heroines.
Emma is the only one of Austen’s heroines who is independent, socially and financially. This puts her in a unique and enviable position for her time. Like most of today’s women, she can steer her own ship. She doesn’t have to depend on relatives or a husband for her necessities. But with that unique and enviable freedom comes a different kind of dilemma—namely the “Now what do I do?” question. How will she spend her days? In a Regency England setting, she’s spoiled for choices: painting, music, parties, gardening, fashion, reading. What will it be?
Modern young women (and by that I mean women in the first world born after World War II) are in an analogous position to Emma’s. They can be mistresses of themselves in a way that is sometimes taken for granted. The world is open to them, not completely perhaps, but in a way that’s unprecedented in human history. Maybe they already have some of what society tells them they should want: an education, a satisfying job, fun and stimulating hobbies, good health, a family. Now what? It’s the greatest question of a young woman’s life: how will I spend my days? What’s worth my time?
Watching Emma go through this dilemma gives a modern reader two things: self-awareness enough to even ponder those questions, and permission to flub up, at least at first. Finding one’s way in the world is a process, not a destination, and by watching Emma fall and get up again, and eventually finding happiness, she inspires us to do the same.
Let’s read that list of Emma’s not-so-stellar qualities again: nosey, snobby, wrong-headed, self-deluding, headstrong… Sound familiar? It does to me. At some time in my life, I have been each of these. I’m not proud of it—and neither is Emma. We readers watch her foibles cascade around her with the very real possibility of ruining her perfect world. Part of us is saying “Serves you right.” And then the genius of Austen steps in: Emma is truly contrite for the harm she has caused—for herself, granted, but she also becomes cognizant of what she has done to others. She sees her mistakes with uncomfortable, blinding clarity. And then, she picks herself up, faces the consequences, and moves on.
In some ways, it stinks that Emma is considered by many to be Austen’s literary masterpiece. Why not the lovely Pride and Prejudice with its sparkling Elizabeth Bennet (the most charming creature in all of literature, in my opinion), or Persuasion with its mature elegance and cohesive story arc? It’s just not fair!
Jane Austen changed fiction when she made Emma the unreliable storyteller of her tale, accompanied by the snarky, amused contributions of the omniscient narrator. As a novel, Emma seems on the surface to be a bit of a puff piece: page-long soliloquies by Miss Bates, pedantic descriptions of the comings and goings of Frank Churchill, George Knightley, and the Westons, and the social audacity of people like the Coles. But under all that fluff is a teeming underbelly of intrigue. Listen to Frank Churchill double-talk. Watch Miss Bates elucidate plot points buried in her rambles. See the societal changes Emma resists from the Coles, yet embraces in her overtures to Harriet Smith. What irony!
All that complexity is part and parcel of our modern world too. Events in our lives are rapid, and life seems continually in flux. Double meanings are everywhere, and it feels as though the world changes so fast it blindsides us. Emma Woodhouse’s life looks smooth on the surface, but it’s churning underneath, like ours. How does she handle it when it smacks her silly? With honesty, with action, and with courage.
Sometimes, I believe readers’ difficulties with Emma are driven by identifying a little too closely with her. We see her mistakes and cringe. Yes, we can imagine exactly how she’s going to feel when she realizes what she’s done. In that way, Austen’s genius almost backfires, because it’s uncomfortable to be confronted with any possible weaknesses in ourselves. Anyone who gets too close to those fissures in our integrity of self and makes us examine our own crises of conscience—even if that person happens to be the marvelous Miss Austen—will make us squirm. Admit it, when Emma steers Harriet away from Robert Martin, or lashes out at Miss Bates, you squirm, don’t you?
However, it’s a reader’s job to look beyond the faults to the real heroine inside. What I see in Emma Woodhouse is a fierce, almost warrior-like love for the people she calls her own: her father, her sister, her nieces and nephews, her friends. I watch her stumble time and again as I re-read, but now, instead of squirming, I just shake my head and smile at her, as if to say, “There she goes again.” Like me, Emma loses her way sometimes, but she also gives me hope that through self-awareness, steadfastly loving the people in my life, and cultivating the bravery to face my demons, I might also discover happiness in the most unlikely of places.
Emma did it, after all, and so can I.
I Could Write a Book
Available September 19th!
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich…”
Thus began Jane Austen’s classic, a light and lively tale set in an English village two hundred years ago. Yet every era has its share of Emmas: young women trying to find themselves in their own corners of the world.
I Could Write a Book is the story of a self-proclaimed modern woman: Emma Katherine Woodhouse, a 1970s co-ed whose life is pleasant, ordered, and predictable, if a bit confining.
Her friend George Knightley is a man of the world who’s come home to fulfill his destiny: run his father’s thriving law practice and oversee the sprawling Donwell Farms, his family legacy in Central Kentucky horse country.
Since childhood, George’s and Emma’s lives have meshed and separated time and again. But now they’re adults with grown-up challenges and obligations. As Emma orchestrates life in quaint Highbury, George becomes less amused with her antics and struggles with a growing attraction to the young woman she’s become.
Rich with humor, poignancy, and the camaraderie of life in a small, Southern town, I Could Write a Book is a coming of age romance with side helpings of self-discovery, friendship, and finding true love in the most unlikely places.
About the Author
Karen M. Cox is an award-winning author of novels accented with romance and history, including 1932, Find Wonder in All Things, and Undeceived. She also contributed a short story, “Northanger Revisited 2015”, to the anthology, Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer, and a story titled, “I, Darcy” to The Darcy Monologues. The Journey Home, an ebook novella companion piece to 1932, is now available.
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker—like Elizabeth Bennet.
Connect with Karen
Upcoming Blog Tour!
Come back here September 15th for my review of I Could Write A Book!
Laughing with Lizzie ~ September 6 ~ Launch Post & Giveaway
So little time… ~ September 7 ~ Book Excerpt & Giveaway
Book Lover in Florida ~ September 8 ~ Guest Post & Giveaway
Austenesque Reviews ~ September 15 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
My Love for Jane Austen ~ September 16 ~ Guest Post & Giveaway
Granny Loves to Read ~ September 17 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
My Jane Austen Book Club ~ September 18 ~ Guest Post & Giveaway
Just Jane 1813 ~ September 19 ~ Video Interview with Karen M Cox & Giveaway
Sophia’s Sofa Chat ~ September 21 ~ An Interview with Karen M Cox on Goodreads
Babblings of a Bookworm ~ September 22 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
Silver Petticoat Review ~ September 23 ~ Guest Post & Giveaway
From Pemberley to Milton ~ September 25 ~ Book Excerpt & Giveaway
Margie’s Must Reads ~ September 27 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
Obsessed with Mr Darcy ~ September 28 ~ Book Review
My Vices and Weaknesses ~ September 30 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
Diary of an Eccentric ~ October 2 ~ Book Review & Giveaway
More Agreeably Engaged ~ October 4 ~ Book Excerpt & Giveaway