Welcome to Week 1 of the Emma read-along! You can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post.
Today we're going to discuss chapters 1-14 (Volume I). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emma read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
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Emma Volume I: Chapters 1-14
Discussion Format: One favorite quote, some general impressions, and four questions for each week's reading.
"Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a young lady to raise her expectations too high." ~ Mr. Knightley
It's too bad Jane Austen has another book with "pride" in the title. Because I'm thinking this book might be deserving of such a title! We could call it Pride and Power or Pride and Performance. Emma does put on quite a show, doesn't she? ;)
The thing is, as much as Emma gets on my nerves now and then, I can't completely hate her character. For one thing, she displays a genuine love and protectiveness over her family (her father and sister), which we especially see during her sister's visit, when Mr. John Knightley puts Emma on edge.
She also displays rare moments of authenticity and vulnerability.
After a visit to "a poor sick family"...
These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear!—I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?
(She displays real compassion to this family, we're told, and she's affected by the visit. But she also acknowledges how easy it is to move on and lose sight of the misfortune of others.)
And during her argument with Mr. Knightley about Harriet Smith and Robert Martin...
I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and choose. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you.
(This is in response to Mr. Knightley saying, "Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do." Perhaps I'm reading too much into Emma's reply, but I sense almost a bitterness here. She knows that Harriet has a "real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself," which she feels is something men truly desire. And I think Emma is self-aware enough to realize that her character in this regard is very different than Harriet's. In fact, she even jokingly tells her little niece in Mr. Knightley's hearing, "Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited" [emphasis mine]. I just wonder if she feels that she isn't entirely what men desire...if perhaps there's a self-consciousness and fear beneath all the logical reasons she gives for not being married.)
Emma is smart, funny, loving, and very much human, and so I like her character for these reasons. But I feel like I have a lot to learn from the very-much-human side of her that displays a LOT of pride and vanity.
A farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.
How can Emma imagine she has any thing to learn herself, while Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority?
I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted [to marry]... I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better.
I know there is plenty more in the story to talk about (and I'm curious to hear what stood out most to you!), but since I feel like humility is a running theme in my life (as something I need to continually learn and grow in)—it's even in my blog title :) —I wanted to take a moment to address Emma's pride.
How easy it is to let pride creep into our relationships. To feel like it's all about us and our accomplishments and the things we feel we "deserve." Granted, there is the other extreme that always gives without being restored and refuses to stand up when things are wrong. But I think I find it easier, myself, to fall into the prideful spectrum. I think this line from the first chapter is something I can relate to...
The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.
All that to say, I see Emma's tale as a bit of a cautionary one, and I'm sure there's a lot still to learn from her story!
Feel free to answer one, two, three, or all four of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!
1. What are your first impressions of Mr. Knightley and his relationship with Emma? Do his words about her and his attitude toward her suggest genuine care or a sense of superiority?
2. Mr. Knightley tells Emma, "You have been no friend to Harriet Smith" (ch. 8). To what degree do you agree or disagree with this statement based on Emma's thoughts and actions?
3. Who is your favorite secondary character so far? (Someone besides Emma or Mr. Knightley.) What do you admire or find interesting about that character?
4. Which Woodhouse do you most closely match: Emma, her sister (Isabella), or her father?
Join us next Sunday for our second discussion!
(Vol. I: Ch. 14-18 and Vol. II: Ch. 1-10)