"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees
-Second reading: Apr 30, 2017-
After 9 years I thought it would be fun to reread Emma, and indeed my second reading did the book justice. I really must have been in a bad reading mood back then to only rate this 3 stars, because this time I read while chuckling at Austen's excellent comedy of manners, marveling at her skillful portrayal of social life in England's Regency era. In Emma Woodhouse's little country village of Highbury everybody knows everybody, but socializing is a delicate dance within a very limited circle in which each person's background must be considered — be it genteel and affluent, respectable but penniless, or newly rich but low-rank by birth. Emma has to deal with kind but sometimes tactless relatives, well-meaning but often annoying acquaintances, or offensive-mannered neighbors from which she would rather distance herself if it wouldn't be considered impolite.
Above all I appreciated the hilarity of Emma's misinterpretation of other people's inner motivations and romantic intentions, thinking herself very clever as to see right through their words and manners when most of the time she is completely mistaken. She describes herself as "an imaginist... on fire with speculation and foresight." Unlike other Austen heroines, she is blessed with the supreme luck of being a rich enough heiress on her own without having to seek a husband, thus making her spoiled, idle and vain. But I don't remember disliking her in my first reading, and not this time either. Ultimately she means well and tries her best to make up for her mistakes and become a better person. Several other characters meaningfully serve as mirrors for her: Frank Churchill is a more insensible version of herself, Mrs. Elton shows her what true snobbery means, while Jane Fairfax makes her see what enviable elegance and accomplishment should be.
Apart from one questionable aspect in the 16-year age gap between Emma and the hero, Mr. Knightley (he flat out says he might have already fallen in love with her since she was 13 and he was 29 — major side-eye there), I found the novel enjoyable, comical and well-written, thus raising the rating to 4 stars. Another thing that added to the fun was re-watching the 90s teen movie Clueless, a loose adaptation of the book, for comparison. Emma/Cher is clueless indeed.
-First reading: Feb 1, 2008-
A lesson I learned from this book is that before you presume to know other people's feelings and intentions you must first "understand, thoroughly understand" your own heart, which, in my opinion, is one of the hardest things to do in this world. Another, but no less important, lesson is: be careful when you're flirting.