Emma is often criticised for being a boring novel. This criticism is, I suppose, valid – unlike Austen’s other novels, the story focuses more on each of the characters and their daily lives/unique personalities rather than trying to tell an exciting romance story. Personally, I like that. I feel as if I know all the characters that live in the tiny world of Highbury that Jane Austen expertly crafts. From Emma’s sensitive father to the flirtatious Frank Churchill, everyone in the community has a backstory, a life, and interacts with the other characters in such a natural way that the reader is pulled into the story even though it lacks any excitement and great dramas.
The title character, Emma, is witty and charming, which also helps keep the story interesting even if it is not fast paced. The way she interacts with the other characters in the novel is often amusing, if not funny, and she is a good lead character.
I also feel as if Emma’s characters are the most realistic portrayal of characters that Austen wrote. Unlike characters such as the overly naive Catherine in Northanger Abbey or the infuriating Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, the characters in Emma don’t have to be exaggerated or stereotypes to be effective. They have personalities similar to the people you meet everyday, which makes the text more relevant even today.
Most of the characters are also very likeable, which means that though the plot of Emma is not as exciting as other books, the character-driven story works. Although Emma faces criticism for it’s plot, or lack thereof, I don’t think it is as bad as it is made out to be. There is a small amount of conflict, such as when Frank Churchill flirts with Emma despite being engaged to someone she sees as a rival, or when Emma insults Miss Bates and loses Knightley’s respect. For me, this is enough. While other readers may prefer a fast paced story, I think Emma is a great book for showing off Jane Austen’s writing style, and the way she develops great characters. I find it enjoyable to read because of the way Austen pulls the reader into the community of Highbury and shows them what it is like for all the different, unique characters living there.
Personally, I did not enjoy Mansfield Park or Sense and Sensibility, so I would not compare them to Emma, as I found them tiring and not very enjoyable to read. I think the book it is most fair to compare Emma to is Pride and Prejudice. Like Emma, Pride and Prejudice mostly takes place in one community, (though the characters do travel to Darcy’s estate) and deals with heroines who are accomplished but different to other women their age finding love. However while I love Pride and Prejudice, and read it quicker than I finished Emma, Emma is such a pleasing novel to read that it takes the place of favourite. The characters pull in the reader in a way that Austen’s other books don’t do, and at the end the reader is left feeling happy and satisfied, like most of the characters are.