So I re-read Emma for the third time alongside my soon to-be- cara sposo and I have to say, now that I'm no longer a naive adolescent girl myself I haSo I re-read Emma for the third time alongside my soon to-be- cara sposo and I have to say, now that I'm no longer a naive adolescent girl myself I have even more appreciation for the way Austen captures the follies of that particular epoch in one's development.
But this isn't a rapturous enough way to start--I'd always enjoyed the book, and admired its cleverness and wit, but this time I truly fell in love with it. It's as well-structured as Pride and Prejudice, with characters serving as symmetrical foils and doubles with each other, and it's a meditation on human folly, on our tendency to see others through the tinted glass out our own desires, proclivities and fears. Emma of course, is the worst example, guessing everything wrong down to her own heart's feelings, oblivious to everyone's real motives under the screen of the motives she would like them to have. But this tendency is true of every character, down to Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, who assumes everyone has the same taste for gruel and blazing fires in the summertime as he does. Even Mr. Knightley, who supposedly has perfect judgment and composure, chooses interesting moments to scold Emma--often related to his own masked feelings for her. In Austen's world we're all stumbling around in the blindfolds of our own perspective, our own human imperfection. There's an undertone of melancholy here, too, lurking in the corners of this comedie humaine. I actually burst into tears during a certain climactic scene in which someone is told she has borne something as no woman in England could--of course it was 2 a.m. and I had the flu, but the emotions were genuine.
I think it's a first-rate work of genius. Sometimes, dear readers, I'm inclined to say that there are two categories of fiction: 1-fiction 2-Austen. Jane Austen does everything your writing teachers and editors say don't do: she uses the passive voice, lots of linking verbs, adverbs, and general adjectives like "handsome" and "elegant" and "tasteful" and almost no physical or tangible descriptions of anyone or anything. And yet her world comes more alive than most contemporary writers who describe things like the full belly of her grief scraping across her soul. Not that there's anything wrong with imagery. It's just that Jane does it with such a light touch. Sigh....more
**spoiler alert** Hard to put a unique spin on such a classic book, so I'll just write some scattered observations. First of all, it's true that the b**spoiler alert** Hard to put a unique spin on such a classic book, so I'll just write some scattered observations. First of all, it's true that the book starts off slow. It's frustrating, because from the moment he appears Tom Joad is such an amazingly likeable hero that it's hard to stop following his story, as Steinbeck wants us to, to slow down and focus on the intermittent chapters that tell the broader dustbowl/migrant tale, as beautiful as the prose is. That having been said, it's so worth pushing on because the momentum builds up to a stunning end.
I read somewhere that TGOW with its two heroes is a perfect combination of two nineteenth century strains in American literature: the domestic feminine "Little Women" strain with Ma keeping the family together and showing a sort of womanly stalwart courage, and Tom being the Huck Finnish hero setting off to find freedom and fight the social order. Their alliance and love and understanding is an unexpectedly personal and moving part of this broad-sweeping book, and their ultimate separation all the more devastating.
As a huge fan of the Springsteen song "Ghost of Tom Joad" and a fan of literary history I knew all about Tom's climactic speech to his mom before he goes on the run, but when the moment finally came I didn't expect to burst into tears. But I did, because of severing of the beautiful relationship Steinbeck had drawn.
The last thing I'll add is that this book sorta suffers from the same whitewashing syndrome as The Great Gatsby. People say things like "Those Joads, they just kept going through all those hard times" just as they use Gatsby's green light as, like, a great thing that all Americans should strive for! No, no, no. Our best literature pierces the rotten and greedy American heart. This book is about tough Americans during tough times, yes, but really it is the best-written, most humanistic, and masterful piece of anti-capitalist venom/ Commie agitprop I've ever read. It's incredibly timely, too, so if you're like me and you weren't assigned this in high school now's the time to read it.