February 12, 2009
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by Jane Austen

Perhaps she is not at the top of her game here, but still: Jane Austen. Delightful young women scheme to amuse themselves with eligible young men in the neighborhood, while laboring under the absurd constraints of 1816. In Emma, the constraints are even more ponderous than they are in the best Austen, and a sensible reader must foresee long before Emma Woodhouse just who must marry whom, and why. Austen’s uncharitability toward those who, through want of education or wealth, make occasional grammatical errors or fashion blunders always unsettles me. Not only does she not see the servants, she doesn’t see the farmers who rent from our family or the storekeepers they patronize. But the main difficulty here is that no one is ever in great trouble, and so no one can really be made terribly happy and the mild discomfiture of those who have been slightly unpleasant to us in the past cannot be completely satisfying.