I think Emma has possibly maybe taken over as my favorite Austen story. The 1996 film adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow was my first exposure, and I enjoyed it, but then I saw the 2009 BBC mini-series version and I fell completely in love with it! Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller were truly perfection in it. And then with Emma Approved coming out this year, I decided my Austen read for the year needed to be Emma. And though as the longest of Austen’s works it did start to eventually wear on me and feel a little too long, overall it was still the most enjoyable experience I have had so far reading an Austen novel.
Emma is not the most likable character (though more likable than I think some people have made her out to be… mostly she’s just young and naive), and I don’t relate to her as well as Lizzie. I find all the interactions with her friends and family to be the most interesting out of any Austen story I’ve read, however, and there is just something so sweet about the Knightley and Emma romance. He has known her for her entire life and he knows her faults extremely well, and he’s not afraid to point them out to her. And yet, he loves her deeply. And for her the revelation that she loves him is, “Of course!” It makes sense.
I also love how many quirky characters are in the story, like Mr. Woodhouse, Miss Bates, and Harriet Smith. They are far from the air of perfection certain characters (the Eltons and Frank Churchill, namely) try to give off. Harriet is a nobody with very little in the way of social graces, but she is kind and loyal. Much can be the same as Miss Bates, though she is less charming and more chatty. Mr. Woodhouse is well-meaning and loves his daughter with great devotion, but is an extreme worrier and germaphobe who is basically afraid to live any life outside of his house. But we see just as many flaws in the characters that supposedly have it all together, including Emma. And I like that about the story.
If you enjoy the story from its various adaptations, I think you’ll enjoy the book. It might get a little tedious, and Austen’s writing is not the easiest to read in general, but I think it’s worth the journey.