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Monday, September 28, 2015

Engaging in the delights of Penguin Deluxe's Anniversary Edition of Emma

I have to say that as a Jane Austen fan, Emma Woodhouse has never been one of my favorite heroines. I am one of those people who Jane herself included in that infamous "no one but myself" remark about the likability of her most forthright leading ladies.

However, over time and some re-readings, I have grown to appreciate the inherent charms and the deep down merits of  Miss Woodhouse, who as Mrs. Weston so well puts it, "with all her faults, she is an excellent creature."

Speaking of re-reading, getting the chance to talk about Penguin Classics' Deluxe special 200th anniversary edition of Emma(arriving on September 29) was a real treat for me. Each time you read any classic book, a special nuance within the pages tends to catch your eye like it never did before and for me, the humor of the story is singing out strongly.

From Mr. Woodhouse's debates over the proper healthy way to do anything to the seemingly endless chatter of Miss Bates, the mirth of the novel is well known yet in certain instances, it shyly winks out at you. Emma's small manipulations in dealing politely with not only her father's quirks and her brother-in-law's impatience with those quirks(aided at times by Mr. Knightley) is an amusing side dish to the main fictional feast here.

 There's also a merriment of misunderstandings such as the dance of manners Emma undertakes in handling the confusing attentions of Mr. Elton, who she already has a mistaken notion about which, are a bounty of comedic arrangements that could readily supply any number of sitcoms and romcoms even in this day and age:

This Deluxe edition of Emma is well dressed in a stylish wraparound cover, with the cover illustrations provided by artist Dadu Shin. That alone is enticing but there are more treasures to unpack in this particular annotated volume here.

Editor Juliette Wells starts things off nicely with an introduction that discusses what went into bringing Emma forth into the world.

I learned quite a bit here-did you know that Emma is the only book of Austen's that was published in America during her lifetime? That was not to her financial benefit,alas, as international copyright laws were not yet dreamed of then.

Also, while it is well known that Jane Austen was persuaded into dedicating this particular novel to the Prince Regent(whose morals she did not approve of), that tribute didn't boost any of the sales of the book at all. Interesting to see that publishing in those days was just as tricky as it is now, in some respects.

From the critical reception Emma received to how Austen's daily life played a part in developing the book, Wells sets up a very reader friendly atmosphere for those new to the story and ardent admirers revisiting Highbury yet again  alike:

In keeping with the reader friendly arrangement of the book, Wells provides a series of contextual essays that talk about the various social norms and attitudes of the time period in order to make Emma more relatable to a modern audience.

Along with a look at manners and social class(which makes that debate between Emma and Mr. Knightley about Harriet's merits on the marriage market more than just idle speculation), she also showcases such everyday details as travel, social entertainment like card games and dancing and the all consuming element of the book, food.

Food plays an important part in Emma, from that thin gruel Mr. Woodhouse is insistent on to the availability of certain fruits at Donwell Abbey.  Even if you are familiar with some of these aspects of Regency life, Wells does provide a tasty mental meal that refreshes as well as informs:

 There's also a section of illustrations from various editions of Emma over the years, along with a list of recommended film adaptations and books to read, both fiction and non fiction, of which Mr. Knightley would approve of, I'm sure.

Some of the books I recognize as well as read, such as Joan Aiken's Jane Fairfax(a novel that tells Emma's secondary heroine's side of the story) to All Roads Lead to Austen, which follows an English professor's Austen themed journey through South America. There were also plenty of titles that looked promising that I'll probably add to my TBR in the near future.

While the list of film recommendations doesn't include my favorite adaptation of Emma(starring Kate Beckinsale), the delightful comedy Clueless, that I just re-watched recently with a group of friends online, is top on the list as well as the recent Emmy winning web series Emma Approved.  It's good to see how well a hallmark of literature such as this is still able to be in touch with each new generation that comes across it so successfully:

With the holidays coming around, the Penguin Classic Deluxe edition of Emma is certainly destined to be the ideal gift for any Austen fan but it's also a good place to start your love of all things Jane as well. Even for the Austen reader who has nearly everything, this book is a must-have addition to your home library.

My thanks to the good folks at Penguin Classics for giving me such a lovely opportunity to rediscover Emma and to editor Juliette Wells for showing us just how handsomely bound, rich in content and clever in wit that Jane Austen and her Miss Woodhouse can be:

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