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Posts Tagged ‘The Annotated Emma by Jane Austen’

Note: The dress on the cover of this book is made with the machine-made net overlay that I described in an earlier post on this blog. Click here to read it.

Emma, Jane Austen’s longest novel, is the only one of her books named after her heroine. Yet, as Jane Austen herself put it, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” I rather agree with Miss Austen’s assessment of her own creation, for I have never quite liked the novel because of the main character. The Annotated Emma by Jane Austen, edited and annotated by David M. Shapard might well change my mind about this privileged young woman.

In the preface to The Annotated Emma, David M. Shapard addresses Emma’s unique place in the pantheon of Austen heroines – she’s independent, in charge of her household, and flawed. It is her bossy and ultimately clueless nature that drives the plot, which has very little action to speak of. The first half of the book is influenced by Emma’s behavior and choices as she moves towards growth and self-awareness, but the second half of the plot is taken over by secondary characters and a mystery.

There are no true villains in this rather gentle, bucolic tale. While Frank Churchill is unscrupulous, he is not vile, and Mrs. Elton merely represents an irritating exaggeration (and vulgar mirror) of Emma’s worst traits. Life in Highbury is placid. It revolves around its characters, and Jane Austen is at her comic best introducing their follies with humor. The book, with its inevitable happy ending, is not sappy, for it leaves the reader with the sense that Emma will never quite become as perfect on the inside as she is on the outside, and that her snobby ways remain intact. Sadly, with her marriage to Mr. Martin, Harriet Smith has removed herself from Emma’s social sphere, which was quite understood by both women and the men they married. One also gets the sense that, as her husband, Mr. Knightley will swiftly act as a brake on Emma’s machinations as the “grande dame” of the neighborhood should any of her impulses lead the object of her interest astray.

Dr. Shaphard’s annotated edition explains almost every detail and minutia in Emma that one can think of. Filled with black and white images (as a visual person, I loved these!), notations, citations, definitions, and explanations, this book is a must-have for Jane Austen fans. Readers who have never quite warmed up to Emma will rediscover her and all the denizens of Highbury in its pages. For example, as much as I like to look up information about the Regency era, I missed Mr. Woodhouse’s reference to the South End, which he regards an unhealthy place. In David Shaphard’s annotation the South End, now called the Southend-on-Sea, developed as a seaside resort in the 1790’s. Spurred by its proximity to London,  it never rivaled the leading resorts: “One reason was the mud found on its shore at low tides; which may have inspired the opinion of Mr. Woodhouse.”

Mrs. Elton is not only a comical foil, but she represents something more:

The figure of Mrs. Elton also corresponds to one seen frequently in the literature of the time, that of the vulgar parvenu. Many writers offered satirical depictions of newly rich merchants and their families, who aspired to rise into genteel society and to emulate the manners and ways of those above them. But, while full of self-assurance and a belief that they knew what was correct and fashionable, their manners, speech, and behavior continually betrayed their true ignorance.”

A black and white illustration of this painting @The Victoria and Albert Museum is included in this edition. Miss Mary Linwood holds a painting in her left hand and needlework wool in her lap. Both are symbols of a refined young lady's talents. Mary mastered the craft of needlework paintings and is known for her intricate and detailed works. Click here to read my post about her.

On first reading Emma, new readers are unaware that the book also offers a subplot in the form of a mystery. Upon close scrutiny a second time, these clues start to emerge, giving the reader an “Ah Ha! I should have seen that” moment. Throughout this edition, Dr. Shaphard offers his observations of these clues, preceding them with an unmistakable warning, {CAUTION: PLOT SPOILER} to ward off the newbie reader.

This new addition to the Jane Austen collection of annotated works is quite thick and filled with useful, well-researched information. Random House’s website describes its contents:

  • Explanations of historical context
  • Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
  • Definitions and clarifications
  • Literary comments and analysis
  • Maps of places in the novel
  • An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
  • Nearly 200 informative illustrations

My rating: 5 out of 5 Regency teacups

The maps are quite as informative as the clarifications and illustrations. I recommend this annotated edition to anyone who loves Jane Austen. I even recommend it to the student who publicly announced on Amazon that she “went into a coma” because she found Emma so BORING. My rating for The Annotated Emma by Jane Austen, Edited and Annoted by David M. Shapard is 5 out of 5 Regency tea cups. This book will definitely be a great edition on my shelves, along with Mr. Shapard’s other annotated editions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility.

On Sale: March 20, 2012
Pages: 928 | ISBN: 978-0-307-39077-6

Published by: Anchor

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