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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

A Slow Read of Emma

Emma (Annotated Edition) - David M. Shapard, Jane Austen

I usually read fast. More difficult books do take me longer, but as a general rule, I can read pretty much anything in six to seven days. When I embarked on a reread of Emma, I decided, initially, to listen to the audiobook and read along with my annotated copy. I was going to do a chapter a night.


I did that for a while, and then I got sidetracked with the reading of the annotated copy because I was working on some hand stitching while I listened. I kept to my original plan, however, of reading around a chapter a night - generally no more than 30 minutes. With Christmas putting a spoke in the wheels a bit, it took me just shy of two months to listen to this book. The audiobook was 16 hours 38 minutes long, and narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who has done a lot of classics. I thought she did a thoroughly serviceable job with the narration.


I've read Emma before. Listening to the book was - as it often is - an entirely different experience, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. The slow read, as well, changed completely my perspective on several of the characters, most notably, Jane Fairfax. I've always been ambivalent about Jane, and with this slow read I've really come around. I wish we'd gotten more Jane. She is the true heroine of this book, I think, although it is told from the perspective of Emma.

I also, even, came around to the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax pairing. She is too good for him, but I'm convinced at this point that he knows it and that his knowing it will make him a better man. He's not quite so shallow as I believed. Only getting Frank Churchill from the flawed and superficial perspective of Emma, I wasn't ever really able to understand how the engagement to Jane Fairfax came about. I filed him in my mind under Willoughby and Wickham, which isn't a fair assessment. He is weak, but not inconstant. He's no Darcy, Knightley or Wentworth, but he's not a terrible man, either. Callow youth with potential is pretty much where I found myself with respect to his character at the end. 

Mrs. Elton remains screamingly hilarious, and the narrator did a terrific job with her character. She is an example of the negatives that exist in an immobile society where rank is established by birth and/or marriage, and not merit, delicacy of mind, or behavior, and she overestimates her positive qualities so consistently that she reaches the level of Lady Catherine in terms of caricatured self-satisfaction (with even less reason, since she's married to "Mr. E" and is not titled). Her constant blathering about "Maplegrove" is worthy of dramatic eyerolls - very similar to Mr. Collins with his "Rosings Park" nonsense. 


Emma's character flaws became much more apparent to me through the slow process of listening to the book, but they also became more forgivable, and her growth in insight was natural and commendable.  

I love this book - not quite so much as Pride and Prejudice, but it is second in my affection. I think I could read Jane Austen for the rest of my life and it would never grow tired.


Anyway, this was such a successful process that I decided to choose another classic to "slow read." I've been meaning to read Bleak House forever, so that is the one I've picked, to begin February 1. That audiobook is looong - between 34 & 38 hours - so I expect it will take me at least two months. If anyone is interested in a listen-along, let me know.


If anyone has any experience with any of the versions available on audible, let me know if you liked/disliked. The narrators available are: Simon Vance, Hugh Dickson, Peter Batchelor, Peter Killavey, Maurice Turner, and a version with two narrators (one male/one female) Sean Barrett and Theresa Gallagher. I had sort of hoped that there would be a narration by Gillian Anderson, since she played Lady Dedlock in the BBC adaptation, but no such luck. My plan is to sample all of them, and then choose the one that is the most promising.