A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jane Austen's beloved 19th century novel Emma endures over time because, despite some dated manners and ideas, its romantic story and charming characters remain endlessly entertaining. Subtleties of language and character make Emma most accessible to teens and up, but while younger readers may miss some nuances, there's no cause for parental concern on any other level. Characters drink wine moderately in several social situations, and a couple of women have a brief encounter with thieves ("gypsies"), but the real suspense here is all about romantic love. Emma has inspired adaptations for the big and small screen, including a couple of BBC-TV versions, a very good 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and the hilarious teen favorite Clueless.
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What's the story?
Jane Austen's classic novel EMMA begins with the marriage of the title character's former governess, Miss Taylor, to Mr. Weston. Readers learn that Emma's mother passed away long ago and her only sibling, a sister, is married and living in London. Emma and her nervous father are sad to lose Miss Taylor's constant presence in their household, but Emma congratulates herself on her own matchmaking skill, as she apparently encouraged the Westons' pairing. In need of a new project, Emma befriends Harriet Smith, a young woman of unknown parentage supported by Emma's friends and neighbors. Determined to match her with an upper-class husband, Emma begins to manipulate relations between Harriet and the local vicar, Mr. Elton. Meanwhile, two newcomers arrive in town: the beautiful and frustratingly private Jane Fairfax, and Mr. Weston's high-spirited son, Frank Churchill, who seems to be interested in Emma. Though her trusted friend John Knightley warns her that she overestimates her talents as a matchmaker, Emma forges ahead. The comic and unfortunate misunderstandings that result help to reveal, however clumsily, characters' true feelings for one another.
Is it any good?
Funny and highly entertaining, Emma is full of romance, plot twists, and comic confusion. With relations among young people in this book as misguided and snarky as those of high school kids in any era, Emma not only has timeless appeal, it was a perfect foundation for the movie Clueless, on which it was loosely based.
Austen's brilliant wit and deep empathy resulted in some of the world's most enjoyable books, and Emma is one of her most memorable characters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Jane Austen's novels remain so popular. Have you read any of her other great works, such as Pride and Prejudice? What themes come up in her novels? Why do people still care about them?
If you've seen Clueless, match up the characters in Emma with their counterparts in the movie. In what ways are the Clueless characters altered for a modern audience?
Why does Emma resent Jane Fairfax? Why does she find it easier to befriend Harriet?
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