If you ask any woman who reads much, particularly who reads Austen much, she will most likely tell you she loves Elizabeth Bennett. There is nothing new about that–we love and her and, more importantly, we all tend to think we are her. And who wouldn’t want to be like Lizzie? She is intelligent, witty, spirited, lively, fun, and wants to marry for love, something she manages to do while keeping her values and not sacrificing who she is. I won’t pretend I don’t like to think of myself as akin to her.
But there’s a glitch.
It’s just not true.
If I’m being honest, I am not a Lizzie. I’m not even an Elinor or a Fanny. In truth I (and I suspect other women) am an Emma.
Emma Woodhouse is by far the least likable of Austen’s ladies. She’s spoiled, meddling, selfish, neglectful, callous, and arrogant. Granted I am not ridiculously wealthy, as Emma is, but many of the other descriptions fit the bill.
I’m so coddled and spoiled by my friends and family that they actually somehow make it their fault when they fail to remember one of my short comings. For example, once I learn a way to drive some place, I cannot learn a different route. My mind does not work that way. I also don’t know directions or street names in the city I’ve lived in for 20 some years. However, when I get lost or go to the wrong place, people assume it is their fault for forgetting that I am a woman with a graduate education who doesn’t know the name of the street I live on.
Like Emma, I sometimes let my wit or lack of censor go too far, hurting people in the process.
I’m arrogant about my children and my academic prowess.
And I think we’re all a little meddling–what is Facebook if not an interest in meddling in affairs that do not concern us?
But here’s the good news for all us Emmas– We are not completely useless. We have spirit, we are loved, and we love, even if at times we are silly and frivolous. We have our Mrs. Westons who make us laugh, call us on our nonsense, and show us in their reflections of us the better selves we could be. And if we are truly blessed (as I am), we have our Mr. Knightlys who laugh with us and at us, fight with us, challenge us, demand our best, accept our worst, and love us in spite of (and sometimes because of) all our faults.
So tell me readers, which Austen girl are you?