I started this yesterday, but as you will see, it’s long and I ran out of time. Let’s hope the kids stop with the “havoc” and don’t move on to “let[ting] slip the dogs of war.” We don’t need extra chaos during the rest of this month. I have to admit you seem to have me beat with the diaper removal. Little Mister has never done that – yet. This could be because the diapers we usually use fasten around the back, but it probably has more to do with the fact that our house is cold so he’s almost always completely dressed. Therefore, no access.
Ready to go, go, go!
I’ll admit to not feeling much of the Christmas spirit yet. Most of my head space is filled with visions of deadlines rather than dancing sugar plums. I’m dragging my feet about decorating: it just seems like a big, highly breakable mess that we’ll only see for a little while, and I’ll spend the entire time fretting that LM will get into it. I’m sure there are creative ways to get around that; just haven’t given them much thought yet.
I am trying, promise. Made a batch of spritz cookies and fancy hot chocolate yesterday. And I have plans to make Danish this weekend. Put on the Muppets during lunch, and will do some more (online) shopping this evening. So, that’s something, and hopefully it will be enough to jump start the feelings to go with the truth my head knows of the Joy of the season.
But instead of me spending the entire blog post whining, I’d rather talk about something (completely different) that I found kind of fascinating in the last few weeks.
My third time reading Jane Austen’s Emma.
Perhaps you might say (if you were not you), “But how can the third time through the same book be fascinating in any way?” The answer of course is: A worthwhile book (such as Emma) has something new to show you every time you revisit it, and that is even more true if you yourself have changed between readings.
I first tackled Emma probably in college, or possibly high school but I didn’t really “find” Jane Austen – as I remember – until college. And it was a painful, awful thing to read. Not that it wasn’t funny, and not that it was poorly written. But Emma herself was so painful to watch lord her status over everyone else and then brutally hurt some of the defenseless people around her. I couldn’t stand her, and similarly I couldn’t stand self-centered Mrs. Elton or bossy Mr. Knightley or whiny Mr. Woodhouse or needy Harriet Smith. I would guess the only person I enjoyed at all was Mr. John Knightley because he’s sardonic and just shows up in the story to make sarcastic, funny remarks, then leaves without getting too entangled with the people of Highbury.
So for years Emma was my least favorite Austen book. I even liked Mansfield Park better, and I suspect very few people would say that. But the second time through – for a class in grad school; yes, there were some perks to being in grad school – I saw the story and the characters through a more sophisticated critical lens, and it wasn’t quite so bad. I was also probably 7 or 8 years older, which I’m sure helped as well. Emma herself was still somewhat distasteful, but Mrs. Elton is more or less toothless and therefore ridiculous; Mr. Knightley is more honorable and less bossy than I had remembered him; Mr. Woodhouse is certainly still someone who takes a lot of patience, but so many people love and accommodate him that he must have some redeeming qualities; and Harriet is just very young. It wasn’t so bad; I developed some, though still very little, affection for the novel, and I started to see it as having its own pleasures, irrespective of any of the other books.
And this time? This time I found a lot to love in the protagonist, the world and people around her, and the art with which their creator brought them into being. Every single one of them, and Emma most of all, is a realistic character. They’re all flawed and some of them do real damage to one another and to themselves, but their motivations are so recognizable and their psychology so real and human, that they can be understood and even (sometimes) forgiven by the reader.
The pleasure of the book increased for me with more education, but it increased even more, I think, with my greater maturity and experience. The first time, I felt Emma’s flaws personally and wanted her to be perfect because so-called “good” characters were supposed to be infallible (and yes, now I’m embarrassed that I thought that childishly into college, but on the other hand, it’s not an unusual mindset for people that age). The second time, I saw her as a clever but still uncomfortable construct (one of the perils of grad school education – you can get really good at seeing the machinery and lose the point of that machinery). The third time was the charm, as I was able to see her with double vision – as an amazingly drawn character and as a true-to-life, unique young woman.
I look forward to the fourth time through. I wonder what I’ll discover then.