The reason I reread “Emma” is because I watched a video of Dr. Cornel West who said that “Emma” is his favorite book among all Austen’s books. I’ve heard this line before, but never really thought about it much until now. I thought “Emma” is not as good as “Pride and Prejudice” in its sarcastic tone–without the delightful presence of Mr. Collins, the entire irony of the book suffers. “Persuasion” is also better in its irony–a silly father and elder sister, a former lover are ample resource to practice the author’s satire. “Mansfield Park” has Aunt Norris to provide infinite jests, and Fanny’s refusal of Mr. Crawford is so satisfying and gratifying to the women readers. Emma has none of the above. Mr. and Mrs. Elton are no substitution for Mr. Collins or Aunt Norris. For a brief moment, Mr. John Knightley seems to be able to provide a bit of impertinence, but it doesn’t amount to anything.
Rereading “Emma”, I’ve discovered those lines about manners, ranks, which I didn’t take notice before. I used to consider Elton as the most unpleasant person in the book, but now I don’t think it this way anymore. Emma is not really justified in her disgust that Elton wants to associate himself with her. So he wants to marry well. I don’t see anything wrong with that, especially when he receives so much encouragement from Emma, which turns out to be a misunderstanding. While she herself practices a matchmaker for Miss Smith, whose ranks in the society, according to Emma’s keen sense of entitlement and propriety, should be doubtful and uncertain at its best. So Emma’s practicing what Mr. Elton’s practicing, which is so distasteful to her.