The Mystery of Emma #AustenInAugustRBR

Please welcome Chris from WildmooBooks!

I’ve been reading Emma as a mystery novel. I’m trying not to be open minded about what a mystery novel “should be.” (I hope you never “should on yourself” when it comes to reading, Dear Reader.)

For a few years now, I’ve committed to reading one Jane Austen novel a year. Thus far I’ve read Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense & Sensibility.

Last year a member in my mystery book club mentioned that Emma could be read as a mystery novel. I was intrigued.

I was also a bit worried. I’ve heard that people either love or loathe Emma. And that some consider Emma to be not only Austen’s best novel but a perfect novel. The P word made me even more apprehensive because if I didn’t like perfection in Jane Austen, what kind of reader would that make me?

All fears aside, Emma had been firmly lodged in my mind as the Austen novel I would read this summer.

Halfway into this first reading, I must admit that considering Emma as mystery novel seems a bit of a stretch. I can see how it could be dissected as a mystery story, perhaps of the detective ilk with the reader in the role of detective. I see clues being dropped about what’s “really” going on, yet perhaps I’m also being misled as a reader. Maybe I’m being just like Emma and seeing only want I want to see.

And what about the hero and villain who usually form the backbone of a mystery novel? The hero typically tries to put the world back into order after a crime and the villain wants to deceive people to get away with that crime. Is there a crime in Emma?

I suppose we could look at Emma as an antihero, the sort of do-gooder who wants to help people but ends up causing harm. And then there are all the other characters to consider, people who are making assumptions, making up motives, and misreading the intentions of others in their social circle. There are prejudices, half-truths, secrets. This is all certainly the stuff of mystery novels.

Hmm, so much to ponder! I shall read on and see what conclusions I come to at the end.

Have you read Emma? If not, please enter the international giveaway I’m offering. If you have read it, what do you think of Emma as a mystery novel?

p.s. It was P.D. James who first talked about Emma as a mystery novel and she certainly knew what she was talking about when it comes to the genre. I’m holding off reading her argument until I finish the novel.


Edition winner receives may be different.

Giveaway:

Chris has generously offered to giveaway one copy of Jane Austen’s Emma, to be shipped from The Book Depository (please make sure they ship to your location). 

To be entered: You must have signed-up for the event (on the master post) by August 7th. Please also leave a comment on this post, addressing Chris’s question above and/or your thoughts on Jane Austen as a possible mystery writer. Have you felt any of her other works had hints of mystery in them?  

Giveaway opens August 29th and will close at 10pm CST on September 5th.

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10 thoughts on “The Mystery of Emma #AustenInAugustRBR

  1. Such an interesting concept! I think Emma is certainly the most mystery-like of all of Austen’s works. She masterfully drops clues throughout that Emma (and often Austen’s first-time readers) overlook. I look forward to hearing how you feel after you’ve finished it…

    • It was an interesting exercise to try to read Emma as a mystery novel, but the effort may have made me like Emma a bit less than if I’d come to the novel with no expectations.

  2. I think we get too stuck on these genre labels. Genre fiction tends to exaggerate, highlight or concentrate certain activities that are present in all narratives, and which in turn are products of our human striving to make sense of the world. So yes, Emma does have some features of the mystery novel, as Emma is interpreting clues and so forth, but a true mystery would go further in this direction I think.
    Not that I think it’s necessary to categorize books to enjoy them. And it’s really dangerous to call a book “perfect”! I wonder what you will think when you’ve finished Emma.

  3. Pingback: Farewell Austen in August – Dwell in Possibility

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