Of all of Austen’s novels, Emma is the funniest.
I didn’t like Emma Woodhouse at first. She is the spoiled daughter of a hypochondriac gentleman and raised by a lenient governess. She is left to her own devices without much instruction with the exception of her brother-in-law, Mr. Knightley. The novel follows her attempts at matchmaking.
Emma makes friends with Harriet, a young lady with questionable origins. Emma is first determined to set her up with Mr. Elton, a local clergyman, despite the fact that Harriet has feelings for a Mr. Martin. He returns those feelings, but Emma feels that this farmer is beneath Harriet. She works to convince Harriet of this and to mold her feelings toward whichever bachelor of the moment.
Emma spends much of the book in this busy body state. She fancies herself a matchmaker, but she is blind to the true feelings of those around her. Over the course of the novel, Emma grows and learns to recognize her flaws. She comes to see what a destructive role she has played in the life of Harriet. She realizes that she has misjudged another young woman in her society. She discovers her feelings for an old friend.
I found myself laughing out loud many times. I don’t believe Austen has ever been more scathing or fun in her social commentary.