On Emma Woodhouse, Anabel, and Me

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Emma is my favorite of Jane Austen’s heroines, and her book was actually my first Austen. My mom is not a Jane Austen fan, and when I turned fourteen I had a predilection for attempting to make matches of friends and acquaintances. One of my victims wryly compared me to Emma Woodhouse, and so I got the book.

And read it.

And reread it.

And reread it again.

My original copy fell apart years ago; luckily for me, I had the opportunity to study the book twice in college (once in a survey course, the second time in an Honors Austen seminar). And I have always had a strong affection for Emma, which is why it has surprised me so often that there are so many people who dislike her.

But I get Emma, I think in a way that most people do not, because in many ways, I am rather like her. Or have been rather like her. Some of the uglier facets of her character that were also a part of mine have faded as I have grown older.

Emma and my Anabel were both created by their authors for a specific purpose. We wrote them for ourselves. Jane’s thoughts on Miss Woodhouse? “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” And I know Anabel is hard to like sometimes. But again, I wrote her for me, and so she doesn’t necessarily have to be likable.

So why are Anabel and Emma hard to like? Emma’s faults are often easy to spot: She is too clever for her own good, she is selfish, she has way too much time on her hands to go about being a busybody. But I still have a soft spot for her. Because I used to be the same way. I reveled in my own cleverness, I got involved in everyone’s affairs, I thought that I knew what was best for other people…and it was silliness, really. Because I barely had my own act together, so what right did I have to tell other people how to live their lives?

That being said, I think Anabel is harder to explain. Like Emma, she’s lovely but not vain. She’s clever book wise, but relationship wise, she’s a mess. Now obviously, this stems from the whole growing up on a Top Secret Island and having her father constantly harassing her about her sexuality as she grows up, but she makes some terrible choices. Because, as Jared remarks, at twenty-four, she’s still going through the pains of an extended adolescence.

I spent a great deal of Anabel Divided: The Sequel to Anabel Unraveled feeling frustrated at my heroine. I wanted to slap her but I also wanted to hug her, because I truly do love her. She’s unprepared for many of the things she suffers as an adult because her childhood was such a mess. Which is why, incidentally, it’s been such a pleasure to watch her grow in Anabel 3, because I feel like my Anabel has come into her own, and I am proud of her.

But back to the point of this…Emma Woodhouse was one of the first literary heroines I fell in love with. I identified with her in so many ways, and I do believe Emma meant well–she just couldn’t see past her own bubble sometimes. When she falls in love, she falls hard. That one I also got, seeing as how I’ve been in love with my husband for nearly twelve years now. Emma’s vain. She’s snotty. She is a busybody–but I couldn’t help but love her.

So when I decided to write a book, I wrote a heroine that I loved even more than Emma. And even though Anabel has her faults, I have been pleased to learn there are people out there who she resonates with. Because she is funny, and even when her life is ridiculous, she rides out the mess with her sense of humor, which I think is a good way to go.

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