Emma: July Book Club Discussion Summary

Our theme for July was #JaneAustenJuly and to celebrate her life and work, we as a book club picked Emma for our next classic. Many claimed that it wasn’t their favourite Austen and some (including me) struggled with the language/pace at times, but we persevered and most of us were proud to have finally tackled one of Austen’s novels.

Between the hour of 8pm – 9pm (UK time), eight questions were posted for book club members to comment with their thoughts. Here is what they said:

Q1: How long, if at all, did it take you to get into the book/story?

For some, this was a re-read, but for others, this was their first time reading an Austen classic and therefore it took us a while to get used to the language and the pace of the novel. If you go into a classic book thinking it’s going to be all twists and turns and full of drama, you will most likely be bitterly disappointed so it took some of our members (including me) time to adjust to Austen’s writing style. 

Most of us agreed that it took a few chapters for us to understand who everyone was and what role they played in the story. I think the general consensus was that the second half of the book was much better and easier to read, as the plot was beginning to take place and there was suddenly a lot going on!

Q2: How did you view Emma’s friendship with Harriet Smith?

As a whole, most members felt sorry for Harriet because she was unaware of Emma’s meddling and we could see her naivety. We as readers knew Emma was using her as some sort of project, and we could sense that Emma simply using Harriet as her protégé would only end in tears. 

Some of us questioned whether their friendship was genuine, and we began to question why Emma was using her? Was it her because she was bored and needed something to entertain herself with? Was it because she was lonely now that Mrs Weston had got married and moved out? Was it even an ego-booster for Emma to be seen as a do-gooder? Or perhaps the saddest reasons of them all is that Emma never really had any female companionship and with Harriet being so keen to have Emma as a friend, perhaps Emma could now fully experience what it is like to have a sister?

I think we all agreed that there was definitely some sort of motive behind her friendship with Harriet.

Q3: What did you make of Mr Woodhouse? What kind of daughter is Emma to him?

Members were very torn on their opinion of Mr Woodhouse as words such as ‘irritating’, ‘hilarious’, ‘endearing’ and ‘cute’ being used to describe him. I think we all agreed that he was suffering from some sort of nervous disposition, probably caused by grief. One of the members said that everybody knows a Mr Woodhouse and we all surprisingly seemed to agree with this! 

Most of us felt sorry for Mr Woodhouse because he was obviously a sensitive soul and it’s easy to see why. All the women in his life seem to come and go, for example, his wife, Emma’s sister and Mrs Weston, but with Emma’s marriage to Mr Knightley, hopefully, she can remain at home with him. 

What we all agreed on was that Emma’s relationship with her father is one of the few relationships that Emma holds with true love and real compassion. Some argued that her reason for not wanting to marry was because she didn’t want to leave her father, and was putting her life on hold to ensure her father’s happiness. Her love for her father seemed to be her only redeeming quality and we all admired Emma for this.

Q4: What did you think of Mr Knightley? Did your opinion change at all?

Mr Knightley was a HUGE hit with the ‘Let’s Get Classical’ Book Club. Although we were a little unsure of him at first because he seemed to question Emma about everything and was extremely patronising, we grew to love him towards the end and agreed that he was definitely a good match for Emma. 

Mr Knightley did wonders for Emma’s development as he was the only character who didn’t hang on Emma’s every word. He was often considerate of others, especially Mr Woodhouse and Harriet and some of us stated that ‘he is just what a young man ought to be’. 

One of our members even pointed out that Knightley’s judgements are often clues and foreshadow was it about to happen in the book. Turns out that Mr Knightley isn’t just a pretty face after all…

Q5: Do you think Emma learnt anything from her behaviour? Do you think she grows as a character?

A lot of members mentioned that when Emma is rude to Miss Bates during the picnic, this seems to be a turning point in the novel. Emma finally realises the woman she is becoming and she doesn’t like it. I think from this point forward, she realises that she is quick to act before she thinks and that her actions impact those around her. She always believes she is doing the best for everyone but soon realises that her meddling can have severe consequences. 

Some of us even noticed that Emma seems to realise at the end of the novel that money, class and social status isn’t everything to everyone and once she realises this, she becomes a more compassionate and ‘real’ character. 

Most were frustrated by her journey to realising this, as it was only right at the very end that she has her epiphany, but others were sceptical to whether Emma would actually ever fully change her ways.

Q6: Marriage is a central theme in Emma. What do you think Jane Austen was trying to say about marriage?

As this was my first Austen novel, I was unaware that most of her female heroines marry for love. Many of the marriages we witness in the novel (and there’s a few!) are more about gaining social status or financial stability. Emma doesn’t need any of those things and therefore vows never to marry. Maybe there is a fear that with marriage, she will lose her independence and that scares her. 

Many of us debated what Austen was trying to say about marriage through the novel and most of us agreed that she was promoting getting married for love and nothing else. Perhaps Austen was proving that marriage shouldn’t just be for securing wealth and class but should be because you’ve fallen in love with the right person at the right time. 

We also loved that she was ahead of her time by proving that women have a choice when it comes to marriage when she said:

“If a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him.”

Q7: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Did you like Emma?

The general consensus around this question was that we didn’t like Emma at first and we found how she loved to meddle and gossip in affairs that did not involve her, unbearable to read at times. Yet as the book progressed, we grew to love her sass and independence. 

Some of us questioned whether she would be someone we’d hang out with, and most of us agreed that although she loved to gossip, Emma knew her own mind and she knew what she wanted out of life, which to us was admirable. 

Members agreed that we wanted to read a sequel to see how Emma and Mr Knightley got on with married life and to see whether she really had changed. Yet what we loved most about Emma was that her flaws made her a more relatable and real character which brings us nicely onto our next and final question…

Q8: In what ways, if at all, can Emma be viewed as a feminist novel?

Members were torn about this question because Emma somewhat is and somewhat isn’t a feminist novel. Emma is sassy, independent and headstrong; she knows what she wants. She knows her wealth and status around Highbury and because of this, she, therefore, has the confidence to do exactly as she pleases. 

A few of our members raised an interesting point when they argued that it is because of her wealth and social status that she has the option to marry for love, instead of only marrying to secure financial security. Poorer people at this time would not have had these same luxuries. 

Yet one thing we all agreed on was that Emma showed us that women can have faults and they weren’t always these perfect little wives that men at this time wish they would be. Women should have their own say in who they marry and why they marry, and that should never be frowned upon, but instead celebrated. 

As Emma marries Mr Knightley in the end and is kind of ‘tamed’ by him, we all said we wouldn’t go as far as naming it as a feminist novel but it is definitely ahead of its time.

And there we have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this book club discussion summary, and if you would like to get involved next month, make sure you join the Let’s Get Classical Book Club Facebook Group! We are currently voting for our August book club read, so be sure to head over there to have your say!

The Great Gatsby: June Book Club Discussion Summary

As there were so many great things discussed during the book club discussion of our June book, The Great Gatsby for my ‘Let’s Get Classical’ Book Club, I thought why not create a little discussion summary. So for those that missed out or for those who want to see the consensus on what people thought, its all here for you!

Between the hour of 8pm – 9pm (UK time) eight questions were posted for book club members to comment their thoughts. Here is what they said:

Q1: What do we make of our narrator? Do you think his character was intentional by Fitzgerald?

Most members viewed Nick as an unreliable narrator and a character who offered a flawed and biased perspective. There were many loose ends in his narrative, as well as contradictory statements.

Nick, in our members’ opinion, was an outsider/observer looking into the world of Gatsby, who was intentionally created by Fitzgerald to act as a mouthpiece for the story. Most members didn’t care much for Nick and viewed him as having the common blissful ignorance of the middle classes, as he chose to only see and believe the things he wanted to be true.

Q2: What do you think about Daisy’s assessment that ‘the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’?

Many viewed Daisy’s assessment as a superficial and outdated way of thinking. The popular opinion stemmed from members not being a fan of how women were represented in this book, and it portrayed a number of gender imbalances withing a male-centric novel.

Yet there were some members who introduced a great point about Fitzgerald using the character of Daisy to play upon the social norms/expectations of the 1920s woman, portraying her as silly, vain and only valued in terms of beauty; all of which were stereotypes created as an anti-suffrage protest.

Yet this statement also implies that Daisy knows what a woman needs to be to survive in a male-orientated world. She knows that ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to living a happy and care-free life, and many members agreed this was probably why she turned a blind eye to Tom’s cheating.

Q3: What is your opinion of Tom? Do you think he truly loves Daisy?

So one thing we all agreed on was how much we hated Tom. His character is controlling, patronising, manipulative and incredibly hypocritical. Tom carelessly uses people to get what he wants, and enjoys baking his cake and eating it.

His arrogance and jealously confirms the old saying that ‘once a cheat, always a cheat’, and most members agreed that he didn’t truly love Daisy. Daisy was his trophy wife; his possession that suited his social status and therefore only suited him for when he wanted to play happy families.

It infuriated readers when Tom got jealous about Gatsby and Daisy, even though he was off doing the same and arguably worse, and we were even more angry at Tom setting up Gatsby with the murder of Myrtle. Yet some were also quick to notice that because our narrator Nick does not like Tom, us as readers, are less fond of him too, at least compared to Gatsby.

Q4: Do you think Daisy makes the right choice? What would you have done, if you were her?

Members did not hold back on their thoughts regarding Daisy. Some believed that Daisy was the end of Gatsby and her carelessness meant that she was never held accountable for her actions. Many members believed that she made all the wrong choices in life and even though she may have loved Gatsby, she would have always ended up with someone like Tom because she cannot stray from her rich and privileged life (hence why she couldn’t marry Gatsby as he was poor).

Yet some members argued that Daisy had little choice in the end and had her power taken from her by men in the book. She may have come across as selfish and careless but lets take into account for a second whether the grass is always greener on the other side. Many members argued that Gatsby represented an idealistic, responsibility-free life, whereas Tom was real. What would Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship had been like if they has eloped together? I can only imagine Gatsby as a jealous and manipulative husband, not so different to Tom.

Q5: Do you consider Gatsby to be this ‘self-made man’? Is he a good portrayal of the ‘American Dream’?

A common theme running through members’ comments on this question was that Gatsby represented the typical 1920’s ‘American Dream’ and was therefore right for its time. Yet, Daisy was his dream. Daisy = happiness for Gatsby, and we noted that as soon as Daisy began visiting his house, the lavish parties stopped.

Most members agreed that although Gatsby had all the materialistic happiness, his life had no meaning without the love of Daisy. Many argued that through the character of Gatsby, Fitzgerald was showing us how the ‘American Dream’ is unattainable and unachievable, and perhaps predicting its downfall.

Q6: How do you think love is portrayed by Fitzgerald in the story? Is this a love story?

We all agreed that love was not the main theme in the book, and that The Great Gatsby is more of a social commentary. Love is portrayed as fickle and fragile, with Gatsby’s love being borderline infatuation. Was this infatuation with Daisy herself of the idea of Daisy?

An interesting point made by one of the members was that this book can be viewed as a modern tragedy as the two deaths that occur are of the characters of the those ruining the equilibrium within the story. It was also discussed how the characters’ greed outweighed their love, as they were too prioritised with the lust for material things and social status rather than the real thing.

There’s no doubt that there are elements and discussions of love throughout the book but it is not the main lesson to take away from the book.

Q7: What do you believe to be the true message of The Great Gatsby?

So what is the true message of this book? Most members agreed that money was the real theme. Money can’t buy happiness is what most members took away from this story, as money brought everyone to Gatsby’s parties but once he was dead, no one cared enough to turn up to his funeral. Fitzgerald is obviously implying that money is shallow and hope is pure.

A few members also commented on how the book was Fitzgerald’s way of commenting on the society he lived in. How the rich and powerful were careless and had the privilege to walk away in ignorant bliss, whilst the others in society suffered and were witness to their destructive behaviour.

Another interesting point made was how Fitzgerald through The Great Gatsby predicted how the roaring twenties culture and the ‘American Dream’ would inevitably implode and shatter, which is did after the Wall Street Crash.

Q8: Fitzgerald apparently hated the title The Great Gatsby and begged for it to be changed. Why do you think that is?

Many agreed that once you’ve read this book, Gatsby isn’t so great after all. The ironic title builds this expectation of the mythical Gatsby, which is extremely fitting to Gatsby’s character. The grandeur of Gatsby may have earned him this title but it is in fact a complete facade.

This could have also been a way Fitzgerald played upon how society viewed the rich and famous, as well as emphasising the fact that this story is supposed to be written by Nick, who we all know secretly adored Gatsby, and therefore this definitely would have been a title Nick chose.

‘Under the Red, White & Blue’ was an alternative title, but we all agreed that we’re glad The Great Gatsby has stuck in the end.

And there we have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this book club discussion summary, and if you would like to get involved in the next book club discussion, make sure you join the Let’s Get Classical Book Club Facebook Group! Join us on the 26th July at 8pm (UK time) to discuss Jane Austen’s Emma.