*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Emma by Jane Austen, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Emma is one of Jane Austen’s lesser known masterpieces (often behind Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in readers’ minds). It is a comedy about romantic mishaps and youthful overconfidence.
Don’t you remember those blissfully ignorant and misguided days of youth when you absolutely knew what everyone else wanted and needed but had no idea what you wanted or needed? No? Just me?
Well Emma, the book’s namesake, is the epitome of this dichotomy. She’s quick to meddle in all of her neighbors’ lives, yet she has is blind to the desires of her own heart. She’s presumptuous, loved by everyone, and stubborn to a fault. Throw in a cast of quirky characters including a loquacious spinster, a gold-digging vicar, and an anti-social father and you’ve got a book full of mayhem and mishaps.
If you’ve read any of her books, you’ll know that Jane Austen is the queen of miscommunication. Her books often revolve around dangers of assumptions. Emma is no different, but I found the heroine to be especially charming in a unique way to other Austen heroines.
Perhaps this is because we live in Emma’s head for most of the book. We watch her fumble through her awakening. In fact, Jane Austen’s use of free indirect style (where we see the internal and external action at once) was revolutionary at the time. To read more about how Emma changed the face of fiction, see this article.
Unfortunately, Austen died shortly after Emma‘s publication and wasn’t able to further hone her genius. So, we’ll just have to thank her for all of the wonderful works that have followed Emma‘s footsteps.
If your book club has read other Jane Austen books like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but hasn’t picked up Emma yet, maybe now is the time to pick up this delightful book. The new movie adaption, which looks fantastic and hilarious, would be a fun activity to add on to your book club meeting. (I wasn’t personally a fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow version, were you?) In any case, whenever you do decide to read it, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for Emma below for your meeting! So if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!
Here’s a brief summary of Emma by Jane Austen:
Emma Woodhouse never plans to marry, but when she introduces her beloved governess to Mr. Weston and they wed, she decides she must have the gift of matchmaking. As she meddles often, and with little success, in her neighbors love lives, Emma sees each of her subjects paired off despite the foibles and mismatches she places in their paths. She, however, suppresses the realization that she does, in fact, want to marry and remains blind to the growing affection in her own heart for someone dear to her until it’s almost too late.
For the Emma recipe:
There is plenty of food mentioned throughout Emma, but I really loved the scene where they all descend upon Donwell Abbey, Mr. Knightley’s home, for strawberry picking. After considering some options for creating a strawberry dish, I settled on Eton Mess. If you haven’t heard of Eton Mess it is a traditional English dessert consisting of whipped cream, meringues, and strawberries. It’s basically strawberries and cream taken to the nth level, but super simple to make!
While the origins of Eton Mess are nebulous, it’s most likely that the dessert wasn’t created until well after Emma was written. However, I loved how this dessert embodied Emma to me. Beautiful, delightful to those around her, and an absolute mess.
Here are some other food suggestions from Emma if you need more variety:
- Wedding Cake – from Miss Taylor’s wedding
- Minced chicken, scalloped oysters, or apple-tarts – from Harriet Smith’s first visit to Hartfield
- Gruel – an after-dinner treat for Isabella and Mr. Woodhouse
- Baked apples – a gift from Mr. Knightley to Miss Bates
For the Eton Mess, I recommend you buy store bought meringues for ease and saving time. Although, it is possible to make meringues with egg whites and sugar if you live in an area where you aren’t able to buy them. Here’s a popular recipe for meringues if you decide to make them. I was able to find some meringues at my local Sprouts.
I do recommend you make your own whipped cream because, let’s face it, there’s nothing like homemade whipped cream. However, if you do want to super simplify this, I’m sure store bought would work in a pinch!
Any way you make it, Eton Mess is absolutely scrumptious. It’s a light treat, but totally addictive. So, if your book club is looking for food ideas for Emma, look no further!
Emma Strawberry Eton Mess
- Electric mixer
- 1 lb strawberries
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 5-6 meringue cookies store bought
For the strawberries:
- Chop the washed strawberries into ¼” cubes.
- Half the result (should equal about 2 servings of 1 ¼ cups each) into two bowls.
- With one half of the strawberries, sprinkle 1 tbsp of sugar over the strawberries and let rest while you prepare the whipped cream.
For the whipped cream:
- Mix the heavy cream, 3 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla extract.
- Using an electric mixer, whisk the mixture on medium high until firm peaks form (several minutes).
For the meringues:
- In a ziploc bag, lightly crush the meringues into medium to large chunks. (If you are baking your own meringues, make sure they have completely cooled before this step).
- To crush, you may only need to press with your fingers since meringues are delicate. You don’t want to crush them too small because they add a nice crunch to the dish.
- With the strawberries and sugar mix–Now that the strawberries have set in the sugar for a while, mash them until you get a jam-like consistency. (If you desire, you can use a hand blender to puree them). Reserve the other bowl with the second half of the chopped strawberries for assembly.
- At this point, you can choose to fold in the strawberry jam mix into the whipped cream or leave them separate.
- In serving glasses, spoon a dollop of whipped cream, followed by the strawberry jam mix (if separate), then a scoop of the remaining chopped strawberries, and a scoop of crushed meringues.
- Continue until the glasses are full, finishing always with a spoonful of whipped cream topped with crushed meringues.
- Serve immediately.
Emma by Jane Austen Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Emma takes Harriet Smith under her wing, hoping to match her with a marriage above her expectations at the start of the book. How did you feel about Emma’s mission? Did you think it was purely self-serving entertainment or did she really wish to do Harriet good? How did this change after the Mr. Elton mix-up?
- By the end of the book, Emma acknowledges that her relationship with Harriet (after her marriage) would naturally change from friendship to mere warm appreciation. This is credited to Emma as a maturing world-view—i.e. coming around to Mr. Knightley’s views on class separation. Do you think Emma absolved of all guilt? In what ways do you think Emma and Harriet both would be better from an acquaintance-only relationship? In what ways worse? What did they teach one another?
- Jane Austen said when she wrote Emma, “I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Did you like Emma? What were her most annoying characteristics and what were her most admirable?
- Emma is spoiled. She is arrogant and self-important. So is Mrs. Elton, whom Emma cannot stand. Do you think Emma sees herself in Mrs. Elton? Discuss why the characters, despite their shared flaws, are different. How is Emma redeemable?
- We are stuck in Emma’s mind for the majority of the novel. We are privy to her prejudices, her schemes, and her awakening at the end. At the time, this was a completely new technique in writing. However, today, most novels are written using this style. Did you think that this was the best way to tell Emma’s story? How might it have differed if Austen had told it in omniscient third?
- Austen is the master of communication. All of her works center on communication, miscommunication, the danger in implying too much, and etc. (which is why I believe she is so loved). This is a universal theme that will never go away. What do you think was the major miscommunication/misunderstanding in Emma? Discuss how each character played into this theme (Jane Fairfax, Harriet Smith, Mr. Knightley, Miss Bates, Frank Churchill, etc.).
- Emma and Mr. Knightley’s engagement happens quickly and partially off-page (Austen tells us what occurs). This differs from a more drawn out declaration between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. If you are familiar with Pride and Prejudice, compare the two engagements. Did Emma’s leave you wanting or did it suit the book and character?
- Did you suspect Frank Churchill of ill-intentions? Do you think he did wrong? How did his secret surprise you? Do you think he and Jane will be happy or, as Mr. Knightley predicts, do you think she is too good for him and will grow bored of him?
- Emma states that she never intends to marry in the beginning of the book. By the end of the book, she realizes that she has been in love with Mr. Knightley all along. She realizes she cannot bear to think of him marrying anyone else but her. Do you believe Emma truly loves Mr. Knightley and can change her ways? What other books have you read where the love interest is right-under-the-nose the entire book?
- A game of “letters” is played between Emma, Mr. Knightley, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax and Harriet in which Mr. Knightley spells out blunder after accidentally revealing secret knowledge about Mr. Perry carriage that he plays off as a dream. A similar game of letters is played in Anna Karenina in which Levin apologizes and then proposes to his love via the game. Can you think of any other scenes in Emma or other classics that have shared similarities such as these two?
Have you read Emma? What did you think? How does it rank for you among Jane Austen’s novels?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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