Once upon a time I did not read literary criticism. My internal contemplation, profound or not, was enough.

Returning to this mindset during a recent reading of Jane Austen’s Emma, I indulged myself in some (not so) deep thoughts:   

Wow, these people do nothing but sit around and talk about marriage.

Austen’s physical descriptions are telling me nothing! Really – who is more attractive here – Emma or Jane Fairfax? Elton, Frank Churchill, or Knightly?

Seriously, how does everyone put up with Mr. Woodhouse??

Wow, Emma is a b-i-t-c-h!! …Ok, I forgive her. 

Admittedly, it is enjoyable and stress-free to keep my analysis around this level.

However, most of the time, this isn’t enough anymore. During grad school, I had to read book after book, to write paper after paper in which I was required to research and incorporate what people who are smarter than me have written about all these books for the past decades/centuries.

This seems painful, but at some point I got used to it, and now I find myself craving it.    
So after I finished Emma last week, I could have “moved on.” But instead, the following night I was excited to curl up with the essays in the back of the Norton Critical Edition.

Much of the criticism was similar to my own thoughts yet in more elegant prose. Other articles definitely added insight into the setting and the author’s intentions and talents. Another (Reginald Farrer) claims that although a first reading seem “dense, slow, and obscure,” subsequent readings open up a “widening sum of delights.”

It’s unlikely I will re-read Emma (which I found a sometimes tedious but still enjoyable read) anytime soon if ever to know if Farrer is correct. Having now completed my experience, I have too many other books, or critical editions, to move on to.  

Austen, Jane. Emma. A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. George Justice. 2012.