Happily Ever After {Book Club}

Happily Ever After {Book Club}

I’m introducing my parents and sister to the wonders of Downton Abbey, and we are slowly working our way through each season. This is my third time through the whole thing, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. There’s a scene in Season 4 that’s been floating in and out of my own mind all throughout Emma, that takes place downstairs in the kitchen.

The kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy and the footmen Alfred and Jimmy have some kind of love quadrangle (is that a thing?) going on. One likes another but the love isn’t returned because that person likes a different one. In exasperation over their tiffs and fits and sighs, the head cook Mrs. Patmore says, “The problem with you lot is that you’re all in love with the wrong people!”

I felt like saying the same thing to all the characters in Emma. Instead of Mr. Martin and Harriet getting together from the get-go like it seemed like they should, Emma tried to set up Harriet and that kept failing. Poor Harriet went along with it, desiring so much to please Emma and improve herself.

Mr. Frank Churchill seems to be pointing his affections in the direction of Emma, while Emma tries to steer Harriet in his direction. Mr. Knightley is friendly toward Emma, kind toward Harriet and in general very difficult to read. I knew somehow that in the end he and Emma did get together (spoiler!), so I was pulling for them through the whole thing.

Love is a funny thing, I suppose. I haven’t truly been in love, but I do know the sting of unreturned affection. I also know that the heart can want what the heart wants, even if it doesn’t make sense.

What did you think about how all the love stories worked out? Did you think they were good matches?

At the end of the last section we watched Emma’s snide remark hurt Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic, and in this one we get to follow along as she anguished over it. I feel like in more modern stories Emma could have made such a comment, passed it off, and moved on without a second thought. It was impressive to me how much she regretted her treatment of Miss Bates and the pains she took to mend the relationship.

Conflict resolution and relationship repair can be such a cultural experience. The issue might be talked around rather than talked about, or a mediator might be needed. It might be perfectly acceptable in one place to talk about what brought the conflict about and openly forgive, where that might be unheard of in another place.

What did you think about the conflict resolution dynamics in Emma? How does that compare to your home culture or host culture?

Okay, I want to hear: what was your favorite part of this book?

I have to say that my favorite character was Harriet. It struck me how quick she was to forgive Emma and remain devoted to their friendship. I was so happy that she and Mr. Martin did indeed end up together since they seemed to make each other very happy.

Over to you, friends! Thank you for joining in this month as we read Emma together. I hope you’ll pop in again next month and keep our book discussions going!

In April we will be reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Here’s a description of the book from Amazon: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . the only way to survive is to open your heart.

Here’s the schedule:

April 7 – Chapters 1-9

April 14 – Chapters 10-19

April 21 – Chapters 20-29

April 28 – Chapters 30-41

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Karen April 1, 2020

    Hi! Yes, I noticed the conflict resolution dynamics as well … I was a bit surprised, because I had assumed that Jane Austen’s society would have valued directness, but it seemed like, instead, many of the resolutions were indirect (i.e. going over to someone’s house to visit, or bringing gifts, rather than discussing the matter at hand). In certain of the closest relationships (Emma and Kingsley, Emma and Harriet), there were open confessions, but in many cases, the method of communication was more indirect.
    I especially noticed this because, having been part of a multicultural team for many years, it took me a long time to recognize my co-workers’ style of conflict resolution. For many years, after an argument that ended “unresolved,” they would call a few days later and invite me over for a meal with their family. I appreciated the meals, and I went because I certainly didn’t want to communicate that I DIDN’T want to eat with them, but my default interpretation of the invitations was, “they aren’t willing to talk about this issue with me or resolve it, but they want me to know we can be friends up to a certain level.” It was many years before it finally hit me that, to them, inviting me over for a meal WAS reaching out to me to resolve the conflict, and it maybe even communicated a certain amount of apology. On the other hand, for me, weeks or months after a conflict, I would suddenly think of the conflict and maybe how I could have done it differently, or come to an understanding of what they might have been thinking, and I would want to talk about it, but their response would be, “Why do you want to talk about this old thing that is obviously over?” These co-workers and I have now ended up in different countries, and they remain some of my closest friends, but I do regret the unnecessary times of grief that resulted for both of us, due to these misunderstandings.
    I can’t think of a favorite part of the book. I enjoyed all of it. 🙂

    1. Sarah Hilkemann April 2, 2020

      Karen, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! 🙂

      That’s such an interesting perspective on team conflict and resolution! Communication is so important to me and it is hard for me not to work through an issue- but in the way that I know and feel comfortable with. One thing that helped my teammate and I was talking about how we handle conflict, and then I knew how to read the signs in subsequent conversations/situations. It’s interesting how it can vary between people and cultures.

    2. Michele April 5, 2020

      I can relate to that a lot- Some of it is culture, and some of it is personality. The more I learn the enneagram, the more I begin to understand those differences. I’m a five, which is past-oriented, thus a similar desire to work through the whole thing. I have a friend who’s a seven, which is future-oriented, and it is extremely annoying to her to have to deal with something she considers over and done. I do wish I’d had more training in this kind of stuff BEFORE I came to the field over 20 years ago. But I guess some of it has to be learned through experience.

  2. Rachel Kahindi April 1, 2020

    My favorite part was when Mr Knightley told Emma about Harriet and Mr Martin because finally everything was going to be alright. And the fact that Emma was happy about it showed some growth.

    This culture I live in communicates indirectly, but there aren’t many misunderstandings because it’s how they communicate and it’s clear to all of them. In Emma, the indirect communication (mainly not being able to say what person one was hoping to marry) led to so many misunderstandings and needless heartache.

  3. Michele April 5, 2020

    I actually DID catch up and finish the book on Tuesday, but finally getting around to commenting now. I think my favorite part of the book was the ending. This is just a good time for happy endings, and I really loved how it all worked out for everyone. I was sort of annoyed with Emma in the beginning of the book, but she grew on me more and more through her humility and self-awareness. I loved this part: “What had she to wish for? Nothing, but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgment had been ever so superior to her own. Nothing, but that the lessons of her past folly might teach her humility and circumspection in the future.” I remember some VA book club discussions about a “Christ-figure” in fiction, and I began to see Mr. Knightly that way in the end, and Emma as kind of a picture of each of us who is part of His Bride, moving from being like little sisters and friends to discovering we’ve fallen in love and then finding out He was in love with us all along.

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