E is for Emily Hudson: A Novel by Melissa Jones
Another day, another letter polished off of the list. For the fifth letter of the A to Z Reading Challenge, I read Melissa Jones’s Emily Hudson: A Novel. Set in Civil War era America and Europe, Jones’s novel is about a woman finding herself and her independence in a time when women were expected to show proper, sedate decorum and marry well.
What I like most about this book is that Jones manages to tell a story with romance without that subject being the focus of her character’s development. Emily is a woman ahead of her time in her independence of thought, joy for life, and depth of emotion. Jones takes her from her strong-willed childhood, where she is dismissed from boarding school for having too enthusiastic a friendship with a fellow schoolmate, to the society of England, where she is an exotic eccentric, to the picturesque landscape of Italy, where Emily finally asserts her independence and uses her skills as an artist to build a life away from the bonds of her family and their rule. Emily becomes the object of affection, sincere, passionate, and obsessive, of three different men, and eventually discovers that she needs to live life for herself before she can live it with another.
While I was inspired by Emily’s transformation, I did feel that there was a certain detachment in the writing of the story. Maybe this stems from the format of the book, written half in letters to and from Emily, with less direct dialogue and thought from the character and more of formal responses with a veneer of the projection of how Emily wished things to appear. Whether this was intentional or not, I would have liked to see a little more depth from Jones in her portrayal of Emily. While Jones wrote a very complex and human protagonist, there was a certain symbolic quality to Emily that made her feel more of a placeholder for female readers than a character of her own. Yes, Emily has her own insecurities, fears over her ill-health, and conflicting emotions about those she loves in her life, but somehow, there was always a little niggling feeling in the back of my mind that made me feel that Emily was more of a figurehead for personal growth and introspection than an actual person. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, viewing Emily as an allegorical inspiration for women to know their own personality and come to terms with their temperament and capabilities. Yet, the slight detachment made the book slightly less moving for me.
I’d give this book a half and half review. I wouldn’t call it the best book I’ve ever read, but the sentiment behind Emily’s journey is inspiring. If I take anything away from this book, it is that we are all individuals with a spirit can not and should not be stifled, and that we need to know and love ourselves before we can love anyone else. That made the book worth reading by itself.