Saturday, March 6, 2010

Emma (manga, vol. 8) by Kaoru Mori

As far as I know, volume 7 is the end of the main story, but I had thought there was only going to be one volume of short stories involving characters of various minor-ness. Not so - there's a ninth and tenth volume, and there may be more to come that I'm unaware of.

I'm not listing any read-alikes for this one, in keeping with how I usually handle anthologies (which is basically what this is). Overall, it's nice, but only something I'd recommend to those who've read all of the main story and want to see more of some of the other characters. My favorite parts of the volume are Doug and Kelly's story and Eleanor's story - the other stories dealt with characters that were a tad too minor for my tastes.

"The Dream of the Crystal Palace" Synopsis:

The first story focuses on Kelly Stownar and her husband Doug, back when Doug was alive. Doug really wants to see the Great Exhibition - Shilling Day makes it more affordable for the masses, but a couple shillings is still a lot of money for Kelly and Doug (their food expenses are five or six shillings a week). Doug has been bringing his lunches to work in order to save up money, but even that won't save up enough fast enough. Kelly offers to sell their piano, but Doug won't hear of it. Besides, he likes hearing her play. He decides to no longer talk about the Great Exhibition at home and tells Kelly he's just going to forget about it. However, the idea has taken root in both their minds. When Doug gets the opportunity to earn a little extra money, he takes it, even though it means he has to work later. The job doesn't earn him quite enough, but then Kelly reveals her surprise - she's been saving up money, too! (By eating potatoes...) Between the two of them, they've managed to save up just enough for the Exhibition.

When the two of them go to the Exhibition, they're nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors, plus the cost of everything (souvenirs, people selling fish at the entrance, etc.). However, the wonder of the place clears all that from their heads. The Crystal Fountain, which played such a big part in Emma's story, is the first thing they see. They visit areas with beautiful jewelry, statues, amazing machinery, delicate china, fountains of perfume, colorful stained glass, and more.

They don't have much money left over after paying the entrance fee, but Doug convinces Kelly they should get a souvenir - in his words, it's "a once in a lifetime opportunity." Kelly picks out a thimble with the Crystal Palace on it. Years later, Emma finds it for her and Mrs. Stownar takes a moment to remember the event and her good memories of Doug, who became ill and passed away only a year afterwards. As she sits there thinking about this, Emma goes out to meet Will (which you'd only know if you read the original series) - I think she and Will might be going off to the Crystal Palace at this point.

Commentary:

This is so sweet. Kelly and Doug were married for such a short time, but everything Mori shows us about their marriage is good, the kind of stuff that makes you smile and warms your heart. Kelly and Doug are perfect together - Kelly always looks so cool and collected, and Doug is so overflowing with cheerfulness that he just doesn't care. He makes her blush several times with his openness, kissing her hard on the lips when she shows him the money she saved up, commenting that she looks better naked than the statues they see at the exhibition (making her blush, because others can hear him). He's so sweet, it's easy to see why she fell in love with him.

Another thing I liked about this story was the reference to Kelly's necklace. At one point in the exhibition, Kelly is smiling over a necklace, and Doug comments that she must want one. Kelly thinks these are a bit too exquisite, so Doug asks her if she'd like something more down-to-earth. She agrees with him, in an offhand way, that she'd be happy if she were given something like that - readers who've read the other volumes know that, before he died, Doug did manage to give her such a necklace, and she treasured it.

One last thought - maybe it's just me, but Doug looks an awful lot like William. I wonder if she ever looked at William and thought of Doug? The two are kind of similar in behavior (William also keeps wanting to give Emma gifts, although he's got quite a bit more money at his disposal in order to do so).

For those of you who like Al, he makes a few brief appearances. His gruff behavior over the things Doug does for Kelly always amuses me. I love seeing him young. I love seeing Kelly young - she's so pretty when she smiles and blushes a little. I think, of all the things in the exhibition, the stained glass gallery appealed to her the most.

"Brighton by the Sea" Synopsis:

Although embarrassed about how she looks in her bathing outfit (I can't call it a swimsuit, it looks too much like a dress), Eleanor goes for a swim. Unfortunately, when it starts to rain she can't find her maid or the cabana they rented. She starts to enter a cabana, but it's the wrong one, and there's a man inside getting dressed. Upset and embarrassed, Eleanor tries to go but ends up falling into the water. The handsome young man, whose name we later learn is Ernest Liebe, helps Eleanor find her maid.

Ernest goes home, late for his appointment with his tutor. Actually, he's already finished all his work, and it doesn't really seem as though he even needs a tutor, but apparently his grandfather worries about him. In order to make sure that he's known in society, Ernest is also supposed to attend a soiree at Mrs. Lorraine's that evening. It's not something he looks forward to, but he finds that the evening holds a pleasant surprise - Eleanor arrives with her two sisters (both of them cool, elegant, and married). Ernest rushes over to her, and his uncle decides to encourage things by asking Eleanor's sisters if they'll allow him to speak to her for a bit. Amazingly (if you remember Monica, you know how amazingly), they do. Ernest does all right with Eleanor at first, but then he begins to talk about college - William Jones was apparently one of his friends in college at one point. Ernest has no idea that Eleanor had recently been engaged to William before he broke things off with her, and he's confused when Eleanor wants to stop talking and Monica, the overprotective sister, breaks in to take her away.

Later, Ernest figures things out when he overhears some women gossiping about Eleanor's broken engagement. He joins Eleanor at her table and Eleanor's maid finds an excuse to leave the two of them alone for a bit. Ernest asks Eleanor about all kinds of things he's heard she enjoys, before finally telling her that he condemns William Jones for what he did and had thought William was a better man than that. Eleanor stops him and tells him that the incident was as much her fault as anyone's - she was young and foolish and wanted to be loved and took his kindness the wrong way.

Eleanor, her sisters, and Ernest go for a ride - Eleanor seems to enjoy herself, and Monica shows surprising signs of loosening up towards Ernest. Eleanor's other sister asks Monica about this as Monica is drawing Eleanor - Monica, as usual, is adoring towards Eleanor. Her response is that she just wants Eleanor to be happy, and Ernest "seems to lift her spirits a bit." Ernest and Eleanor share a moment enjoying the beauty of their surroundings, under the watchful eyes of Eleanor's sisters.

Back at her home (or wherever it is she's staying), Eleanor talks with her maid about her outing and Ernest. Eleanor now has a bouquet of flowers (I'm guessing picked by Ernest while they were outside, and given to her). Eleanor's maid says Ernest is a "fine young man" and Eleanor says, with a soft smile, that she'd "like to become like Mr. Liebe." It suddenly occurs to Eleanor that she'd like a dress made of lighter material. When her maid asks if she'd like her to call a dressmaker, she says yes. Looks like Eleanor is ready to live her life again.

Commentary:

Ernest Liebe's name got me - "liebe" means "love" in German, so it's like his very name is proclaiming him to be Eleanor's new love. Although I came to somewhat dislike Eleanor in the anime, I mostly just pitied her in the manga, so it's nice that manga Eleanor seems to have found a nice, intelligent, good-looking guy.

I liked the little ways Eleanor's maid tries to encourage her new relationship, by shouting at Ernest not to go (Eleanor would've let him leave after the gossipers left) and letting Eleanor and Ernest have alone time. I do hope she gets someone for herself - just not that overly touchy-feely French guy. Anyway, I think Eleanor's found the guy for her, so I hope William won't have to feel guilty about her. William didn't exactly handle things well with Eleanor, but he never intended to hurt her - I'd like for there to be a happy ending for everyone.

Monica's reaction was a bit of a surprise. She's always been a bit like a dragon, where Eleanor's concerned - it's like all of the protectiveness and love that their parents should have had for their children is contained inside her and directed towards Eleanor. I figured, after Eleanor got her heart broken by William, Monica would become even more protective, but she actually seems to have mellowed out a bit.

"The Times" Synopsis:

This is actually a series of short snippets structured around ads and articles people are reading in The Times. The first is a snippet about poor children. A pair of them go to a well-to-do house - the maids ask if they can give them a bit of food, and the lady of the house (under the watchful eyes of her visiting friends) tells them they may - it makes her look charitable. A series of starving children are shown visiting the house - fans will recognize a young Emma getting a bowl of stew or something. The lady's friends comment of the charitable reputation she's getting - she doesn't mind that, but she hadn't known her maids were giving away so much behind her back. Rather than punishing them, she tells them to give the children food by the entryway from now on, rather than letting them inside, and she continues to reap the benefits of a reputation as a philanthropist.

The next snippet deals with Edna, who used to work at the Molders' household as part of the kitchen staff (she was the one who said "before food, everyone is equal"). She now does all the cooking at her own restaurant (or is it a hotel?), and she's making a name for herself. She perks up when a customer comes in and orders chestnut cream soup, fillet of sole, and quail pie - it's Mrs. Dallimore, the head cook from the Molders household, come to see how she's doing and what her cooking is like. It's a comfortable snippet - Edna's staff comment that she's putting a lot of effort into the meal, while she replies that she isn't putting in more effort than usual. Mrs. Dallimore eats the meal and insists on paying for it (that "everyone is equal before food" thing) - before she leaves, she makes a few comments about little things that could be improved in the meal, but it feels less like criticism and more like a teacher making sure that a favored student knows she still has room for improvement. The thing that brought Mrs. Dallimore there: an ad for the restaurant in The Times.

The next snippet deals with Eleanor's father's former mistress, who he tossed out after he caught her with another man. She's naked and chatting with an elderly man, her new... patron? Anyway, he asks her if she wants to go to France with him. He understands, although can't say he'd really like, that she may have other lovers on the side, but he's getting old - he'd like a companion, and he likes her. He offers to support her until he dies, and she can have whatever of his money is left when death comes for him. It's a sudden offer, but life with him is good, as good as it's been since the viscount dumped her. It seems like she'll probably go with him. She asks him why he'd want to do all this for her, he turns that question around - why would she want to stay with him? Her response - she likes his beard. In this snippet, The Times comes up because that's what the old man is reading while they talk.

All of the characters in these snippets are minor, but I could remember most of them. I cannot for the life of me remember who the character in the final snippet is. This snippet is a sweet exchange via the paper. Bayer, who works in a pub, has put out a brief column congratulating an "S.B." In the paper from the previous day was a column announcing the birth of a baby boy to Mr. Stephen Borrower of Rochester Solicitors and Mrs. Borrower. Bayer explains that he used to be a butler and Stephen Borrower was the son of the family he worked for. He doesn't know if Mr. Borrower will see his column, but in the next paper is a column with a thank you from Mr. Borrower.

The last few pages are sort of a "life cycle of The Times" thing, with various examples being discarded, left behind, drawn on, burned, etc.

Commentary:

This bit fits with the "everyday life" feel of the series. It has a nice feel, and there are some good moments here, but the characters that come up are very minor ones from the series - while it was nice, at times, to see some of these characters, this snippet was occasionally hard to follow and hard for me to connect with the series.

"With Family" Synopsis:

Tasha arrives home for a visit only to find that things have been moving along rather well without her. Everyone in her family is working and doing fabulously in their various jobs. Little Leo is working at Mr. Mullet's store as a shop assistant. Ned, who's even younger, raises chickens. Andy is a pageboy at a nearby mansion. Joseph, who I think is the oldest, may soon be getting married. Tasha is the next oldest besides Joseph, and it's strongly indicated that she should also be thinking about marriage, that she shouldn't want to be a maid forever.

However, compared to her family members, Tasha seems to be failing at everything. She keeps trying to prove that she's a good, responsible worker who can help out around the house as well as anyone, but she keeps breaking things or messing things up. No one in her family wants her to help them with their jobs or chores because of this. As far as marriage goes, there's no one Tasha's interested in, and there's no one interested in Tasha. Everyone in her family has goals for themselves. Ned wants to own a big store one day and, in order to achieve this goal, plans to move from raising chickens to raising cows. Leo may one day be adopted by the couple who owns the store he works in, so that he can inherit the store, since the elderly couple doesn't have an heir of their own. Andy hopes to become a footman one day and is proud of the snazzy uniform he gets to wear as a pageboy. Andy encourages Tasha, telling her that the maids at his mansion all want to become head housekeeper, but Tasha knows this is probably impossible. Little Nancy, who tries to care for her looks, says she wants to become an actress because she thinks she'll become a beautiful woman. When Tasha tells her their father will never allow it, she says she wants to be a typist (which would require special schooling). Tasha offers to help her find a job with the Molders, but Nancy doesn't think it's glamorous enough.

In the end, Tasha, who can't sleep, has a quiet talk with her mother. She says she heard that maids who stay on long enough can get a pension. She's not so sure about marriage, but she knows she likes the feeling of being part of a family that she gets at the Molders. Her mother wants her to be happy, although she'd also like her to have a family of her own. The next day, Tasha goes back to the Molders and is pleased that lots of the servants have questions for her and want her help - she thinks, "it's nice to have people rely on you" (although they don't really rely on her).

Commentary:

Tasha is a nice girl, but I don't think she'd last long in anyone's household but the Molders's - I think they keep her around because they kind of like her, and she hasn't yet broken anything too expensive. Although this wasn't really one of my favorite stories in this volume, it at least further fleshes out another character in the series. Even if you don't see much of them, all the characters in Emma have lives, hopes, and dreams outside the events of the series' main story. It's nice.

Extras:

There's an afterword, with the usual crazy short manga by Mori.

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