Friday, May 20, 2011

Emma, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori

Emma is a maid working for a woman named Mrs. Stownar, a former governess. When Mrs. Stownar gets a visit from Edmund, a former student, he also meets Emma and is immediately entranced by her good looks. And as his former governess asks him pointed and embarrassing questions about his life in the ten years since she has seen him last, she also begins to notice his attraction to her maid. So when she must go out to see someone and bids him goodbye, he manages to leave his gloves behind so that he can see Emma again, if only for a few more minutes. Mrs. Stownar realizes what he is up to immediately, but lets him continue.

He returns to a pub near where his former governess lives and manages to run into Emma again, and he leaves too large a note to pay for his beer- a sign that he is really smitten. She didn't see him, because she wears glasses, and the prescription is getting old and her eyes have gotten weaker. He offers to pay for new glasses for her, but she feels that is too much of an extravagance, and asks instead for a single lace handkerchief, which he buys her, and she remembers back when she first came to work for Mrs. Stownar and when her employer paid for her glasses.

Meanwhile, an old friend from India, Prince Hakim Atawally, arrives to see Edward and stay with his family for a while. But while he is supposed to be in the country incognito, he also arrives with a bunch of Indian Maidens in saris and a whole host of elephants, putting the "Incognito" part in a shambles. Hakim manages to persuade Edward to take a ride in the Howdah of an Elephant, but Edward is more terrified than exhilarated by the entire experience, and when Hakin orders his driver to make the elephant move at top speed, Edward is sickened, and when they pass Mrs. Stownar's house, he sees Emma and demands they stop. Thus, Hakim also meets Emma, and is similarly entranced by the beautiful maid.

But Edward and Hakim aren't Emma's only admirers, and when a present of Hakim's is delivered to the Jones estate, everyone assumes that Edward is the one who has commissioned the beautiful box. But Edward sees that it is Hakim's name on the order, and the box is engraved with "Beloved Emma", he becomes suspicious and a bit angry. He goes immediately to Mrs. Stownar's, and sees Hakim wearing completely Western dress and calling on Emma, who he has an interest in.

Hakim asks if she and William are in a relationship, to which she replies in the negative, and he tells her that he is in love with her, and he's glad that she and William aren't in love, because William is his friend, and he wouldn't do anything to hurt William for the world. Hakim tells Emma that he wants to protect her. She blushes, and doesn't reply. Meanwhile, at his club, Edward discusses Emma with his friends, and they all seem to know her because of her beauty, but all have been turned down by her when they sent her a letter or gift. In fact, she seems to spend a lot of time writing rejection letters.

Then a pipe breaks in the Stownar house, and Mrs. Stownar falls down the stairs when she is helping Emma move things out of the way of the leaking water. Afterwards, she reflects on her folly and asks Emma how she feels about Edward, if she is going to turn him down as well. Emma can only blush, and Mrs. Stownar thinks to herself that while their social classes might not be anywhere near each other, they are perfect in age and seem to like each other. Now, if only Edward's family might agree to their relationship...

But when Edward's father takes his son to visit Mrs. Stownar after her injury, he firmly discourages any thought of a romance between the two. Emma is a servant, while the Jones family is rich and of the upper crust of society. Besides, his father already has a girl of a similar family in mind for Edward. Is there any hope for the two young lovers to be together?

This manga shows the reality of the class divide in Victorian/Edwardian England. The Upper and Lower classes were like two different peoples in one country, and both looked down on either of the other attempting to marry up, with the member of the lower class either being a fortune or title hunter, or "having ideas above their station". It wasn't until after World War I that the classes really started to mingle, because so many young man had died off during the war and the Influenza that the class divide could not be maintained.

Men and women who had once seen nothing more or better than going into service with a rich family now had many more opportunities that it became extremely hard to fill positions on estates, and most of the jobs outside paid more and had more prestige, which led to the rich families coming into closer contact with the "lower" classes. So, this manga explores the time when the class divides were strict and strictly upheld.

Being people of the modern day, we as readers see no problem with a romance between Emma and Edward, and the resistance her father puts up to the idea seems merely obstructionist. But to him, his family would become laughingstock were he to allow Edward to romance Emma. And that is anathema to him. But I want to see how Emma wins over his family (if she does, and it would be a strange manga indeed if she doesn't in the end), so I will definitely read more of this series. Recommended, even if modern readers without a sense of history may find the romance aspect frustrating.

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