Publisher: Yen Press
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Volume 5 brings us more than just the story of Emma and William. It’s a collection of the lives of everyone significant we’ve encountered in the series. With this final volume, Kaoru Mori paints a beautiful backstory of the friends of William and Emma.
Despite being the final volume, there really isn’t much focus on Emma. This is actually fine, since we’ve really seen everything there is to see betwixt the two except for the wedding. This volume instead fleshes out the world of Emma and zooms in on the supporting characters.
Mori starts with the Molders. Readers know the Molders are different from the other Victorian families in the series, but seeing their treatment of each other and their child really makes them stand out. Dorothea and Wilheim are loving parents who give Erich the emotional support he needs for his age. They don’t treat him like a little adult (as was the standard during the time Emma takes place) which we can see when he is separated from his pet squirrel, Teo. Furthermore, Dorothea and Wilheim remain deeply in love with each other. Their openness might be a result of being a member of the merchant class.
Mori then cuts to a young Master William Jones and his first encounter with Prince Hakim. At first we see an obvious culture clash- Hakim is intrigued by William’s light skin and hair. Overtime, they learn more about each other and Hakim begins to speak English. This flashback is both touching and comical because it depicts a stubborn prince who is used to everything being given to him – literally. At one point, during his first game of tennis, he decides he will only hit the ball if it comes to him. Hakim and William form an unbreakable bond of friendship. If one wanted to read further into this, it could be argued that this is representative of the stronghold England had on India during this time period.
Staying in the present, the story turns to the Molders’s servants, who are enjoying a day off. This segment specifically follows Polly, Alma, Adele, and Emma’s replacement. We learn that Polly enjoys shopping for others, likes to venture into town to spend money, and look at the most recent styles in fashion. Alma tags along because she doesn’t want to work on her day off. Adele prefers to stay at the mansion because she is devoted to her life as a servant. She even gives her personal money to Polly to purchase books that can be shared in the mansion.
Adele is a character I liked from the beginning. Although she seems cold and strictly business, she’s beautiful and sincere. She doesn’t go out of her way to abuse junior staff or push them away. As long as you work, you’re in her good graces. This final volume adds an extra dimension to her personality that didn’t get exposure in the previous volumes. She’s seen plenty of maids come and go at the Molders’s mansion, with them leaving their posts for marriage. Adele doesn’t want to live the life of a domestic housewife and prefers to think about work and independence. Her goal is to look back on her life and say, “I lived life.” It would have been wonderful to see more of Adele because she has potential as a complex character. She also smokes and drinks, two activities Victorian women need to keep hidden from men. Adele’s distaste for marriage shouldn’t be confused for a hatred of men. As we find out in this volume, she’s having a steamy romance of her own with another equally attractive member of the Molders’s house staff.
There is so much backstory in this volume that it’s really impossible to get through it all without writing a lengthy term paper, so let’s move on to some things I observed that are worth examining.
The women who go against the grain are drawn differently. Mr. Molders is blonde haired and light eyed. He can fit in with the leisure class. Polly, Alma, and William’s sisters are drawn with blonde hair and light eyes. They’re all ‘romantics’ who live strictly within their class lines. Mrs. Molders, who is a romantic and is seemingly ‘untamable’ by even her husband, has dark eyes and black hair. Adele who has refused marriage is dark haired and equally exotic looking against the plainer but pretty English women around them.
Emma with her brown hair and brown eyes is somewhere in the middle. She’s a romantic who wants to marry outside of her class, making her a target for those who support the rigid class system of England. She’s blind to the lines between social classes despite being aware she’s a poor servant engaging in a taboo romance. Of course, this isn’t entirely her fault because she’s encouraged to embrace Mr. Jones’s attention. In fact, Emma is quite plain in contrast to Adele and Mrs. Molders. It’s her sweet personality, shy demeanor, and intelligence that make her attractive.
Hakim, who is very exotic with his Indian heritage and parade of women serves as William’s conscious throughout the series. Hakim, who is also an observer of British society (like the Molders from Germany) is likewise disinterested in the class structure of the wealthy. He sees nothing wrong with William and Emma falling for each other. In fact, he considered pursuing Emma for himself, which would have been the ultimate win for her since he’s actual royalty.
One thing I found suspect was the silence surrounding the wedding between Emma and Mr. Jones. It’s noted that the Jones family never announced the wedding in the town papers(this process is referred to as banns). This is likely because they were ashamed of the union between a lowly servant and their son. William also secured his marriage license with Emma on the downlow to prevent any resistance. While this is all fine and dandy because it makes sense to a modern reader – it is seriously important to understand from a historical standpoint that it was tradition to announce marriages publicaly. This was done for a few reasons: to prevent fraud. It wasn’t uncommon that men would marry a woman in one town, then marry another in a town over, so on and so forth. Banns were intended to protect inheritance from going to illegitimate children. Fortunately, both Emma and William exist in the late Victorian era, long after Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was repealed (it was overturned by the Marriage Act of 1823). Marriage banns were still the standard but no longer required by law to legalize a marriage.
The final volume of Emma contains the climax we’ve all been waiting for, but for some reason, after all of the build-up between Emma and the young Mr. Jones it doesn’t feel as satisfying as I had hoped.
As I mentioned earlier, this volume really puts a lot of emphasis on the supporting characters. I find it a bit odd that the volume where Emma finally gets married doesn’t actually spend much time on the new couple. At the same time, the wedding ceremony was so anticlimactic(as it often is in Victorian literature) that the author did us a favor by filling us in on the characters. Seeing more of them was the most enjoyable part of this volume and I’m happy I had a chance to know them better. This is not to say that the final chapters featuring the events leading to the wedding followed by the ceremony itself aren’t good. It was charming to see Emma sign her marriage license and become Mrs. Jones. Dressed up, she certainly looks the part of a lady of leisure. It’s also obvious that her personality hasn’t changed – she will likely continue to correspond with the friends she made at the Molders’s mansion. Her marriage represents the change happening in English society as the world enters the 20th century.
I also liked that you can see the transformation of Victorian England as they move into the Edwardian era. Mori shows the use of Edwardian technology creeping in and the changes in women’ fashion. This is immediately obvious when the story returns to London and everyone is in awe of the changes that haven’t made their way into the countryside.
Overall, I’m sad this series is over, but I’m incredibly happy to have had the chance to read it. It will be a true delight for anyone interested in Victorian romance.
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**This item was provided for review.