Emma, by Jane Austen
The particular Emma version I read was about 500 pages long and was distinguished from other versions only by its gorgeous cover, which looked like a line and watercolor type drawing in orange that showed Emma in her complacent and attractive country gentry form, holding a parasol in her hand and no doubt thinking about something witty to say or some couple to attempt to throw together. Other than that, this book consists merely of the unadorned text of the novel without critical apparatus of any kind. That is not to say that this book necessarily needs such apparatus, as it is a fairly straightforward novel about misdirection and deception and self-deception and the misery that these qualities spread to the external world. Even the most honest and open of the characters are occasionally misled by their understanding, though, and if this novel is my least favorite of the canonical Austen writings, it does at least offer a great deal of insight into those aspects which make my own life more interesting sometimes than it has any right to be based on the fact that I am not much more exciting as a person than the creature of habit Mr. Woodhouse himself is in the eyes of many people.
This book, though, does offer some surprises to the unwary reader. For someone going through the novel the first time, it is remarkable just how often the focus on charades and riddles within the plot relates to the byzantine plots that various characters are conducting. Readers who encounter this book again will know how things turn out, but will still sometimes be surprised by the cringeworthiness of its central plot, that being the marriage between a solid gentry man in his mid to late thirties to a young woman of barely legal age that he has loved since she was at least thirteen. In some sense, we owe Austen a debt of gratitude for her willingness to make the obligatory romances of her main characters so delightfully awkward in ways that only make her work retain its relevance long after the works were originally written. No matter how many times one reads this novel, it likely will retain at least some of its capacity to encourage some useful self-reflection on our own capacity for folly and error, and that is something that we ought to keep in mind a great deal.