*Emma Book 10 — Best of 2009

I had thought this charming series ended last year, when the title character, a Victorian maid, captured the heart of her beloved, an upper-class gentleman. However, this year saw the release of three more volumes. These books collected short stories featuring other characters from the series, providing additional glimpses into the detailed world built by artist Kaoru Mori.

Emma Book 10 cover
Emma Book 10
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Now, with this final book, the series really is over, and it’s quite a shame. Mori’s portrayal of the Victorian world is fascinating; she obviously loves the era but doesn’t avoid its dark side. She captures both the problems of the time, including class distinctions and crushing poverty, and obstacles that can take place in any era, such as parental interference in a child’s life. And she’s clearly done her research in drawing these worlds, with lots of detail that, if not period correct, still feels as though it is.

The stories here don’t deal with major events (with one final exception), instead capturing the characters in small incidents of life. Emma learns to bicycle, for example, on a picnic date with William. She’s wearing the proper outfit, with full skirt, which strikes today’s woman as rather badly suited for the task, but appearance is so very important.

Another story explores the feelings of Adele, a maid at the home where Emma worked after leaving London. Adele has seen many co-workers come and go, other maids marrying to get away from the job, but she likes her work. The story shows how different personalities wind up in service while illustrating the limited options available to young women at the time.

A chapter shows William’s brother Arthur, now nearly a man himself, dealing with a high-spirited, undisciplined younger boy while away at school. Another section collects a series of four-panel strips about the cast. Some show an impetuous maid who means well, but her energy makes her clumsy. Others feature the imposing footman Hans or William’s sister Grace. It’s impressive how quickly a personality is communicated in such short space, while still providing an enjoyable punchline.

The last entry, in three parts, is a grand reunion and celebration, as everyone assembles for the wedding of Emma and William. The children are growing up, some at different rates, and the various servants mingle and swap stories. There are snags and uncomfortable moments, as the classes mix, but alcohol and music eventually smooth over the distinctions. Overall, it’s a wonderful end to the story and the series.


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