I think there are two reactions to Austen's Emma. You either love the character of Emma Woodhouse, or you hate her. There doesn't seem to be a a middle ground for her character.
I have fond memories of the first time I read the novel back in high school. It was for my senior English class as one of my selections from the AP reading list. When I was a little younger, maybe 13 or 14, I went through an insanely giggly, boy-crazy stage. My friends and I were intent on finding the loves of our lives (oh boy...the embarrassment of writing this). We were obsessed with those silly little kinds of flirtations and the idea of love as something we had yet to discover for ourselves.
So when I picked up Emma as a senior in high school, it took me back to those moments. I had grown up from that giggly obnoxious kind of girlhood into someone who was in a "real" relationship for the first time ever (and that relationship turned into my marriage with Matt 7 and a half years later).
But the novel brought me back to what I had been and what I used to believe in. It made me laugh and giggle in the right spots. I enjoyed it and liked Emma, even though I had no desire of ever being like her again.
And this time, it is no different. While Emma does have its depth as you move further into the story, it is frivolous and fun on a surface level. It is hard not to love the cast of characters whose lives seem to controlled by love and relationships. Emma certainly plays the part of mastermind, believing she knows everything about everything that goes on around her. And so convinced that she knows best, she seems almost ruthless in her quest to have things just so.
The beginning of the novel starts off with Emma using her match-making skills in the aid of her friend, Harriet Smith. Harriet come from unknown parentage, but Emma is convinced that she must make a good match. So, she has Harriet turn down a perfectly good proposal from a man she likes in hopes of something more suitable. And of course, there is a man in mind who is simply perfect and miscommunications ensue.
From what I can recall, the novel continues from here, showing us how Emma continuously tries to fix those around her up, but misinterprets what is right in front of her face. I think this is where that dividing line between lovers and haters begin. Some see Emma as manipulative, silly, and selfish. I see her as silly, yes, but I also see her as someone who hasn't grown up in that way. She seems like a girl who secretly writes "Mrs. Emma *****" in her notebooks, but never tells anyone and hides them away so no one will ever find them. I see her as a girl who has yet to undergo that transformation of real love with another person.
I can remember being like that (a little. I swear I was never that bad). And this novel brings me back to that time and place.
So yes, this time I am still loving Emma. She reminds me of when love was simple, and when Matt could do no wrong. :) And she reminds me that at the core, romance can still be simple and fun.
I hope this feeling continues as I move forward, that I continue to see Emma Woodhouse as what, I think, Austen intended: young, naive, and inexperience. She appears to be a foil to the other Austen heroines in many way, but undeniably, she is still an Austen girl, silly or no.