After the conclusion of the main storyline of Emma in volume 7, I put off buying other Kaoru Mori works for a little while. I’m glad I finally bought these manga because they reminded me of why I enjoyed Emma so much in the first place – engaging characters, intricate historical detail, and lovely art.
Shirley Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori
An independant woman named Bennett Cranley runs a cafe and decides to place an ad for a maid to make things easier on her at home. A thirteen year old girl named Shirley applies for the job and ends up being an exemplary maid despite her age. Shirley doesn’t mention much about her past, but Miss Cranley hires her anyway thinking that she might not have anywhere else to go. Shirley dedicates herself to her job, and the next few chapters of this manga are filled with quiet moments between Miss Cranley and Shirley. Miss Cranley impulsively buys Shirley a doll and Shirley reveals that she has talent as a seamstress when she starts making doll clothes. They tackle issues like gardening, wishing for another hair color, and an interfering visiting relative. Shirley was written before Emma, and while it doen’t have the depth of storyline or nuanced character development found in Mori’s later work, it was still an entertaining diversion.
Other short stories include an interlude where a maid is the focus of her child master’s affections and another story where a maid struggles to serve an old man who delights in playing practical jokes on his servants.
Emma Volume 8 by Kaoru Mori
This volume of Emma contains short stories about the supporting characters introduced earlier in the series. One of my favorites was the first one in the volume, about Kelly and Doug Stower when they were young. The Great Exposition of 1851 is taking place, and they both scrimp and save in order to afford tickets to the show. It was interesting seeing Kelly when she was younger, her strong-willed personality meshed well with her husband’s more laid back and good humored nature. The story flashes forward to Kelly when she’s an old woman and a widow, sending Emma to find the only souvenir she and her husband were able to afford from the day, a thimble with the Crystal Palace carved into it.
Another story follows the clumsy maid Tasha as she is able to spend a rare day off with her family. All of her siblings are industriously working, even her youngest brother raises chickens and saves his money with the goal of owning a shop in mind. Tasha discusses her future with her mother, wondering if she should continue working while her mother pushes the idea of getting married.
One of the characters that I felt the worst for in Emma was Eleanor Campbell, whose broken engagement to Emma’s Mr. Jones resulted in social humiliation. So it was nice to see Eleanor spending time with her sisters, visiting the seaside, and meeting a extremely studious and pleasant young man named Ernest Liebe in a story called “Brighton by the Sea.” Eleanor is still affected by her broken engagement, but a few chance encounters with Ernest show her taking more of an active interest in life. They go on a ride to view some mountain scenery. Eleanor discusses her day with her maid Annie, commenting that Mr. Liebe is a fine young man and she wants to become more like him.
Another story focuses on the life of The Times newspaper. The paper becomes a backdrop as the reader visits several households. A maid feeds a starving child. A woman chef cooks a meal for her mentor. A mistress discusses the future with her patron. A former butler publishes a note of congratulations to his former master. The paper unites all these characters as they share small moments that define their lives.
One of the things I appreciate about Mori’s art is the way she’s able to portray the inner lives of her characters with a few facial expressions. Tasha looks up into the sky, thinking that there’s nothing for her to do. Eleanor looks down and away when Ernest mistakenly talks about William Jones. Kelly and Doug yell at each other about scrimping, “Don’t skip meals!” “I ate potatoes!”
It probably wasn’t a good idea to read these manga together, because Shirley just doesn’t match up with the artistic achievement of Emma. Still, I was glad to read Shirley to appreciate how far Mori has developed her artistic talents. I think Emma 8 is a must buy for anyone who enjoyed the main storyline of the series, and I won’t be procrastinating in my purchases of future volumes.