As I read through Volume Two, a few things strike me as worth exploring.
1) Where has Harriet Gone?
This may bother me the most. She became such an important part of the novel in Volume One that I can’t really understand how Austen could so quickly dismiss her from the plot lines. I had also really begun to like her, and to my great disappointment, a sweet (if not smart) young woman has been replaced by an arrogant, vulgar, manipulative harpy – Mrs. Elton. I hate this woman (just as I am supposed to), and miraculously, I miss Harriet – Harriet who was easily led, unintelligent, and quite foolish. She’s not usually my kind of character, but I guess compared to Bridezilla, Mrs. Elton, anybody is preferable.
2) Why does Emma hate Jane with such vehemence?
I was studying Emma’s hatred of Jane as it unfolded, and I was incredibly disappointed in Emma for it. I love Emma in spite of her snobbery and meddling, but I was afraid that I was not going to be be able to get past this inexplicable hatred. Thankfully, Mr. Knightley’s honesty and wisdom provided me with an explanation and Emma with an opportunity to redeem herself.
“Mr. Knightley had once told her [Emma] it was because she saw in her [Jane] the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself; and though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her.”
I love this because even thought it isn’t terribly flattering to Emma, it does give Emma an opportunity to own the knowledge that she is jealous of Jane’s accomplishments, and Emma’s ability to be honest with herself refuses to allow her to completely ignore the wisdom of Mr. Knightley’s words.
3) Why such a focus on illness – real and imagined?
We hear Perry’s name over and over again within the text, and this started me thinking about the medical practices of the 1800s. This was a time of great development in the medical field. Cocaine and opium became the go-to prescriptions for EVERYTHING, but neither are mentioned in Emma. As a matter of fact, Perry seems to give few if any instructions besides things like ensuring that the ill stay dry and warm. Austen also seems to tackle the idea of being a hypochondriac. She uses two characters who are obvious hypochondriacs – Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Churchill, but her treatment of the two characters is incredibly different. Mr. Woodhouse is treated with patience, love, and understanding, but Mrs. Churchill is treated with disdain and dismissal. It is clear to me that Mr. Woodhouse’s neuroses are extreme but sincere; he truly worries about people doing things that he thinks might harm them. Mrs. Churchill’s “failing health” is used as a tool to manipulate and manage those around her – not for a perceived benefit to them, but for her own benefit. I wonder what Jane Austen’s inspiration for this part of the story line was.
4) What is a gentleman?
I love the contrast that Jane Austen has created between Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill. Churchill claims to be a gentleman, tries to appear to be a gentlemen, and does things to make others think he is a gentlemen, but his less public actions are often very ungentlemanly. His gossip and snarkyness towards Jane Fairfax during the word game is an example of his capacity to be cruel and vicious. In addition, I hate the way he “manages” his aunt through manipulation and deceit. He isn’t thoughtful, giving, or generous, unless it will somehow benefit him. I just don’t trust him at all.
Mr. Knightley on the other hand, is a true gentlemen, evidenced by his acts of kindness like sending his carriage (which he never uses for himself) for the Bates women the night of the ball. He would just as soon had walked himself, but his care and concern for those who needed something prompted him to act. (I also loved that it served as a way to chide Emma’s materialistic and elitist attitude – nicely done Mr. K.) He also practices a philosophy that my grandmother tried and tried to get me to adopt – “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” He tries and mostly succeeds in avoiding criticism of everybody (except Emma 😉 ). He is older, wiser, more grounded, and more genuine than any other character in the novel, and I adore him for it.