Category Archives: Emma

Emma – Volume 3

I love Austen’s happy endings!  Everyone is accounted for and happy; however, I do wish there were some more comeuppance for a few of the characters… Mrs. Elton for example.  I do hate her…

After reading two of the Chatworth novels, I am beginning to see some overreaching themes.

  • The truly happy and successful relationships (the ones without ANY hiccups) are born out of some sort of familial connection.  Emma and Mr. Knightley are brother and sister (by marriage) just as Fanny and Edmund were “siblings.”  Emma and Mr. Knightley’s regard for one another was born out of a connection that transcends  anything as superficial as being neighbors or even friends.  Their love was born of Mr. Knightley’s brotherly care for Emma’s person and habits.  He treats her like a younger sister in his desire to help her mature into a proper and pleasant young woman.  Throughout the novel, Emma’s missteps are almost always addressed by Mr. Knightley in a forthright and instructive manner.  (I  must admit there were times when he did upset my feminist sensibilities, but I was always forced to acknowledge Emma’s silliness and his wisdom).
  • There is a distinction between the idea of the city and the country.  It seems that anything related to urban populations is almost always temptation and destruction (with the exception of the John Knightleys – they may break this seeming cardinal rule).  When Frank runs off to get his haircut in London, there is definite distaste from Mr. Knightley (as expected) but even Emma seems to think this need to go to “town” to have one’s hair cut a bit ridiculous and excessive.  The Churchill’s seat of Enscombe is another source of contention and constant problems.  Nothing that comes out of that place is for the good of anyone… well, the news of Mrs. Churchill’s death might count as a good thing.   I can’t even really like Frank; however, he really is just the male reflection of everything that causes me grief in Emma…. hmm. I’ll have to think about that one.
  • Money and wealth is another of Austen’s hot topics in these two novels.  There is a clear distinction in the haves and have-nots in Mansfield Park, but the lines are less clearly drawn in Emma.  Although we do know that the Bates women’s finances are a source of concern for them, their behavior and decorum do not set them apart from the rest of the characters.  They are often included in the same activities and functions (even if there is the constant reminder that they come from a lower financial caste).  I have almost decided that they exist so that Emma can achieve another level of redemption.  She has to get over her snobbery and the Bates women provide the perfect tool for her to accomplish this.  Her insult to Miss Bates (a perfectly tedious, but wonderful person) is a turning point for Emma.  She is forced to acknowledge her poor behavior and slight to someone who was technically her social inferior.  Emma must humble herself, and it proves a worthy exercise for her.

I must admit that I enjoyed Emma much more than Mansfield Park. I must admit (reluctantly) that Emma is really a version of me – big personality, big mouth, susceptible to those around her, bound to make missteps, but always remorseful for the pain she might cause others.  

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Emma – Volume Two

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.

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Austen Quote of the Day

“Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of.”  – Emma

I guess this is true.   The only thing someone has to do to recover her reputation is to either get married or die.  No one ever says anything bad about a bride or a corpse! I guess that means that a zombie bride is forgiven ALL her poor choices and missteps in life.   It’s something to think about….

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Emma – volume one

Wow!  Emma is certainly no Fanny Price (much to my relief).  I must admit to loving Emma, even though she is arrogant and meddlesome. She is unapologetic about  who she is (good and bad), in contrast to Fanny Price who is really nobody special.  The more I read, the more I enjoyed Emma’s character, but I started to wonder why… I mean what is so great about her.  She is a busy body, she ‘s arrogant, she’s flighty, and she’s blind to anything outside of her own schemes and plans.  I really had to think about what was so special about Emma, and I think I found it.  She is an exceptional woman in her ability to be honest with herself once she has been smacked with the truth.  This revelation hit me after she and Mr. Elton had their uncomfortable conversation on the return trip from Randalls.  In that moment, she knew two things  : 1) she had been wrong about Mr. Elton and Mr. Knightley had been correct and 2) that her match-making had hurt someone who didn’t deserve to be hurt.  These are two bitter pills to be swallowed, but she does so and makes the difficult trip to tell Harriet that she (Emma) had been horribly wrong.  She doesn’t hide herself behind a fake illness, doesn’t avoid the calls, or just cut herself off form Harrier.  She “mans up” and tries to do the right thing. Most people have a hard time admitting their mistakes and living with the consequences, but Emma owns it and that earns my respect.  Is she contrite and humbled by her mistake? – yes and no.  She is repentant for having hurt Harriet, but she is not sorry that she encouraged Harriet to refuse the farmer’s proposal.   She promises to give up her match-making, but catches herself right back at it.  Emma has the best of intentions, but she has incredible difficulty making her intentions happen.  Maybe this is another reason I love her so much… she’s me.  I tell myself all the time I’m going to do a better job with X or make more of an effort in dealing with person Y, yet in spite of all my best intentions, I find myself like Emma – with a well-organized list of books to read but just never really getting it done.

In Emma, Austen continues to deal with some of her favorite themes. We see again a great respect for the idea of familial love and ties.  The Woodhouse sisters are quite devoted to their tedious and demanding father, but there is never resentment or disgust with his personality quirks.  Both sisters just take it all in stride – they treat him like the “aged one,” and I love that.  Interestingly, Mr. Woodhouse doesn’t drive me crazy.  Maybe it’s because he doesn’t drive Emma crazy – she just goes with it, and tries to manage the situation as it unfolds.

One of my favorite moments so far is when the Knightley brothers greet one another at Hartfield:

…John Knightley made his appearance, and “How d’ye do, George?” and “John, how are you?” succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other.

This makes me think of the scene in Grease where Kinickie asks Zuko to be his second at Thunder Road.  They love each other but are careful to hide it under a layer of “cool” as thick as their hair cream.

I love the way these characters love each other.  It’s bumpy and imperfect, but that’s what makes it genuine, believable, and sincere.

 

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