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.