Writing and Ruminating

Thoughts on writing, reading, and poetry. With the occasional diversion, bien sûr.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

YOU ARE INVITED to a poetry reading!

If you are able, please come to my poetry reading on Monday, May 19, 2014. I've been invited to be the Featured Reader at Poetry in the Round, a monthly poetry group that meets inside the Barnes & Noble store on Route 70 in Marlton, New Jersey. For those who haven't heard me before, here's your chance. For those who have, I promise to read a bunch of new material, so hopefully that's an enticement to attend. I promise not to take inexplicable gasps while reading. Or at least to try not to.

There will be an open reading after I'm done, so if you are inclined to want to share some poems (your own or that of others), please feel free!

Here's the invite in a more calendar-friendly manner:

WHAT: Poetry reading
WHEN: Monday, May 19th at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 200 West Route 70, Marlton, NJ 08053

I hope to see you there!

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Well, well . . . happy blog birthday to me

Turns out that yesterday wasn't just Mother's Day; it was also the 9th anniversary of the creation of this here blog. NINE YEARS! Imagine that!

I took a quick look back to get some idea where my writing career was at that point. I was definitely already writing and submitting poetry and stories for children (I have now been at it since 2003, so it's been about 11 years), was in an in-person critique group at the time, and hadn't sold anything yet. I was working on getting a website together, but it wasn't operational yet.

I've made some excellent friends through this here blog over the years, including quite a few who started out as blog friends and became friends in real life as well. I've found that the folks I really click with online turn out to be people I really click with in real life, too. Who'd have thunk it?

To celebrate my blogiversary, I believe I'm going to think about hosting a new event. Perhaps a summer read of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is in order, both because I haven't done that novel yet and because it's the 200th anniversary of its publication this year. Or perhaps a return to Brush Up Your Shakespeare month? Or maybe both, but obviously not at the same time?

All thoughts welcome, so please leave some!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 13 (Chapter 49)



Jane Austen and the Romantic Movement

I promise we'll get to the "good stuff" in just a minute, but first, I wanted to take a brief moment to appreciate the Romantic nature of the start of this chapter. And I refer here to the movement known as romanticism, defined by Merriam-Webster as:

a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms
Let's look at the first few sentences of the first paragraph, shall we? (I will assume that you agreed. If not, skip on down to the rest of the post.)

The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield— but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr Perry's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time in hurrying into the shrubbery.
First off, we have an emphasis on setting and weather. We are told that the bad weather of the night before continued for the morning. (In the previous chapter, Austen wrote: "A cold stormy rain set in, and nothing of July appeared but in the trees and shrubs, which the wind was despoiling".) The weather is decidedly echoing Emma's emotions in this (and the prior) chapter, as she mopes about realizing that she is in love with Mr Knightley and fairly convinced that he is not only not in love with her, but also possibly in love with Harriet Smith. But suddenly, the weather clears and becomes balmy and summery again, just in time for Mr Knightley to arrive. It's like he brought that wonderful weather with him. Oh symbolism, how do we love thee? (It will surprise some of you to learn that there are readers who don't think that Austen ever uses symbolism. Or foreshadowing. Or any of the other things we've been discussing as we talk about her books. But there it is.)

Secondly, we have an emphasis on Emma's wanting to be outside, to be soothed by nature - a hallmark of the Romantic movement, as anyone who has read Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads can tell you. For a prior post touching on this, in context with discussing Austen, I refer you to this post. It's not entirely surprising to find this level of romanticism in Austen's work, since the novel she completed immediately prior to Emma was Mansfield Park, which has quite a bit to say about using nature as one's guide (and/or quite a bit to say about Nature versus nurture, where Nature means the out-of-doors and natural sense rather than genetics - but we haven't done Mansfield Park here yet, so I digress).

Mr Knightley is back from London!

Moving on to the "good part" of this chapter, we are immediately told that soon after Emma "hurries into the shrubbery" (love that - she's just walking the paths in the garden, but it sounds so funny the way Austen puts it), Mr Knightley arrives. Emma is, of course, surprised almost to the point of shock, since she thought he was still in London. "She asked after their mutual friends; they were all well.--When had he left them?--Only that morning. He must have had a wet ride.--Yes.--He meant to walk with her, she found."

I love how the characters are at cross-purposes here for a while, each of them operating under a serious misunderstanding as to what the other is thinking and feeling. Emma is certain that Mr Knightley has been telling John Knightley that he means to marry Harriet, and is in a serious mood because it didn't go well, and Mr Knightley is sure that Emma is severely disappointed that Frank Churchill is to marry Jane Fairfax, because he thinks Emma has the hots for Frank. So they sort of dance around each other in a (delightful to the reader) way, trying to suss out what's going on.

When Emma confesses that she didn't see the Churchill/Fairfax marriage coming, Mr Knightley assumes that her sinking voice and sigh represent her own loss and disappointment (and he takes her arm in his - *swoon*). He's correct that Emma is disappointed, but she is disappointed in herself and in her own failure to have seen things clearly. And I think it's a HUGE credit to Emma that she owns up to it to Mr Knightley in detail, telling him what her own failings and misdeeds were - in great detail, no less - and making clear that she wasn't attached to Mr Churchill.

It's noteworthy that once Mr Knightley has processed Emma's words, he starts thinking slightly less ill of Frank Churchill, and expresses hope that perhaps he'll turn out well after all. Later in the chapter, of course, he's ready to wish Frank all the happiness in the world. Jealousy is such an interesting emotion, and writers should take note that Austen has never, ever summarized things by saying "Knightley was/seemed jealous" - she has always showed his resentment and jealousy through detailed conduct and statements. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

What Mr Knightley feels at the minute is no longer jealousy, but envy. Frank Churchill has just landed the woman of his (Frank's) dreams, and appears to be set to get his "happily ever after" (though I must report that according to family lore, Austen told family members that Jane Fairfax only lived a few years after he marriage to Frank Churchill, leaving him widowed much as his own father had been. But I digress). Mr Knightley, it turns out, is envious because he, too, is in love, and he doubts that he's in line for a "happily ever after" anytime soon - if ever. He displays his envy vociferously, in this lengthy paragraph where he lays out Frank Churchill's many shortcomings and the many strokes of luck he's encountered. It is only after his recitation that he confirms that it is, in fact, envy that he feels:

"He is a most fortunate man!" returned Mr Knightley, with energy. "So early in life--at three-and-twenty--a period when, if a man chooses a wife, he generally chooses ill. At three-and-twenty to have drawn such a prize! What years of felicity that man, in all human calculation, has before him!
--Assured of the love of such a woman--the disinterested love, for Jane Fairfax's character vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour,--equality of situation--I mean, as far as regards society, and all the habits and manners that are important; equality in every point but one--and that one, since the purity of her heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase his felicity, for it will be his to bestow the only advantages she wants.--A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt of her regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.--Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favorite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good.--He meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment--and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior.--His aunt is in the way.--His aunt dies.--He has only to speak.--His friends are eager to promote his happiness.--He had used every body ill--and they are all delighted to forgive him.--He is a fortunate man indeed!"

"You speak as if you envied him."

"And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy."
We come to the heart of the matter

Emma, of course, thinks Mr Knightley has a thing for Harriet and tries to steer the conversation elsewhere. Mr Knightley, of course, like Harriet Smith and Frank Churchill before him thought about Emma, thinks that Emma sees what his romantic intention is, and wants to head him off because she's not interested. But she realizes that she has just mortified and hurt Mr Knightley, so she resumes the conversation "as a friend," which brings us to Mr Knightley's declaration of love, which is terribly romantic (in the love-sense, not the romanticism sense), because it's swoonily sweet and really a bit out of character for practical man-of-action Knightley:

"As a friend!"--repeated Mr Knightley.--"Emma, that I fear is a word--No, I have no wish--Stay, yes, why should I hesitate?--I have gone too far already for concealment.--Emma, I accept your offer--Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend.--Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?"

He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her.

"My dearest Emma," said he, "for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma--tell me at once. Say 'No,' if it is to be said."--She could really say nothing.--"You are silent," he cried, with great animation; "absolutely silent! at present I ask no more."

Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.

"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.--"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.--You hear nothing but truth from me.--I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.--Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.--But you understand me.--Yes, you see, you understand my feelings--and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice."(Emphasis is mine.)
Mr Knightley's talking about how he has blamed and lectured her and she has put up with it is often remarked on and is included in all the film versions, but only the Beckinsale/Strong version includes the extremely romantic second part of the idea, which is that he really wants to declare his love to her in some great detail, and he's hoping that she would put up with that just as much. "Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma" means that he's hoping she won't wig out because he's telling her he loves her. So, so, so, so sweet, once you parse it.

Austen then treats us to Emma's thoughts on the matter, which are (as always) lightning-quick. And if you've ever taken a second to figure out your own thoughts in response to something, which can dart it lots of directions really quickly, this rings true, even though textually it's kind of odd to have so very many words between Mr Knightley's words and Emma's response. Here 'tis:

While he spoke, Emma's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able--and yet without losing a word--to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Harriet's hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of her own--that Harriet was nothing; that she was every thing herself; that what she had been saying relative to Harriet had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from herself.--And not only was there time for these convictions, with all their glow of attendant happiness; there was time also to rejoice that Harriet's secret had not escaped her, and to resolve that it need not, and should not.--It was all the service she could now render her poor friend; for as to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted her to entreat him to transfer his affection from herself to Harriet, as infinitely the most worthy of the two--or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and for ever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain. She had led her friend astray, and it would be a reproach to her for ever; but her judgment was as strong as her feelings, and as strong as it had ever been before, in reprobating any such alliance for him, as most unequal and degrading. Her way was clear, though not quite smooth.--She spoke then, on being so entreated.--What did she say?--Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.(Emphasis mine.)
Emma demonstrates to the reader how improved her character is here: she thinks of Harriet, and feels badly for her (coming) disappointment, but she also is really pleased with herself for not having told anyone else that Harriet has a thing for Mr Knightley, because she knows it would have been embarrassing for Harriet's feelings to be exposed and mortifying for Harriet if others knew that Harriet had had the temerity to think she could rise so far above her station in life as to marry him. (And yes, that is every bit as snobbish as it sounds, but it represents the way things were at that time, so Austen wouldn't have thought it snobbish much at all.)

Austen glosses over Emma's reply to Mr Knightley and their subsequent conversation (including the fact that he's a bit confused as to how she can be so enthused about his declaration of love when she so rudely cut him off right before he was about to make it, because she never explains that she thought he might be about to tell her he wanted to marry Harriet) much in the same way that she glossed over Darcy's reaction to Elizabeth's acceptance of his proposal in Pride and Prejudice, where Austen tells us that "[t]he happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do."

Mr Knightley, Man of Action, wins the day

I have to say that as Men of Action go, Mr Knightley is the one who wins in declaring his love in person to his beloved, even though Captain Frederick Wentworth usually gets the winning nod for romance from most Janeites for "the letter", in which he declares his love plainly - including his famous "you have pierced my soul" line. Mr Darcy does an admirable job, of course, but much of his declaration of love takes place off the page, in the space created by Austen's indirect discourse. Colonel Brandon's proposal is off-page in Sense & Sensibility, Henry Tilney's is glossed over, and the men of inaction (Edward Ferrars in S&S and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park) don't declare much at all, although Edward Ferrars waxes rather eloquent on his relationship with Lucy Steele. But I digress.

The chapter closes with two long paragraphs of indirect discourse where Austen fills us in on the content of their conversation and their feelings toward one another, followed by a short, comical, omniscient paragraph in which Austen sums up how Mr Knightley's feelings about Frank Churchill changed during the course of his conversation with Emma.

The swoony goodness of film

And now, some clips. The first one is Jeremy Northam (my favorite screen Knightley) - it cuts the scene in parts, but you can click on the scene of them kissing at the end to see most of the remainder:



And here is the full, lovely scene between Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai:



And for yet another take on it, here is the slightly squashed-looking version with Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. (The proposal/garden scene ends at 5:25.)



Only a few chapters to go to get to the end of this book!


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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 8 (Chapter 44)



After an evening of self-loathing and contrition, Emma resolves to call on Miss Bates first thing in the morning to try to set things right.

Emma calls on Miss Bates

I won't go into all the details, just the things of interest:

1) There's a scramble when she first arrives, and it's clear that Jane Fairfax does not want to see Emma Woodhouse. Emma is also left to worry for a few moments that Miss Bates is going to avoid her as well, but Miss Bates does no such thing.

2) We get a lot of information from Miss Bates. In fact, she provides a bit of an info dump, which is allowable because it's completely in character for her. Also, as a commenter pointed out in a comment to a previous post over at LiveJournal, Miss Bates's prattle provides quite a lot of information about Frank Churchill's story line.

We learn:

  a) The Eltons had a dinner party the night before, to which Emma was not invited. Miss Bates attended with her mother and her niece; Mr. Knightley did not attend, though he was invited.
  b) Frank Churchill left town suddenly the night before, something they learned while at the Eltons.
  c) After learning that Frank had left town, Jane Fairfax suddenly decided to accept the governess position that Mrs Elton kept shoving down her throat offering her.
  d) Jane has been sick and miserable since making that decision, but insists on proceeding.

Because Emma makes an effort to actually attend to Miss Bates and what she is saying, and because she is truly happy to be admitted to see Miss Bates after behaving so badly the day before, Emma is behaving as she actually ought to have been doing all along. And she finds it much easier to feel terrible for poor Jane Fairfax, who has made the decision to (nearly) go into service as a governess, and to find actual compassion for Jane, who she believes deserves something better.

This is an uneventful chapter as far as things go, which allows the reader to recover from the hubbub and horror of the Box Hill outing, but with so many events relayed, it's obvious that Jane Austen continues to stir the pot, and that things are going to kick up again soon.


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Emma, Volume III, Chapter 7 (Chapter 43)



Finally, we get to Box Hill.

First, a little side story about Box Hill that I learned at a speech given at Camden County College a few years ago. Turns out that there was another place in England, Bexhill, where people often staged "gypsy" outings of the sort proposed by Mrs. Elton in a previous chapter.

Also, you should know that there's a Huguenot named Peter Labilliere who is buried atop Box Hill. He thought the world was haywire – topsy-turvy, really – so he asked to be buried head-down. Austen would have known this, of course, since it was all rather famous when Labilliere was buried in 1800.

Also-also, that at the bottom of the hill, where the Highbury party might have left their carriages, is the town of Westhumble. So that when you come down the hill, that's where you arrive – in humble (or Westhumble). So at the end of the day, Emma is "humbled" as she gets into her carriage.

The foreshadowing provided by this choice of topography is genius, and all (or nearly all) of Austen's contemporary readers would have known these things. So when the outing goes south, as it is about to, the symbolism of the place would have resonated far more deeply with Regency readers.

As I said . . . Finally, the outing to Box Hill is taking place!

Only it's not the wonderful outing everyone was looking forward to. For one thing, Mrs Weston stayed behind with Mr Woodhouse, which makes Mr Woodhouse happy, I guess, and serves a purpose for not taxing the pregnant Mrs Weston. Everyone is wandering about in small groups: the Eltons keep to themselves, mostly, Frank Churchill is with Emma and Harriet, and Mr Knightley is being sweet to Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax. Frank is depressed (or so it seems), and Harriet is also dull, and Emma is bored nearly to tears by the time they all sit down, when Emma starts to have a better time, as Frank makes a virtual show of dancing attendance on her, flirting in a most pronounced manner. Why, it's almost as if he wants everyone to notice it. Ahem.

Frank declares that Emma wants to know what they're all thinking. People like Harriet, Miss Bates, and Mr Weston laugh good-naturedly, but Mrs Elton gets pissed, and Mr Knightley inquires whether she is certain she wants to know what they're thinking – his implied censure of her conduct (and Frank's) rather plain. Emma is smart enough to know that some of the company – Jane Fairfax, perhaps, definitely the Eltons and Mr Knightley – are likely not thinking kind thoughts of her, so she demurs.

Mrs Elton's offense is so plain that Frank Churchill decides to up the ante by making a bigger to-do of things, and says that Emma commands them all to share one very clever thing, or three things "very dull indeed", and Emma will be forced to laugh at them.

And this, dear friends, is where the outing turns well and truly mortifying, as Emma insults the one truly good-natured, good-hearted woman in the group: Miss Bates. Miss Bates, who is always so happy, even when she has so little. Miss Bates, who always sees the good in everyone. Miss Bates makes a cute joke about saying three dull things without effort, and Emma zings her with a comment about being limited only to three dull things.

Emma's conduct is wrong for several reasons:

1. Miss Bates is her elder, and entitled to respect.
2. Miss Bates is a gentlewoman, as Emma is, but her financial circumstances are so far below Emma's that Emma should be condescending (in the sense that word originally existed, which is to say that she should be kind to her and treat her as an equal, and not as inferior).
3. Miss Bates is an old family friend, to boot.
4. They are in public, and she has just set Miss Bates down in front of the key players in Highbury society.

Poor Miss Bates, who only ever sees the good in anyone, and who immediately tries to make excuses for why Emma is correct in her statement.

And, of course, you can just picture Mr Knightley's reaction. He must be disappointed and horrified by Emma's conduct, of course, and quite livid at her, yet his first response is to tend to Miss Bates and try to ameliorate the damage. Because Mr Knightley is, as I've already said, a Man of Action, and also, he always does what is right.

Frank Churchill, on the other hand, does not do what is right, and continues along with his day, encouraging the playing of games. (More on that in a minute.) Mr Weston, who is a lovely man, immediately proffers a "conundrum", a sort of riddle that must be solved, the solution of which is a high compliment to Emma, who deserves no such praise at the moment. Mr Knightley goes so far as to almost call bullshit on the compliment by commenting that "perfection should not have come quite so soon", and Mrs Elton rails against the playing of games outside, then says nobody else will play, and her husband (who once gave that courtship riddle to Emma) says he has "nothing to say that can entertain Miss Woodhouse, or any other young lady" and he grabs his wife and walks off. (Take that, Emma!)

Frank takes their departure as an opportunity to mention that they are well-suited, and then comments on how they met at a seaside place and fell in love and formed a quick attachment that seems to work for them, when so many young men in the same circumstance end up regretting such a thing for their entire lives, to which Jane Fairfax makes a reply that indicates that such attachments can be broken, leaving Frank to turn to Emma in an appeal to have her pick a wife for him – one that she will school to be like herself, and that he'll marry when he returns from Switzerland in 10 years. Emma is, of course, thrilled with the idea, since she wants to marry him off to Harriet, even though he seems to everyone else to be referring to Emma.

Jane and Miss Bates leave to find the Eltons, and Mr Knightley goes, too, leaving Harriet and Emma alone with Frank and his father. Emma is grateful to get called to go to her carriage, until she realizes that her walk to the carriage comes with a set-down from Mr Knightley.




Or, if you prefer to see the Paltrow/Northam version:



This chapter is where everything goes topsy-turvy indeed, just as M Labilliere predicted. Winter parlor games are being played outside in summer, some things are clearly not as they seem (what on earth was that conversation between Frank and Jane about?), people who know better are behaving badly . . . why, there's a positive Twelfth Night vibe to things, where the servants are the masters of revels and society is turned on its head.

And now there's little to be done but for Emma to feel the full weight of her own mortification and to cry herself home.


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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Catching up part 10: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 6 (Chapter 42)



This is the last of our catch-up posts - our next Emma post will break new ground here at Writing & Ruminating, in that it's not something I've blogged about before: the Box Hill picnic. Back in 2011, when I got up to this point in the book, I just didn't have the psychic energy to compose a post about it. For one thing, it is possibly the most mortifying chapter in all of Austen's works, when one considers exactly how badly our heroine behaves. And when one considers that Catherine Morland is busted snooping around Mrs Tilney's chambers, then pretty much admits she thought Mrs Tilney might have been murdered, that is saying something indeed.

I wish I could promise you that our proceeding on was a guarantee of something good, but we shall all have to see what it brings once I write it. Deal?

Meanwhile, back in Emma, it's time to plan a different kind of party. You see, it takes Mrs Elton's plans for Emma to realize that she's never seen Box Hill - so she and Mr Weston decide they'll have an outing. Just a small one, with a very small, select group. Only then Mr Weston goes and invites Mrs Elton along.

This can only end in tears.

This chapter, though, is about a trip to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries, the joint trip to Box Hill having been put off due to an issue with a carriage horse. Mrs Elton tries hard to assume command and control of the party at Mr Knightley's house, but he refuses - to the point of risking offense to her, actually, although in the end she opts not to take it, even though she has actually been put off rather effectively:

"No,"--he calmly replied,--"there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is--"

"--Mrs Weston, I suppose," interrupted Mrs Elton, rather mortified.

"No--Mrs Knightley;--and till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself."
Mrs Elton's babbling about a gypsy party with big bonnets and baskets and riding on donkeys sounds a bit overblown and ridiculous to us now, and it probably did to a fair number of Regency readers as well . . . still, to some of them - notably members of the ton and the aristocracy - it sounded like one of their usual outings. It was quite popular for members of the ton to stage just the pretentious sort of outing that Mrs Elton is proposing - with themed "costumes", tables of food set up outside (all of which - tables and chairs and linens and food - had to be carted by servants), and even the riding of donkeys. Mrs Elton, who appears ridiculous to Emma and Mr Knightley (and to Jane Austen), is actually proposing quite a fashionable sort of outing (of the kind recreated in many modern-day Regency romances, in fact), rather than the more staid and sensible one that Mr Knightley envisions. Austen is taking a bit of a swing at those who make far more work for their servants than necessary in order to amuse themselves in what she considered a frivolous manner, and, indeed, it's hard to read this chapter and the one that follows and come away with a positive view of Mrs Elton's proposed scheme. Still, I suppose there were those readers in Regency times who missed the irony and nodded along to the sound notion Mrs Elton was putting forth.



Mr Knightley's characteristics

They aren't quite enumerated in this chapter, but it's close. Let's look at them, shall we? Especially since he was one of Austen's two favorites of her own heroes (the other being Edmund Bertram - look, I don't know why, okay? Maybe because he demonstrates how a good guy with flaws can come out right in the end? But I am both digressing and getting ahead, since we haven't discussed Mansfield Park yet.) The following list is certainly not all of Mr Knightley's traits, but it's a good list to be going on with:

1. Kind - check out his guest list, which includes Harriet Smith and Miss Bates
2. Thoughtful - he makes careful preparations for Mr Woodhouse, and also makes sure his servants won't be overly put out
3. Conscientious - he checks up on all of his guests
4. Patient - he didn't flip his wig over Mrs Elton's numerous attempts to bully him
5. Decisive - he makes his plan and executes it
6. Gracious - even when he gets stuck with Frank Churchill as a guest thanks to Mr Weston
7. Polite - it goes beyond him doing what he's expected to do, since he also does what he wants to do, which is to invite whom he pleases and organize things how he wants - yet he manages not to actually give offense

Jane Fairfax

Jane Fairfax is at her rope's end when it comes to dealing with Mrs Elton, who has gone ahead and found a governess position for Jane, even though Jane asked her not to. Jane is so intent on getting away from Mrs Elton for a bit that she first convinces Mr Knightley to give everyone a tour of his gardens, and eventually she sneaks out to walk home - alone. A bold move indeed for a single young woman, especially one who is known to have a somewhat delicate constitution.

Jane explains to Emma that she is fatigued - not by the heat or by walking, but by having no time alone. Emma infers that Jane is referring to her aunt, Miss Bates, but I wish to point out that Jane could equally well be referring to Mrs Elton in this instance. And while Emma knows that Jane has this whole governess notion weighing on her mind, Jane never says that's what her issue is. She could be thinking about some other issue entirely. I'm just . . . putting that out there. Those of you who are re-reading this book will understand immediately.

England v. France (and characters as proxy)

England was at war with France for most of Austen's life. Austen, being a patriotic Tory, championed all things English, but she also had personal reasons for disliking the French: for one, she had two brothers in the Royal Navy whose lives were at risk because of conflicts with the French and, for another, her cousin Eliza's first husband lost his head to Madame Guillotine during the Revolution.

In this chapter, the rather allegorically named Mr Knightley lives at the equally allegorically named Donwell Abbey (where everything is "done well" - Dear Miss Austen, I see what you did there), and we get this description from an enraptured Emma: "It was a sweet view--sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive." Austen treads perilously close to outright stating that Mr Knightley and his home are all that is right about England and its gentry.

In contrast, we have Frank Churchill - a man whose first name is a reference to France (as you may recall from Chapter Two) and who is operating under the cloak of an assumed last name - his birth name being Weston, not Churchill - whom Mr Knightley, that most English of Englishmen, assessed with a reference to a French word in Chapter 18 (amiable v. amabile). And when Frank eventually shows up in this chapter, he is not only cross with his present situation, but with all of England: he cannot wait to get out of England and go abroad, perhaps to Switzerland. While travel abroad was not uncommon among the wealthy, there is something decidedly off-putting about Frank's eagerness to dismiss the country of his birth and hurry off to other climes, especially if one is Austen. Also, Austen is making fun of her own second-oldest brother, Edward, who was "adopted" by cousins (the Knights) and spent his own tour of the Continent in Switzerland, among other places.

Mr Knightley and Harriet are getting along

Emma is so pleased. I'm sure you remember Mr Knightley's disapproval of Emma's plan to take Harriet under her wing and give her a bit of polish. Now he's quite pleased with her first-rate qualities (as he mentioned to Emma at the Crown) and taking her aside to show of his huge tracts of land and discuss his farming techniques with her. (Any dirtiness in that prior statement entirely intentional, I assure you.) And Harriet seems so over Robert Martin that she doesn't seem to pay much attention to the view of his house and land at all. Happy, happy Emma.

Somewhere, Austen is still cackling over this chapter.


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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Catching up part 9: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 5 (Chapter 41)



Mr Knightley has a suspicious mind. True, he's never liked Frank Churchill before, but now it's worsening. You see, he's noticed that Frank is not behaving as he ought if he's actually chasing after Emma, which absolutely everyone thinks is the case, based on Frank's attentions and hints from the Westons. Mr Knightley, though, thinks there's something going on between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax - something serious, even, as he believes they have a "private understanding" (which is to say, a secret engagement. There's more discussion of secret engagements in our discussion of Chapter 22 of Sense & Sensibility).

We are told up front that Mr Knightley's dislike of Frank is "for some reason best known to himself", and Austen does not (yet) tell us what it is, but that it is somehow related to Emma is quite clear from the remainder of Mr Knightley's thoughts and comments in this chapter.

By happenstance, Mr Knightley (walking with Emma and Harriet) bumps into the Westons (walking with Frank Churchill) and Miss Bates (walking with her niece) - the latter two parties having met up already by chance( - or is it? But I digress). Frank Churchill asks a question about Mr Perry, the local apothecary, getting a carriage, claiming that Mrs Weston mentioned it in one of her letters. When Mrs Weston denies any such knowledge or occurrence, Frank laughs and calls it a dream . . . except that Miss Bates knows it to be true, as does Jane Fairfax, who now has her head down, fussing with her shawl, while trying to avoid catching Frank's eye.

Once again, games pop up in Emma

Once inside Hartfield for tea, Frank Churchill seizes on a box of "alphabets" - hand-written scraps with letters on them used to form words - rather like doing a word scramble while using Scrabble tiles (indeed, it's a fine use of Scrabble tiles - you pull out the letters for the word, then set the lot of them in front of someone else, who is to solve the puzzle). Frank's first word goes to Jane Fairfax, and is revealed to be "blunder". Mr Knightley is then certain that Frank is playing, in Austen's term, "a deeper game."

Jane is embarrassed when Frank creates the word "Dixon", showing it first to Emma and then to Jane, and she sweeps aside without reading another offering from Frank - but she does not refuse his assistance in helping her to find her shawl.

Misunderstanding between Emma and Mr Knightley

Mr Knightley asks about the word Frank showed to her, and she is so embarrassed that she doesn't want to talk about it - it's a reminder of her suspicions regarding Jane Fairfax having a fling with Mr Dixon, and she doesn't want Mr Knightley to know she thinks it possible. Mr Knightley, however, believes that she is flustered because her affections are attached to Frank Churchill.

Yet he would speak. He owed it to her, to risk any thing that might be involved in an unwelcome interference, rather than her welfare; to encounter any thing, rather than the remembrance of neglect in such a cause.

"My dear Emma," said he at last, with earnest kindness, "do you think you perfectly understand the degree of acquaintance between the gentleman and lady we have been speaking of?"

"Between Mr Frank Churchill and Miss Fairfax? Oh! yes, perfectly.--Why do you make a doubt of it?"

"Have you never at any time had reason to think that he admired her, or that she admired him?"

"Never, never!" she cried with a most open eagerness--"Never, for the twentieth part of a moment, did such an idea occur to me. And how could it possibly come into your head?"

"I have lately imagined that I saw symptoms of attachment between them--certain expressive looks, which I did not believe meant to be public."

"Oh! you amuse me excessively. I am delighted to find that you can vouchsafe to let your imagination wander--but it will not do--very sorry to check you in your first essay--but indeed it will not do. There is no admiration between them, I do assure you; and the appearances which have caught you, have arisen from some peculiar circumstances--feelings rather of a totally different nature--it is impossible exactly to explain:--there is a good deal of nonsense in it--but the part which is capable of being communicated, which is sense, is, that they are as far from any attachment or admiration for one another, as any two beings in the world can be. That is, I presume it to be so on her side, and I can answer for its being so on his. I will answer for the gentleman's indifference."

She spoke with a confidence which staggered, with a satisfaction which silenced, Mr Knightley.
Poor Mr Knightley. Poor, hamstrung Mr Knightley, who believes that Emma and Frank are a couple. He will be laboring under this belief for many more chapters now, mistaken though we readers know it to be. And yet, the plot thickens very much upon us indeed.


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