Monday, May 16, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 12



My apologies for the break in our programming. I had a delightful time while away (more on that in a separate post later), but I have missed spending time with Emma and with you. I shall see about getting us a bit nearer to caught up this week by putting up TWO chapters of posts tomorrow.

Today's chapter, while the usual sort of length of an Austen chapter, results in a rather short post. The first - and most important - thing to happen in this chapter is that Emma and Mr George Knightley have made up. Although not willing to acknowledge that she might actually be in the wrong, Emma does not like to be on the outs with Mr Knightley. She has invited him to dinner on the very night that the Knightley family from London (his brother John married her sister Isabella, remember) have come from London. Mr Woodhouse protested at first, because he wants his elder daughter and her family all to himself that first evening, but Emma made sure Mr Knightley was invited - and that she presented herself well and with her eight-year old niece (also named Emma) in her arms.

Mr Knightley tells us all that he is 16 years older than Emma, and, when Emma gets saucy, he reminds her that he's been around both longer than her and more than her (she has never traveled, whereas he has, for instance, and he has a wider circle of acquaintance than she does, not that it comes up here), and therefore knows a bit more about the ways of the world. Still, they make up quite happily.

Sea bathing

Sea bathing was prescribed by medical doctors during Austen's time, and is not a bit of frolicking in the shallows. Rather, the patient was wheeled out in a covered wagon of sorts (called a bathing machine), and a well-muscled attendant would heave them into the water and make sure they stayed there for the amount of time prescribed by the physician. The attendant would then haul the person back out. Some men may have gone in naked (based on anecdotes and caricatures from the time), but most men and all or nearly all women went into the sea in bathing garments of some sort.

The bathing machines were either pushed into the surf by men or by work horses. The practice continued well into Victorian times, with Lewis Carroll mentioning them in his works.

Isabella's doctor sent her and the children to the seaside in September, believing that sea air and sea bathing would be good for her daughter Bella. Mr Woodhouse (and, apparently, Dr Perry), are in the anti-bathing camp. Sea-bathing was prescribed pretty much year-round, by the way, and Austen's cousin Eliza took her sickly son sea-bathing in January. Imagine hopping into the ocean on the southwest coast of England in January. BRRR! (While Eliza believed that the sea-bathing helped her son, Hastings, he eventually died of his ailments - but not of bathing-related causes.)


Jane Fairfax is remarked upon

Isabella thinks highly of her, and wishes she were around more to be a suitable companion to Emma. We start to get a bit of Jane Fairfax's backstory here as well. For one thing, she is exactly Emma's age. And extremely accomplished. This is Jane Austen reminding us about Miss Fairfax and feeding us a bit of information about her. We can (safely) assume we'll be hearing/seeing more of her in the near future.


Fight! Fight!

Mr Woodhouse and Isabella return to their battle of the doctors, with Mr Woodhouse refusing to let it lie, and speaking so slightingly of Isabella's preferred physician that eventually, Mr John Knightley loses his cool - and who can blame him, really? Even Emma understands why he finally snapped. Still, he quickly calms himself down a bit, and allows his brother to draw him back into conversation, and Mr Woodhouse is pacified by his daughters.

What we're meant to understand from this is not entirely clear at first. Perhaps that Mr John Knightley is easily ruffled, although seriously, it took him a long time to get his hackles up and he allowed them to recede back down almost at once. It's my belief that the point is to see how needy and obsessively concerned Mr Woodhouse is, and to understand that Emma feels very much trapped at Hartfield as a result of her desires to care for and please him. See how he moans over Isabella living in London or visiting other places, and how he still believes she'd have been better off if she'd never left home?

Here's how the Emma/Knightley reconciliation looked in the Kate Beckinsale/Mark Strong version (stop at the 1:38 mark if you don't wish to see what happens past this chapter):






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