Sunday, May 22, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 1 (Chapter 19)

We have moved into the second volume of Emma. Those of you with a book that does not follow the Volume/Chapter numbering system can rely on the parenthetical designation to keep track of where we are.

In this chapter, Emma is so very sick of hearing about Mr Elton from Harriet that, in desperation, she is quite willing to visit the Bateses. She knows it is something she should do more often, but she can't usually be bothered.

She had had many a hint from Mr Knightley and some from her own heart, as to her deficiency--but none were equal to counteract the persuasion of its being very disagreeable,--a waste of time--tiresome women--and all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second-rate and third-rate of Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them. But now she made the sudden resolution of not passing their door without going in--observing, as she proposed it to Harriet, that, as well as she could calculate, they were just now quite safe from any letter from Jane Fairfax.
Mrs Bates is the widow of a vicar, and her unmarried daughter, Miss Bates, resides with her. Over the years, the Bateses have fallen on rather hard times. They live on a fixed income that will never go up, and as prices rise, they will end up worse off. (This point will be forcefully made by Mr Knightley in Volume III of the book.) Miss Bates, although good-natured, is a chatterbox, as Austen makes plain not only by telling us what Emma thinks of her, but also by showing us some of Miss Bates's conversation.

A crossed letter

Miss Bates moves from discussing the Coles to Mr Elton to Jane Fairfax in rapid order. Her mention of Jane's letter - and of what a typical letter from Jane involves - includes a reference to the letter being crossed and to "checkerwork". Below is an example of a "crossed" or "checkerwork" letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra, who was at the time staying at Godmersham Park with their brother Edward Austen Knight's family:

You can see the neat lines of Austen's handwriting, and how they start to tighten up as she nears the end of the page, as well as seeing the "crossed" lines created when she turned the paper ninety degrees to the left and started writing additional lines crossing the original ones she put down.

Jane Fairfax, the Campbells and the Dixons

Jane Fairfax was the companion of Miss Campbell - now Mrs Dixon - and often served as her chaperon when Miss Campbell and Mr Dixon were courting. Colonel and Mrs Campbell paid for Jane's education, the colonel being a friend of Jane's deceased father's. The Dixons, now married, have gone to Ireland on their honeymoon, leaving Jane with the Campbells, who pretty much raised her and are akin to foster parents. The Campbells are going to Ireland to visit the Dixons, and Jane has been invited to join them, but has chosen instead to come stay with her aunt and grandmother in Highbury. Meanwhile, Miss Bates relates an incident that happened when Jane was in Weymouth, when Mr Dixon kept her from falling out of a boat. We are told as well that Jane Fairfax caught a cold back on November 7th, which she is using has her excuse to come to Highbury and to avoid the trip to Ireland.

If you've already sorted all that out, then I apologize, but I have to tell you that Miss Bates's manner of chattering about these things - and the way Austen stretches out her narrative about Jane Fairfax, so that some of this information isn't in this chapter - can make it hard to figure.

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