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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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Catching up part 8: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 4 (Chapter 40)



Oh, Harriet!

A few days after Frank Churchill saved Harriet from the gypsies, Harriet shows up at Hartfield with a small parcel that she wishes to dispose of. She has taken bits of detritus from Mr Elton and squirreled them away as treasures: a piece of court-plaister (trust me, the link is fabulous) and the worthless butt end of a pencil.

She is SO over Mr Elton. And his little wife, too. Of course, being Harriet, she is on to the next one . . . but I get ahead of myself a bit.

In the middle of the chapter, which falls during Harriet's recitation of the fascinating origin of the useless pencil stub she's about to burn, we find Emma focusing on Mr Knightley - what he said, where he stood, etc. Harriet, who was at the time focused on Mr Elton exclusively, cannot say for certain where Mr Knightley stood, but Emma sure knows. (Yet I still don't get the sense that she realizes the emotional significance of her own memories.)

And then, at the end of the chapter, we find Harriet is in love. Again. She doesn't say with whom, and Emma doesn't ask - presuming that it is Frank Churchill, who gallantly rescued Harriet, after all. And when Emma makes reference to Harriet's rescue, Harriet indicates that the man she admires saved her from perfect misery, transporting her to perfect happiness.

On the one hand, I commend Emma for remaining circumspect and not pressing for details and confidences. On the other hand, we all know that Emma the imaginist sometimes jumps to incorrect conclusions.

I hate to be gloomy, but this can only end in tears.


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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Catching up part 7: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3 (Chapter 39)



The chapter opens with Emma thinking about Mr Knightley, and how hot what a fine dancer he is, and how wonderful it is that they both agree that the Eltons are prats. She is pleased by the thought that Harriet is over Mr Elton and that Frank Churchill no longer seems hung up on Emma. She is also pleased that she won't have to see Frank today, but can spend all her time with her nephews, when what to her wondering eyes should appear but Frank Churchill, carting Harriet up the front path.

Long story short, Harriet and one of her friends were approached by gypsy children looking for a handout, the friend did a runner and Harriet . . . didn't. I confess that the Keystone Kops-like description of Harriet, trying to scramble up the bank but failing, cracks me up every single time I read it. But I digress.

What with Harriet being easy pickings, the gypsies went for the full-court press, begging for additional money past the shilling she handed over, and Frank arrived and chased them off. The story can be told with additional flourishes, as I'm certain Emma did for her nephews and absolutely everyone else in Highbury did as among themselves, but to cut to the chase, the chapter ends (more or less) with Emma (mentally) chanting "Frank and Harriet, sitting in a tree . . . "

I cannot let this chapter pass, however, without commenting on this particular line: "How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!--especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made."

To be an imaginist is quite a thing, don't you think? It's how Austen describes Emma here, which comports well with what we know of her. But the term applies equally well to authors in general, and to Austen in particular. Just as Emma seeks to create characters (by building Harriet Smith up, say) or to write stories (through match-making), so Austen creates characters and writes stories. No wonder Austen liked Emma so much - and worried that nobody else would do so.


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Monday, March 04, 2013

Catching up part 6: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 2 (Chapter 38)



This chapter is really something - it's about the ball at the Crown. I shan't summarize the whole thing for you, but will instead pick out a few bits and pieces I feel like talking about, and then provide you with yummy video footage.

A number of privy councillors

Emma is flattered and delighted (at first) to be asked by Mr Weston to come early - but somewhat less so when it turns out that half the company has been asked to come early, and that Mr Weston isn't especially discriminating in bestowing his favor. It leads to an interesting bit of analysis, followed by a lovely bit of foreshadowing:

Emma perceived that her taste was not the only taste on which Mr Weston depended, and felt, that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who had so many intimates and confidantes, was not the very first distinction in the scale of vanity. She liked his open manners, but a little less of open-heartedness would have made him a higher character.--General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be.--She could fancy such a man.
Frank is eager for the Eltons' carriage to arrive

Because he cannot wait to see Mrs Elton, he says. And then the Eltons, who were to have picked up Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates, arrive without having done so, and have to send off for them. Worried about the threat of rain, Frank rushes out with an umbrella to look after Miss Bates.

Mrs Elton is eager to discuss her carriage

Its acquisition was delayed, based on earlier remarks by her about the carriage. And truly, the care and keeping of a carriage was an expensive proposition, as I remarked upon in this post, which talks about Lady Catherine's carriages, when we read Pride & Prejudice. Mrs Elton now cannot stop herself from talking about their carriage, which is a true trapping of luxury.

Miss Bates is the comic relief

But there are facts and clues strewn throughout her babble, both times it occurs. Just so you know.


Mrs Elton is also eager to discuss what she's wearing

She corners Jane Fairfax immediately to discuss her own attire and to add to the comic relief in her way - pray, do not sing, because she probably thinks that song is about her. And while claiming not to pay attention to what people wear, she essentially makes a cutting remark about the other ladies in attendance:

"Nobody can think less of dress in general than I do--but upon such an occasion as this, when every body's eyes are so much upon me, and in compliment to the Westons--who I have no doubt are giving this ball chiefly to do me honour--I would not wish to be inferior to others. And I see very few pearls in the room except mine."
I wonder if she considers herself to be the pearls before the swine?

Emma notices Mr Knightley

And for once, she notices him in the way that a woman notices a man, and not as a mere friend or pseudo-family member, and she remains quite aware of him at all times - while she is dancing with Frank Churchill, no less:

She was more disturbed by Mr Knightley's not dancing than by any thing else.--There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing,--not classing himself with the husbands, and fathers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in the dance till their rubbers were made up,--so young as he looked!--He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, than where he had placed himself. His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body's eyes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him.--He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble.--Whenever she caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. She wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Frank Churchill better.--He seemed often observing her.
Mr Elton deliberately cuts Harriet

He ensures that his availability will be noticed during a dance for which Harriet has no partner, then evinces an interest in dancing with other women, then flat-out refuses to dance with Harriet based on his marital status. And then he and his horrible wife giggle about it as he makes his way over to converse with Mr Knightley, who, having seen what has transpired, walks away from Mr Elton and asks Harriet to dance, thereby impliedly cutting Mr Elton and instructing him on proper manners. In a public ballroom. *swoon*

Emma and Mr Knightley chat

I love this bit, and therefore share it with you in its entirety. It's notable for several points, including Mr Knightley's remarks about Harriet Smith and his willingness to dance with Emma.(And then the yummy video clips, in which we see sexy English country dancing!)

"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!"

"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself.--Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl--infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected."

Emma was extremely gratified.--They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.

"Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing?--Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!"

"I am ready," said Emma, "whenever I am wanted."

"Whom are you going to dance with?" asked Mr Knightley.

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, "With you, if you will ask me."

"Will you?" said he, offering his hand.

"Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."

"Brother and sister! no, indeed."


The song that Gwyneth's Emma and Jeremy's Mr Knightley are dancing to is called Mr Beveridge's Maggot. It has nothing to do with the life-cycle of a fly, but refers to a type of tune popular in the 1700s that is embellished by the players on each repetition. It is the same song to which Darcy & Elizabeth dance at Netherfield in the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice, by the way.



The tune to which Romola's Emma and Jonny Lee's Mr Knightley are dancing here is an original composition for the score of the movie by Samuel Sim and is (I believe) called "The Last Dance" - the soundtrack is a delight to listen to, but is not put together in chronological order, so it's not always easy to tell what is what.


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Sunday, March 03, 2013

Catching up part 5: Emma, Volume III, Chapter 1 (Chapter 37)



When we left off reading Emma in 2011, it was just after Volume III, Chapter 6. So I figured I would cheat repeat the Volume III entries starting with Chapter 1 over the next few days and then keep rolling forward. Savvy?

Back to the book:

Remember how Emma thought she might be in love with Frank? Well, she realizes after hearing that he's coming back that she wasn't - nor does she want to be. She believes, however, that he is in love with her. And in a moment of clear foreshadowing (one of those things that some critics say Austen never does - I'm pretty sure it means they don't actually read her books?), we get this:

She wished she might be able to keep him from an absolute declaration. That would be so very painful a conclusion of their present acquaintance! and yet, she could not help rather anticipating something decisive. She felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.
Initially, I was going to post only the final sentence, but those of you who are re-reading will be quick to see how all of it foreshadows things that will come to pass ere we reach The End.

When Frank arrives in Highbury again, it is only for a few hours. He quickly calls at Hartfield to visit Emma, but he is distracted and eager to be gone to pay a call on some acquaintances in Highbury before returning to London, where he is tied up for the better part of ten days by his aunt, who is ill. Frank tells the Westons that he believes she's actually ill and not malingering - moreover, London is too noisy for her nerves, so the Churchills are to remove to Richmond, which is only nine miles from Highbury, for the months of May and June.

Given the circumstances, we are to have that ball at the Crown after all. You can feel that shoe being lifted somehow, can't you? - even if you cannot tell exactly how or when it will fall.


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Friday, March 01, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part four



Welcome to Volume II, where we acquire two new characters who have nothing whatsoever to do with one another, only it turns out that they do. Also, we all get saddled with Mrs. Elton once Mr. Elton returns from his snit fit trip to Bath to recover from his humiliation at being turned down by Emma.

Our two new non-Elton characters are, of course, Jane Fairfax (niece to Miss Bates) and Frank Churchill (son of Mr. Weston, being raised by his dead wife's family - his last name is Churchill so that he can inherit their fortune). Interesting how Austen plays with orphans and/or pseudo-orphans in this book. There's Emma, whose mother is dead, who was raised by her father with the help of Mrs. Weston, and Frank Churchill, whose mother is dead, who was raised by other family, and Jane Fairfax, BOTH of whose parents are dead, who was raised by Miss Bates with the help of Colonel Campbell, a friend of her deceased father.

As it turns out, however, Jane Fairfax is coming to town for a stay because her position as companion to Colonel Campbell's daughter has come to an end by virtue of the other girl's marriage. And then she might become a governess, which is painted as a fate at least as bad as death. Moreover, once she gets to town, it turns out that she has actually met Frank Churchill, who has long been a subject of curiosity in Highbury. She is not particularly forthcoming with information about him, however. Like any good mystery writer, Austen allows characters to infer that either Jane's not all that well-acquainted or not that interested in him, since she has little to say.

Not all that long after Jane Fairfax moves to Highbury, Frank Churchill decides to pay a (long overdue) visit to his father and Mrs. Weston. He of course feels obliged to call on Jane Fairfax right away, thanks to their prior acquaintance. And he pretty much calls on Miss Bates and her household daily after that, out of the goodness of his heart. Or something. Again, this is all Austen setting her clues in plain sight, even though they are easily overlooked. Brilliant use of mystery-writing techniques, no?

Of course, Emma decides to take an unreasonable dislike to Jane Fairfax. And Frank Churchill is such a pleasant flirt that she takes an instant liking to him. And since Emma likes Frank so much, Mr. Knightley likes him less and less. (Mr. Knightley is truly not the most self-aware of creatures at this point in the book.)

There is, of course, an actual mystery that arises in the middle of Volume II, when a pianoforté arrives for Jane Fairfax from an unidentified donor. Mr. Knightley declares it a thoughtless gift, since it's too large for the Bates's drawing room and will be difficult for Jane to take with her. Emma speculates (with Frank Churchill) that it came from Jane's friend's husband, which is most improper, and he does little to dissuade her. (Another case of clues in plain sight, although it doesn't seem so at the moment.)

Emma briefly entertains (in Chapter 13 of Volume II, aka Chapter 31) the idea of her being in love with Frank Churchill, but she quickly sets it aside. It appears to Mr. Knightley, however, that perhaps Emma is in love with Frank, which causes him despair (even though he tries to shove it aside). Meanwhile, Mrs. Weston thinks that Mr. Knightley is in love with Jane Fairfax, which causes Emma to fall into a bit of despair (again, not the most self-aware character at this point in the novel), and Harriet is actually developing a crush on Mr. Knightley, although nobody knows it yet.

And the Eltons are, of course, smug and insufferable. As they are wont to be.

And that is, in a rather small nutshell, Volume II. Shocking, but there you have it.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My recent rabbithole

Let's see . . . there's the continuing health stuff, which is tedious to discuss, so I won't.

On Friday, there was the "standing out in the cold for hours waiting for Stephenie Meyer to sign books" event, which was tiring, really, especially in light of the health stuff, followed by lunch with Maggie. And I baked hamentaschen, which are triangular filled cookies, since Purim (holiday celebrating the story of Esther) started on Saturday evening, and hamentaschen go with Purim. And then I spent hours being desperately ill, probably from a bad clam in the chowder I'd had at lunch after the Meyer thing. I was very fortunate that my wonderful boyfriend was here to half carry me and tuck me into bed.

On Saturday, I spent the day with my sweetheart and various of his relatives. For lunch, we were with his cousins, who are wonderful. For dinner, with the grandkids, whom I adore. I was, however, out of the box for the entire day, and still recovering from the blergh of the night before, and then too tired to do anything else once I got home Saturday night, after leaving my beloved and the kids to have their sleepover at his house.

On Sunday, there were errands with my sweetheart and, I believe, a nap. And then I sent my honey home, made a bangin' mac & cheese, and Maggie and I watched the Academy Awards coverage until the broadcast ended. (She really wanted it to be just us girls, I think, and he really didn't care to watch anyhow.)

Monday involved more health stuff and, frankly, I don't recall what else, although I did make dinner. Tuesday I managed to finish my income taxes and S's income taxes and file them, then complete her FAFSA, so I am now all done with financial-ish stuff for a while. To celebrate, I sent poetry submissions to three different journals.

Which brings us to today, and my earlier Emma post. (I also voted for AT THE BOARDWALK in my SCBWI region's Crystal Kite awards thing, since tomorrow is the end of voting, and I figured, "why not?") I hope to stay on track with Emma catch-up posts so that we can get moving forward again soon. But I have figured out that even if I don't manage to post every day, it's not a reason to stop entirely, so that is good. Right? Right.


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Catching up to where we left off, part three



So I fell down a rabbit hole, as sometimes happens, but I am back today with the third "bringing us up to speed on Emma" post. Later today, I hope to tell you a bit about my time in Wonderland, but in the meantime . . .

I have been remiss in not mentioning the entire cast of players, so here goes:

Emma Woodhouse: "Clever, handsome, and rich". She is the wealthiest of Austen's heroines by far, and has declared to her friend Harriet that she need not ever marry, because she's set for life - she's got money and a father who lets her do as she likes.

Mr. Woodhouse: The aforementioned father, who tends to be a bit of a hypochondriac and a worrier. He would be very happy for Emma to stay home and never marry. He's still upset that his older daughter, Isabella, got married (to John Knightley) and moved to London, and he's more recently upset that Emma's governess/companion has gotten married to a man in the neighborhood. He doesn't adapt well to change, you see.

Mr. (George) Knightley: Almost as in an allegory is he named. George after the King, showing him to be a Tory and a true Englishman, and Knightley as in a knight. Mr. Knightley's first name is barely used, and he is nearly always "Mr. Knightley". He is all that is good and proper about a country-dwelling gentleman - bound by duty and honor, generous to those around him, intelligent, honest, diligent, and . . . well, you get the drift. If he weren't so well-rounded and well-grounded, he might be insufferable, but he's like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.

Mr. John Knightley: The younger brother of Mr. Knightley, who married Emma's older sister. Mr. John Knightley is a barrister, and works in London, where he makes a nice life for his wife and children.

Isabella (Woodhouse) Knightley: Emma's older sister, who spends most of her time managing her children and fussing about their health (and her own); she takes after her father in that respect.

Harriet Smith: A boarder and former student at Mrs. Goddard's School for Young Ladies, she is the illegitimate child of an unidentified person who sent her to be raised by Mrs. Goddard. She is a pretty girl in need of a bit of culture and education, whom Emma takes on as a protegée.

Mr. Robert Martin: A farmer, who would like to marry Harriet despite her being a bit impractical as a choice. He is one of Mr. Knightley's tenants.

Mrs. Weston: Formerly Miss Taylor, Emma's governess and then companion. She does a decent job steering Emma in the right direction, although like everyone in Emma's life except for Mr. Knightley, she tends to be too indulgent with her.

Mr. Weston: A big-hearted man who has made a fortune in trade, and bought himself a nice house in Highbury. He has a son from his first marriage, which ended when his wife died not too long after the child was born. His son was raised by his in-laws, Mr. & Mrs. Churchill, and has taken their surname in order to inherit from them.

Frank Churchill: He is as noisy in his absence as in his presence - always supposed to come for a visit, and seldom carrying through. Often the reason given is that he is required to be elsewhere by his adoptive mother, Mrs. Churchill, who claims illness more often than Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella combined. Frank is flirtatious and somewhat frivolous and more of a town dandy than a country gentleman. (Austen's bias comes through clearly here.) The Westons would like nothing more than for him to marry Emma.

Mr. Elton: The local clergyman, Mr. Elton is a gentleman with a decent income. He aspires to a much better one, however, by marrying a wealthy girl. He is described as being a good-looking young man, and he tends to be a bit obsequious to his betters.

Mrs. Elton: We haven't yet met her in my recaps, but she's a piece of work. She is likely nouveau riche, and she is ostentatious, opinionated, and loud.

Miss Bates: A local spinster gentlewoman, she's the daughter of a deceased clergyman. She lives with her mother, Mrs. Bates, who is nearly deaf. In the absence of any family fortune or any real pension, they have fallen on hard times. Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley ensure they are invited places and send them gifts of food, etc., now and again.

Jane Fairfax: The niece of Miss Bates, who was orphaned at a young age. She was taken on as a companion to a girl about her own age who has just married. Jane is poor, but otherwise an impeccable gentlewoman, often held up to Emma as an example by Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston. Jane is facing the unwelcome prospect of becoming a governess to earn her own keep.

That's enough to be going on with for now. Tomorrow, more of a plot catch-up.


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Saturday, February 23, 2013

So, that happened

Yesterday, Miss Maggie and I stood outside the Free Library of Philadelphia in the cold and wind for just over two hours so that M could get her copy of THE HOST signed by Stephenie Meyer. (I picked up a copy for S, and for my pseudo-granddaughter, A, who is going to go OFF HER NUT when she gets it for her birthday in April.) M also got to meet Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons and in Red Riding Hood - SOOO cute and nice and funny - he was singing "Baby" by Justin Bieber to himself while signing) and Jake Abel (Luke in the Percy Jackson movies and a character in I AM NUMBER FOUR), the two male leads in the forthcoming movie of THE HOST. They also signed free (small) movie posters. And posed for a photo with Maggie and a girl she befriended while in the looooong line, despite lots of signs saying something like "no posed pictures ever. This means you. Don't even think about asking."

Let me just say that Stephenie Meyer (a) looks fabulous and (b) is super nice. As in, Maggie was star-struck and was just going to take her signed book and keep going, but Stephenie stopped her to mention that she was sorry the girl named Maggie in THE HOST isn't particularly nice, and then talked more about Maggie's name, etc. And she was very happy and generally sweet to everyone, which is just how an author should be when over 1,000 people stand in line for hours in the freezing cold and wind just to get books signed, but still - super nice.

On the way home, I posed the following hypothetical to Maggie: If you could have gone to only one table today - Stephenie Meyer or the hot guys - which would you have chosen? Her answer (without a beat): Stephenie Meyer.

Love that kid.

A side story about the general goodness of people: I failed to notice that we needed to register for the event, for which Maggie had left school and dressed up and such. On hearing of my dilemma, a kind-hearted soul produced an "extra" two-person registration. To quote Blanche Dubois, "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers!" (I totally hugged her for the registration.)


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part two



In the weeks following Emma's spat with Mr. Knightley, things remain a bit strained between them. Emma believes that she is succeeding at setting up a match between Mr. Elton and Harriet. Harriet believes whatever Emma does, because that's how she rolls. And Mr. Elton believes that he's successfully wooing Emma. The reader can see it all coming a mile away, even though the heroine cannot - a writing skill that Austen employs throughout this novel, and part of what makes it so delightful.

Eventually, Emma and Mr. Knightley make peace. And then, in chapter 15, Mr. Elton declares himself, and Emma is not only flummoxed, but forced to be extremely blunt in her refusal. Turns out she's inadvertently been a tease the entire time - a point Mr. Elton makes most forcibly during a carriage ride. (I am rather fond of that particular post. I am also rather fond of Alan Cummings's and Gwyneth Paltrow's performance of this scene. But I digress.)

It is in Chapter 16 that I really start to like Emma Woodhouse. Picking up after Mr. Elton's proposal, we learn that Emma is not so much mortified that he proposed to her as she is mortified that he did not propose to Harriet Smith. Her intentions, hopes and wishes were all based in true affection for her friend, and she is devastated to find out that Mr. Elton has no interest in Harriet. At all. She even admits to herself that Mr. Knightley was correct about Mr. Elton having no interest in someone like Harriet, that her brother-in-law, John Knightley, was correct about Mr. Elton being interested in Emma, and that Mr. Elton was right in thinking that Emma led him on, even if that wasn't her intention.

Emma has to tell Harriet what transpired and deal with all the fallout of Harriet's broken heart, and while doing so, the next plot point arrives (or rather, doesn't arrive, at least at first). Turns out that Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, is supposed to visit his father and new stepmother, only his visit is cancelled at the last minute. Thus we reach the end of Volume I of the novel (Chapter 18), with another minor disagreement between Mr. Knightley and Emma, this time over whether or not Frank Churchill is a proper, upstanding, trustworthy sort of English gentleman. Who says Jane Austen didn't use foreshadowing?

Again, a reminder that, should you be interested in reading along and not own a copy of have one readily available, I highly recommend reading the e-text for free over at Mollands.com.


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Monday, February 18, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part one



Austen is reported to have told her family that Emma is "a heroine whom perhaps no one but myself will like", something I find rather funny, as I'm far more likely to attribute that phrase to the heroine of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price. But I digress already, and since I'd like to catch us up so we can continue on in Volume III starting next week, I figure I'd better limit myself to discussing Emma.

At the start of the book, we learned that Emma is a rather spoiled girl from a well-off family who has a bit too much free reign and a bit too much time on her hands - something that proves to be a slightly unfortunate combination when Miss Emma Woodhouse decides to meddle in the lives of those around her. The book starts just after the wedding of Emma's governess and friend, Miss Taylor, to a local gentleman, Mr. Weston. Emma fancies that she was somehow responsible for the match, a conclusion disputed by her neighbor, who happens to be both family friend and brother-in-law, Mr. George Knightley. Mr. Knightley assures Emma that she made a lucky guess in figuring out that Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor were interested in one another, as opposed to being a material part in their match.

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich" could also be described as headstrong, imaginative, and bored, and she decides to turn her attention to finding a match for the local clergyman, Mr. Elton. She is oblivious to the fact that Mr. Elton would very much like to marry Emma - not out of an abundance of affection, mind you, but for her fortune - even though readers can see it coming a mile away. Emma wants to set Mr. Elton up with her new friend and protegée, Harriet Smith, "the natural daughter of somebody", a way of saying that she was likely the product of a dalliance. Harriet has been raised without knowing her own parentage, and has been educated at a local school for girls. Too old for the school room, Harriet nevertheless remains at Mrs. Goddard's school as a boarder.

We learn just a bit about Harriet's back story, which includes the information that Harriet has a crush on Mr. Robert Martin, a local farmer (who turns out to be one of Mr. Knightley's tenants). Emma doesn't associate with farmers, who she considers to be "beneath" her. In a fascinating turn, illogical Emma overlooks Harriet's social circumstances, convincing herself that her pretty little friend must be a gentleman's daughter, despite zero evidence in support of such a notion.

Mr. Knightley observes to her friend and former governess, Mrs. Weston, that Emma's "elevation" of Harriet Smith is going to prove disastrous, and that Emma needs to cool her jets (not his phrasing) and find something useful to do with herself. Mrs. Weston thinks that Emma's decision to look out for someone else is a useful thing.

Emma not only convinces Harriet to decline a marriage proposal from Robert Martin, but she also encourages Harriet to have feelings for Mr. Elton, whom she invites to a variety of events for the purpose of spending time with Harriet. The reader (and Mr. Knightley) quickly deduces that Emma is barking up the wrong tree and is, in fact, encouraging Mr. Elton in his pursuit of Emma.

Meanwhile, Mr. Knightley tells Emma off for having convinced Harriet to turn down a proposal from his tenant and friend, Robert Martin, in one of my favorite exchanges in the whole book, which is set out for you below to give you a better idea of (a) their points of view, (b) the nature of the relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma, and (c) the plot points and observations about society. Mr. Knightley's views reflect an intelligent, objective appraisal of Harriet's status and intellect, as well as of Emma's.

"Come," said she, "I will tell you something, in return for what you have told me. He did speak yesterday—that is, he wrote, and was refused."

This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprise and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said,

"Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?"

"Oh! to be sure," cried Emma, "it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her."

"Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning of this? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken."

"I saw her answer!—nothing could be clearer."

"You saw her answer!—you wrote her answer too. Emma, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him."

"And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet's equal; and am rather surprised indeed that he should have ventured to address her. By your account, he does seem to have had some scruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over."

"Not Harriet's equal!" exclaimed Mr. Knightley loudly and warmly; and with calmer asperity, added, a few moments afterwards, "No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connection for him. I felt that, as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her having that sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all on her side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck. Even your satisfaction I made sure of. It crossed my mind immediately that you would not regret your friend's leaving Highbury, for the sake of her being settled so well. I remember saying to myself, 'Even Emma, with all her partiality for Harriet, will think this a good match.'"

"I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any such thing. What! think a farmer, (and with all his sense and all his merit Mr. Martin is nothing more,) a good match for my intimate friend! Not regret her leaving Highbury for the sake of marrying a man whom I could never admit as an acquaintance of my own! I wonder you should think it possible for me to have such feelings. I assure you mine are very different. I must think your statement by no means fair. You are not just to Harriet's claims. They would be estimated very differently by others as well as myself; Mr. Martin may be the richest of the two, but he is undoubtedly her inferior as to rank in society.—The sphere in which she moves is much above his.—It would be a degradation."

"A degradation to illegitimacy and ignorance, to be married to a respectable, intelligent gentleman-farmer!"

"As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up.—There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman—and a gentleman of fortune.—Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever been grudged for her improvement or comfort.—That she is a gentleman's daughter, is indubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, I apprehend, will deny.—She is superior to Mr. Robert Martin."

"Whoever might be her parents," said Mr. Knightley, "whoever may have had the charge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to introduce her into what you would call good society. After receiving a very indifferent education she is left in Mrs. Goddard's hands to shift as she can;—to move, in short, in Mrs. Goddard's line, to have Mrs. Goddard's acquaintance. Her friends evidently thought this good enough for her; and it was good enough. She desired nothing better herself. Till you chose to turn her into a friend, her mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambition beyond it. She was as happy as possible with the Martins in the summer. She had no sense of superiority then. If she has it now, you have given it. You have been no friend to Harriet Smith, Emma. Robert Martin would never have proceeded so far, if he had not felt persuaded of her not being disinclined to him. I know him well. He has too much real feeling to address any woman on the haphazard of selfish passion. And as to conceit, he is the farthest from it of any man I know. Depend upon it he had encouragement."

It was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply to this assertion; she chose rather to take up her own line of the subject again.

"You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjust to Harriet. Harriet's claims to marry well are not so contemptible as you represent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than you are aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of so slightingly. Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess."

"Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do."

"To be sure!" cried she playfully. "I know that is the feeling of you all. I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and choose. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you. And is she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, to be wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives? No—pray let her have time to look about her."

"I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy," said Mr. Knightley presently, "though I have kept my thoughts to myself; but I now perceive that it will be a very unfortunate one for Harriet. You will puff her up with such ideas of her own beauty, and of what she has a claim to, that, in a little while, nobody within her reach will be good enough for her. Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a young lady to raise her expectations too high. Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives. Men of family would not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of such obscurity— and most prudent men would be afraid of the inconvenience and disgrace they might be involved in, when the mystery of her parentage came to be revealed. Let her marry Robert Martin, and she is safe, respectable, and happy for ever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teach her to be satisfied with nothing less than a man of consequence and large fortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard's all the rest of her life—or, at least, (for Harriet Smith is a girl who will marry somebody or other,) till she grow desperate, and is glad to catch at the old writing-master's son."

Should you be interested in reading along and not own a copy of have one readily available, I highly recommend reading the e-text for free over at Mollands.com.

I believe we shall leave off for today with this argument, which puts Emma and Mr. Knightley out of sorts with one another for quite some time.


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Sunday, February 17, 2013

When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis

Today, my long-overdue revue of J. Patrick Lewis's marvelous collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, which is illustrated by five different artists: Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So. (My apologies to the illustrators for not including them in the subject line as is my usual practice, but it got a bit unwieldy, I'm afraid.)

Pat Lewis has provided eighteen poems in this book: an introductory sonnet (using the Shakespearean format) that begins as follows:

The poor and dispossessed take up the drums
For civil rights--freedoms to think and speak,
Petition, pray, and vote. When thunder comes,
The civil righteous are finished being meek.

The seventeen people profiled in the book range from well-known civil rights activists such as Mohandas Gandhi, Coretta Scott King, and Nelson Mandela to lesser-known people, including Mitsuye Endo, who fought against Japanese internment in the United States during World War II, and Dennis James Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, who fought for Native American rights in the U.S. Both the dead (e.g., Mamie Carthan Till, mother of young Emmett Till, and baseball players Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson) and the living (e.g., Nobel Peace Prize winners Aung San Suu Kyi and Muhammad Yunus) are included.

Here is the two-page spread for "The Statesman", a poem about the long captivity of Nelson Mandela, now the former President of South Africa, illustrated by Jim Burke:



The poem is a sonnet, written using a Petrarchan scheme (ABBA CDDC EFFE GG):

The Statesman
by J. Patrick Lewis

It is as if he's landed on the moon
Five years before the actual event.
At Robben Island Prison, his descent
Into a nightmare world, an outcast dune,
Begins at forty-six. His fate derails.
There are no clocks, his life's defined by bell
And whistle, sisal mats (no beds), his cell
Is seven feet square. But destiny prevails.

He keeps for an eternity of years
His keepers, not the other way around,
Marked by a calm refinement so profound
As to alleviate his captors' fears.
He said, once they had turned the jailhouse key,
No man will rob me of my dignity.
One of my favorite poems in the book is the one about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the state of California, back in the 1970s. Although the poem does not mention it, Milk was shot and killed while still in office. The spread is illustrated by Meilo So.



The Crusader
by J. Patrick Lewis

I knew my rights meant nothing.
I kept them out of sight.
Seen and heard when the sun went down,
hidden in harsh daylight.

Then Liberation called one day
and asked would I consent
to tell the world that I was proud
of being different.

I took the fight to the city fathers.
They scolded me for that:
We don’t approve of boys who wear
an unconventional hat.


So I became a city father
to break the laws that kept
boys and girls from living lives
that Life would not accept.

They say I came before my time
but who else would redress
unmitigated suffering due
to such small-mindedness?
This book is perfect for discussion during February, which is African American History Month, or March, which is Women's History Month, but truly, it's perfect for reading year-round, and a must-buy for middle school libraries everywhere (in my opinion, of course).

You can read a great interview with Pat about this book over at Chronicle Books's website. My thanks to Chronicle for sending me a review copy of this wonderful, wonderfully important work.


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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Resuming our reading of EMMA

Since at least three people seem interested in picking up our chapter by chapter reading of Emma by Jane Austen, I am planning on picking it up again starting this Monday. I figure I'll start with a post (or two?) catching us up to where we left off before we launch into the individual chapters. In the meantime, if you're so inclined, you can read prior posts starting with Volume I, chapter 1 from May, 2011.



I am very much looking forward to picking this up again!

Meanwhile, it's the weekend, and I am enjoying a quiet weekend with my sweetheart (which will be interrupted this evening by a martial arts-related dinner celebrating Chinese New Year).


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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope that wherever you are, and whether you are single or part of a couple, that you are having a happy day. This year, I am very happily part of couple, but I've spent lots of years in the past either single or not-so-happily part of a couple, so my feelings on the day are mixed.

As a result, I'm sharing with you this bit of loveliness from former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, which was sent my way earlier in the week by the divine Jules of 7-Imp.

Sweet Talk
by Kay Ryan

Everything about Valentine's Day with its sentimental obligations makes me want to run the other way. Except the conversation hearts. I am a big fan of those little boxes of pale chalky candies stamped either with expired slang or with sweet talk of under ten letters.

The words do not pretend to be poems, as much else does on Valentine's Day. If you are handed a heart, it's quick to read and ok to dismiss—you can even hand it back. They are inconsequential, impersonal, random, a joke, a hundred for thirty-nine cents. You don't have to stand there under the tender eye of the giver and labor through the a-b-a-b of a real Valentine card, trying to decide if you're obliged to read it aloud or if you can just move your lips.

Read the rest here.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

O Mistress Mine by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow being Valentine's Day, I figured I'd go with a somewhat romantic song from one of my favorites of Shakespeare's plays, Twelfth Night.

O Mistress Mine
by William Shakespeare
from Twelfth Night, Act I, sc. 3

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty;
Youth's a stuff will not endure.


Discussion and analysis:

The structure of the song is as follows: It is rhymed AABCCB DDEFFE, and it uses a mix of meters. The first two lines of each stanza are in iambic tetrameter (although in the first stanza, there's an extra "feminine" ending resulting in nine syllables in a line that has 4 iambic feet: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM(ta)). The third and sixth lines of each stanza are trochaic trimeter (with an extra stressed syllable at the end of the line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUM), for a total of seven syllables per line. And the fourth and fifth lines of each stanza are in trochaic tetramter (four trochaic feet per line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUMta).

Of course, when I sing this to myself (which is far more often than most of you would guess), I sing the alto part to a choral setting by Ralph Vaughn Williams, seen performed here by a Graduate Recital Choir:



If you'd prefer, you can check out Sir Ben Kingsley as Feste in the 1996 movie version of Twelfth Night, which includes a nice performance (interrupted by some dialogue between Viola and Orsino):




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