This week’s lesson is from the third volume of Emma, Chapter XIII (49).
This week’s lesson is from the third volume of Emma, Chapter XIII (49).
We were reminded recently that we all can use some inspiration from the pen of Herself. We have been meaning to resurrect the Sunday Austen Meditation feature on this blog, and will endeavor to post weekly.
Today’s lesson comes from Emma, as we have been thinking a great deal about this novel lately, and also about Janeites enjoying modern technology. While many think that social media is a 21st-century phenomenon, the idea behind it–sharing thoughts with friends–is far from new. In the Editrix’s long-ago girlhood, we wrote in our friends’ autograph albums and school yearbooks, even as Harriet Smith collects charades in her album. From Volume I, Chapter IX (9):
Her views of improving her little friend’s mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet’s fortune, than to be labouring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts; and the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with ciphers and trophies.
In this age of literature, such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Nash, head-teacher at Mrs. Goddard’s, had written out at least three hundred; and Harriet, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped, with Miss Woodhouse’s help, to get a great many more. Emma assisted with her invention, memory and taste; and as Harriet wrote a very pretty hand, it was likely to be an arrangement of the first order, in form as well as quantity.
Mr. Woodhouse was almost as much interested in the business as the girls, and tried very often to recollect something worth their putting in. “So many clever riddles as there used to be when he was young—he wondered he could not remember them! but he hoped he should in time.” And it always ended in “Kitty, a fair but frozen maid.”
His good friend Perry, too, whom he had spoken to on the subject, did not at present recollect any thing of the riddle kind; but he had desired Perry to be upon the watch, and as he went about so much, something, he thought, might come from that quarter.
So as you see, Gentle Readers, even in Jane Austen’s time, there was social media of a sort. Two hundred years ago, the excitement over an album of charades was similar to the excitement over the latest social media app. Once again we see the genius of Jane Austen, who tapped into the universal zeitgeist of humanity that never really changes. Here endeth the lesson.
This week’s lesson comes from Emma, Vol. II, Chap. XIV:
When the visit was returned, Emma made up her mind. She could then see more and judge better. From Harriet’s happening not to be at Hartfield, and her father’s being present to engage Mr. Elton, she had a quarter of an hour of the lady’s conversation to herself, and could composedly attend to her; and the quarter of an hour quite convinced her that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; that she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar; that all her notions were drawn from one set of people, and one style of living; that if not foolish she was ignorant, and that her society would certainly do Mr. Elton no good.
Harriet would have been a better match. If not wise or refined herself, she would have connected him with those who were; but Miss Hawkins, it might be fairly supposed from her easy conceit, had been the best of her own set. The rich brother-in-law near Bristol was the pride of the alliance, and his place and his carriages were the pride of him.
The very first subject after being seated was Maple Grove, “My brother Mr. Suckling’s seat;”–a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove. The grounds of Hartfield were small, but neat and pretty; and the house was modern and well-built. Mrs. Elton seemed most favourably impressed by the size of the room, the entrance, and all that she could see or imagine. “Very like Maple Grove indeed!–She was quite struck by the likeness!–That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.”–Mr. Elton was appealed to.–“Was not it astonishingly like?–She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.”
“And the staircase–You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me, to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have spent so many happy months there! (with a little sigh of sentiment). A charming place, undoubtedly. Every body who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me, it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with any thing at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.”
Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs. Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.
“So extremely like Maple Grove! And it is not merely the house–the grounds, I assure you, as far as I could observe, are strikingly like. The laurels at Maple Grove are in the same profusion as here, and stand very much in the same way–just across the lawn; and I had a glimpse of a fine large tree, with a bench round it, which put me so exactly in mind! My brother and sister will be enchanted with this place. People who have extensive grounds themselves are always pleased with any thing in the same style.”
Emma doubted the truth of this sentiment. She had a great idea that people who had extensive grounds themselves cared very little for the extensive grounds of any body else; but it was not worth while to attack an error so double-dyed, and therefore only said in reply,
“When you have seen more of this country, I am afraid you will think you have overrated Hartfield. Surry is full of beauties.”
“Oh! yes, I am quite aware of that. It is the garden of England, you know. Surry is the garden of England.”
“Yes; but we must not rest our claims on that distinction. Many counties, I believe, are called the garden of England, as well as Surry.”
“No, I fancy not,” replied Mrs. Elton, with a most satisfied smile.” I never heard any county but Surry called so.”
Emma was silenced.
“My brother and sister have promised us a visit in the spring, or summer at farthest,” continued Mrs. Elton; “and that will be our time for exploring. While they are with us, we shall explore a great deal, I dare say. They will have their barouche-landau, of course, which holds four perfectly; and therefore, without saying any thing of our carriage, we should be able to explore the different beauties extremely well. They would hardly come in their chaise, I think, at that season of the year. Indeed, when the time draws on, I shall decidedly recommend their bringing the barouche-landau; it will be so very much preferable. When people come into a beautiful country of this sort, you know, Miss Woodhouse, one naturally wishes them to see as much as possible; and Mr. Suckling is extremely fond of exploring. We explored to King’s-Weston twice last summer, in that way, most delightfully, just after their first having the barouche-landau. You have many parties of that kind here, I suppose, Miss Woodhouse, every summer?”
“No; not immediately here. We are rather out of distance of the very striking beauties which attract the sort of parties you speak of; and we are a very quiet set of people, I believe; more disposed to stay at home than engage in schemes of pleasure.”
“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am. I was quite a proverb for it at Maple Grove. Many a time has Selina said, when she has been going to Bristol, ‘I really cannot get this girl to move from the house. I absolutely must go in by myself, though I hate being stuck up in the barouche-landau without a companion; but Augusta, I believe, with her own good-will, would never stir beyond the park paling.’ Many a time has she said so; and yet I am no advocate for entire seclusion. I think, on the contrary, when people shut themselves up entirely from society, it is a very bad thing; and that it is much more advisable to mix in the world in a proper degree, without living in it either too much or too little. I perfectly understand your situation, however, Miss Woodhouse–(looking towards Mr. Woodhouse), Your father’s state of health must be a great drawback. Why does not he try Bath?–Indeed he should. Let me recommend Bath to you. I assure you I have no doubt of its doing Mr. Woodhouse good.”
“My father tried it more than once, formerly; but without receiving any benefit; and Mr. Perry, whose name, I dare say, is not unknown to you, does not conceive it would be at all more likely to be useful now.”
“Ah! that’s a great pity; for I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, where the waters do agree, it is quite wonderful the relief they give. In my Bath life, I have seen such instances of it! And it is so cheerful a place, that it could not fail of being of use to Mr. Woodhouse’s spirits, which, I understand, are sometimes much depressed. And as to its recommendations to you, I fancy I need not take much pains to dwell on them. The advantages of Bath to the young are pretty generally understood. It would be a charming introduction for you, who have lived so secluded a life; and I could immediately secure you some of the best society in the place. A line from me would bring you a little host of acquaintance; and my particular friend, Mrs. Partridge, the lady I have always resided with when in Bath, would be most happy to shew you any attentions, and would be the very person for you to go into public with.”
It was as much as Emma could bear, without being impolite. The idea of her being indebted to Mrs. Elton for what was called an introduction–of her going into public under the auspices of a friend of Mrs. Elton’s–probably some vulgar, dashing widow, who, with the help of a boarder, just made a shift to live!–The dignity of Miss Woodhouse, of Hartfield, was sunk indeed!
She restrained herself, however, from any of the reproofs she could have given, and only thanked Mrs. Elton coolly; “but their going to Bath was quite out of the question; and she was not perfectly convinced that the place might suit her better than her father.” And then, to prevent farther outrage and indignation, changed the subject directly.
“I do not ask whether you are musical, Mrs. Elton. Upon these occasions, a lady’s character generally precedes her; and Highbury has long known that you are a superior performer.”
“Oh! no, indeed; I must protest against any such idea. A superior performer!–very far from it, I assure you. Consider from how partial a quarter your information came. I am doatingly fond of music–passionately fond;–and my friends say I am not entirely devoid of taste; but as to any thing else, upon my honour my performance is mediocre to the last degree. You, Miss Woodhouse, I well know, play delightfully. I assure you it has been the greatest satisfaction, comfort, and delight to me, to hear what a musical society I am got into. I absolutely cannot do without music. It is a necessary of life to me; and having always been used to a very musical society, both at Maple Grove and in Bath, it would have been a most serious sacrifice. I honestly said as much to Mr. E. when he was speaking of my future home, and expressing his fears lest the retirement of it should be disagreeable; and the inferiority of the house too–knowing what I had been accustomed to–of course he was not wholly without apprehension. When he was speaking of it in that way, I honestly said that the world I could give up–parties, balls, plays–for I had no fear of retirement. Blessed with so many resources within myself, the world was not necessary to me. I could do very well without it. To those who had no resources it was a different thing; but my resources made me quite independent. And as to smaller-sized rooms than I had been used to, I really could not give it a thought. I hoped I was perfectly equal to any sacrifice of that description. Certainly I had been accustomed to every luxury at Maple Grove; but I did assure him that two carriages were not necessary to my happiness, nor were spacious apartments. ‘But,’ said I, ‘to be quite honest, I do not think I can live without something of a musical society. I condition for nothing else; but without music, life would be a blank to me.'”
“We cannot suppose,” said Emma, smiling, “that Mr. Elton would hesitate to assure you of there being a very musical society in Highbury; and I hope you will not find he has outstepped the truth more than may be pardoned, in consideration of the motive.”
“No, indeed, I have no doubts at all on that head. I am delighted to find myself in such a circle. I hope we shall have many sweet little concerts together. I think, Miss Woodhouse, you and I must establish a musical club, and have regular weekly meetings at your house, or ours. Will not it be a good plan? If we exert ourselves, I think we shall not be long in want of allies. Something of that nature would be particularly desirable for me, as an inducement to keep me in practice; for married women, you know–there is a sad story against them, in general. They are but too apt to give up music.”
“But you, who are so extremely fond of it–there can be no danger, surely?”
“I should hope not; but really when I look around among my acquaintance, I tremble. Selina has entirely given up music–never touches the instrument–though she played sweetly. And the same may be said of Mrs. Jeffereys–Clara Partridge, that was–and of the two Milmans, now Mrs. Bird and Mrs. James Cooper; and of more than I can enumerate. Upon my word it is enough to put one in a fright. I used to be quite angry with Selina; but really I begin now to comprehend that a married woman has many things to call her attention. I believe I was half an hour this morning shut up with my housekeeper.”
“But every thing of that kind,” said Emma, “will soon be in so regular a train–”
“Well,” said Mrs. Elton, laughing, “we shall see.”
Emma, finding her so determined upon neglecting her music, had nothing more to say; and, after a moment’s pause, Mrs. Elton chose another subject.
“We have been calling at Randalls,” said she, “and found them both at home; and very pleasant people they seem to be. I like them extremely. Mr. Weston seems an excellent creature–quite a first-rate favourite with me already, I assure you. And she appears so truly good–there is something so motherly and kind-hearted about her, that it wins upon one directly. She was your governess, I think?”
Emma was almost too much astonished to answer; but Mrs. Elton hardly waited for the affirmative before she went on.
“Having understood as much, I was rather astonished to find her so very lady-like! But she is really quite the gentlewoman.”
“Mrs. Weston’s manners,” said Emma, “were always particularly good. Their propriety, simplicity, and elegance, would make them the safest model for any young woman.”
“And who do you think came in while we were there?”
Emma was quite at a loss. The tone implied some old acquaintance–and how could she possibly guess?
“Knightley!” continued Mrs. Elton; “Knightley himself!–Was not it lucky?–for, not being within when he called the other day, I had never seen him before; and of course, as so particular a friend of Mr. E.’s, I had a great curiosity. ‘My friend Knightley’ had been so often mentioned, that I was really impatient to see him; and I must do my caro sposo the justice to say that he need not be ashamed of his friend. Knightley is quite the gentleman. I like him very much. Decidedly, I think, a very gentleman-like man.”
Happily, it was now time to be gone. They were off; and Emma could breathe.
“Insufferable woman!” was her immediate exclamation. “Worse than I had supposed. Absolutely insufferable! Knightley!–I could not have believed it. Knightley!–never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley!–and discover that he is a gentleman! A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and underbred finery. Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady. I could not have believed it! And to propose that she and I should unite to form a musical club! One would fancy we were bosom friends! And Mrs. Weston!–Astonished that the person who had brought me up should be a gentlewoman! Worse and worse. I never met with her equal.
We have been thinking about Mrs. Elton lately, and thinking how real she seems. We have probably all met people like her: self-important, impertinent, and overbearing. She is not a villainous character in that she causes real trouble for our heroine–her plots are petty and do little more than show her true character. Common sense tells us that such people’s behavior stems from self-doubt, sometimes very deeply buried, but one cannot imagine that to be the case with Mrs. Elton. Some people really just are petty and ignorant, and insufficiently self-aware to realize it. Here endeth the lesson.
Alert Janeite Paola, who keeps an eye on the Francophone Janeite news for us, passed on a link to a French edition of Emma with a cover illustrated by the fashion designer Christian Lacroix. M. Lacroix has illustrated covers for nine classic novels, which are available separately or together in a limited edition slipcase.
Barnes and Noble is currently hosting an online discussion of Emma in conjunction with the broadcast of the new miniseries on Masterpiece Classic. The discussion has already begun; special guests will include Joan Ray the week of January 25-29 and Sandy Welch the week of February 1-5.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a review of the series.
There have been other adaptations of “Emma,” including the versions with Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow, and the deliciously savvy modern update, “Clueless.” And it can be argued with the new miniseries, as it can with many great works that “Masterpiece” has readapted over the years, that a new version isn’t really needed. Yet, thanks largely to superb performances, especially by Romola Garai in the title role, the new “Emma” contributes to our love and appreciation of Austen’s genius.
We’re still desperately trying to get interested in this, so it is doubtful we will be posting much about the series in the leadup to the broadcast; however, there will be discussion threads on Sunday night as always. Also, there is a Twitter party during the broadcasts, so you can get your discussion groove on there as well.
There also might be a little surprise ready for our Gentle Readers by Sunday night…stay tuned! We have not spent all our non-blogging time lately lying about eating bon-bons.
In her new book, Talking About Detective Fiction, detective novelist and Friend of Jane P.D. James discusses Emma as an example of detective fiction. From the Wall Street Journal review of the book:
In an opening chapter that brings in both Trollope and Charles Dickens, Lady James sends the reader speeding to the Austen shelf to pull down “the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story.” That would be “Emma,” Jane Austen’s tale of the young, self-appointed matchmaker Emma Woodhouse, who is not as clever as she thinks. What is the secret in the novel? The “unrecognized relationships” between characters caught up in Emma’s romantic machinations, says Lady James, adding: “The story is confined to a closed society in a rural setting, which was to become common in detective fiction, and Jane Austen deceives us with cleverly constructed clues.”
The idea of Emma as a detective story is not new, but we like the idea of Emma as a cozy mystery!
Alert Janeite Cinthia posted in comments that Emma 2009 will be broadcast on Masterpiece Classics in three parts, beginning January 24 through February 7, 2010, thus pointing out the inherent problems in the “year” adaptation classification system *shakes fist at Masterpiece and its laggy timing*. The trailer, as has already been pointed out in comments, is better than the British teaser.
Interest in the series here on AustenBlog remains high, unsurprisingly, but Alert Janeite Lisa sent us a link that says overall interest in the series is waning.
Earlier this week just 3.3million tuned in to watch the series, which features Romola Garai as Emma, Michael Gambon as her father and Jonny Lee Miller as the dashing Mr Knightley.
Traditionally the BBC’s classic dramas get ratings of more than five or six million.
But just 4.4million watched the first episode and since then more than a million have switched off.
Emma’s poor performance has led some to question the BBC’s decision to adapt an Austen classic that has been on screen so many times before.
One leading drama producer said: ‘I don’t think audiences are as excited about Emma – perhaps they are not excited by Austen anymore.’
Or maybe they just didn’t find the first part interesting enough to tune back in for the second? Of course, we handed Auntie Beeb bulletproof casting on a solid-gold platter but did they listen to us? Noooooooo. And we’re not even the only ones saying so. (Scroll down a bit.)
As for the casting of badboy Jonny Lee Miller as the wise, older Mr Knightley, where is the divinely brooding and grown-up Richard Armitage when you need him? Answer me that.
See? Though now we are of the opinion that the divinely brooding &c. Mr. A. would have been wasted in this particular production, it not being the definitively faithful version we had hoped for, but Austen filtered through Oprah. UK viewers, use this as your report-on-the-fourth-episode thread. We’ll post some other stuff about other things later tonight.