Emma, Jane Austen (1815)

The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much of her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself: these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.

I have now read all of Jane Austen’s major novels. I think Northanger Abbey will always be my favorite, because the story is just so much fun to read. But I think Emma is a close second. I like the development of the titular heroine from a kind-hearted busybody, who thinks she knows what is best for everyone else to humbled match-maker to woman in love; it is very well done.


Emma Woodhouse is 21 and popular in her small village. Her mother died long ago and her older sister Isabella lives in London with her husband and children. Emma lives with her father, but trying to keep him happy is a challenge as the poor man is afraid of everything from changes in the weather, the addition of more than 10 people at the dinner table and absolutely any deviation in his tightly controlled daily routine. The pair are about to lose an important buffer and housemate in Miss Taylor, Emma’s governess turned close friend, who is to marry Mr. Weston.

Emma is the kind of person who needs ‘projects’ and in this case, her projects are people, in particular, matchmaking. She has taken a young woman, Harriet Smith, under her wing and plans to find her a husband, regardless of the fact that Harriet and the farmer Robert Martin are already interested in each other.

But, oh no, that will not do and Emma puts her foot down, explaining to Harriet:

A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a credible appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families….But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as below it.

Since Harriet’s parentage is unknown, Emma feels certain she is ‘above’ people like Robert Martin. When Robert proposes, Emma talks Harriet out of it.

A long-time Woodhouse family visitor, Mr. Knightley, who incidentally is the brother of Isabella’s husband John, takes Emma to task for thwarting this relationship that in his opinion is a good match and may be as good as Harriet would ever get. Emma is convinced Robert is not Harriet’s equal and Knightley explodes:

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 a parlour-boarder at a common school….She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself.

Emma’s respect for Knightley makes his tirade against her a little uncomfortable, but not enough to repent at what she’d done.

Emma moves on to try and match Harriet to another man, Mr. Elton, who seems very interested, but this also ends in disaster when it is revealed his interest is actually in Emma. Harriet is now left with little prospects, due to Emma’s interference.

Emma is an interesting character, because while she sincerely wants the best for Harriet and for everyone she tries to help, she can only see them through herself. She sees what is best in someone else’s situation by what would be right for her not through the lens of the wants and desires of the other person.

Emma is used to being the one people turn to, the one who plans events, who organizes outings. But when she meets the woman Mr. Elton eventually marries, she is put out by Mrs. Elton’s forceful personality and the usurpation of Emma’s party-planning career. Against her will, the outwardly kind and well-mannered Emma Woodhouse develops envious, mean-spirited judgmental thoughts against Mrs. Elton and a jealousy she can barely control. Some of the best writing in the novel are the barbs she mentally slings at her nemesis as she tries to “keep herself together.”

But Emma feels her grasp is loosening on the people she feels close to as her mental control begins to fray and manifest outwardly. It comes to a head when she is unable to check her tongue and mocks the sad life of the simple-natured neighbor and village favorite, Miss Bates. Mr. Knightley confronts her and is shocked that she doesn’t see the harm she has done. Knightley reminds her of her status in the community and the responsibility that entails. Miss Bates is old, poor “Sunk from the comforts she was born to…You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour—to have you now…laugh at her, humble her—and before others, many of whom would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.” When she is alone Emma feels the enormity of the situation and completely breaks down.

Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcible struck. The truth of his representation there was not denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued!…As she reflected more, she seemed to feel it more. She never had been so depressed…the tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home….

Emma is shaken up enough to know she must apologize to Miss Bates, but the chaos at her house at that moment renders the apology more as understood than unspoken. Knightley, made aware of Emma’s act of contrition, is overcome. It is a turning point in his regard for her.

The novel contains a fair share of romantic drama and intrigued. When Jane Fairfax comes on the scene, she rebuffs Emma. Jane, it seems, doesn’t want to know her and Emma can’t engage her, influence her or give her advice as she is used to. Some of the lighter moments in the book happen as Emma tries to work out in her head why she isn’t making any headway toward getting to know Jane.

Finally as all and sundry are wrapped up, the final piece of the narrative arrives as Emma realizes she is in love with…..and it is mutual. Well, it might be obvious, but that’s too big a spoiler to reveal.

Austen’s flair for the comedic is very evident in this book with several characters written over the top, especially Mrs. Elton, Mr. Woodhouse and some of the scenes with the Bates’s and Frank Churchill’s scene with Emma at the picnic. I have noticed that Emma is not a favorite with some readers; that they find it too long and boring. I can see that if you can’t get into the characters. But I found the them engaging, even the ones who got on my nerves—cue Mrs. Elton and dear old dad—and they are important components not only in the story, but in showing us more about Emma. I think this is a work with depth and the growth of a person’s integrity. I can see a reread of this at some point.


Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes and Noble
Date: 1815
Device: Trade paperback
Pages: 544

Challenge: Classics Club

A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori Smith (2007)

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I hope that somehow this proximity to Jane’s life will help me understand my own.

 

This was the perfect book to cap my first Austen in August experience.  A work of nonfiction, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith helped with much of the back story to Jane Austen’s life and times that I mentioned in my Mansfield Park post and filled in some of the etiquette and culture gaps that perplexed me.

The Premise

Lori Smith is at a painful and difficult time in her life. Thirty-three years old she is unfulfilled in her job, frustrated that she is still single and though she does not doubt her Christian faith, she is struggling to make sense with all that is not working in her life. But the most difficult impediment is the profound fatigue and debilitating symptoms of an illness doctors cannot diagnose.

She learns to cope with the on again off again pattern of the illness and makes the decision to quit her job to become a full time writer. Long an admirer of Jane Austen, when a medication for an imbalanced thyroid gives her a reprieve from her symptoms, she books a trip to England with the goal of healing and reinventing herself through the life and works of Austen.

Everything in my life was dark, stifling. I needed light and air….In some ways, those of us who love Austen look to her to escape into another world. When our own is complicated and stressful, hers is tea and careful conversations and lovely dresses and healthy country air.

A Travel Guide

Starting with a course at Oxford and by reading through all of Austen’s novels, Smith is armed with maps and tips for visiting cities and landmarks that figure in Austen’s life as well as in her novels: Steventon, Chawton, Lyme Regis, Winchester, Bath, Box Hill and more. She quotes passages and ponders their connections to her own life.

Though I still have two more books of Austen to read (Pride and Prejudice and Emma) it was easy to follow the parallels of Austen’s life with her novels that Smith points out (for example, at Steventon, she sees the barn where Austen “threw rousing family theatricals with her brothers,” and I just read Mansfield Park!)

Some of the Austen family material Smith shares was helpful to me, too, in knowing two of her brothers were in the Navy (William in Mansfield Park, Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility and Captain Wentworth and others in Persuasion), that one of her brothers was adopted into another family (Fanny in Mansfield Park), that James second wife was mean and jealous (Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park) and Chawton Great House as the model for the Tilney home in Northanger Abbey.

This is a book for those new to Jane Austen and for the confirmed Janeite. For anyone planning a trip to England and their own walk with Jane Austen, consider this a comprehensive model.

Romance?

Finally, does Smith find romance? Of course, she does! Youth, England, summer, a course at Oxford. On her first day at the University she meets an American man studying for the summer who is kind, Christian and seems friendly. She falls head over heels, obsesses appropriately, has her future with him all planned out, but sadly, the feelings are not reciprocated. Although there are few resolutions for the issues Smith begins her trip

My days are still small. But the light is beginning to return. Just a couple of weeks ago I started being able to laugh at the world again, and that felt very good–soul healing laughter. I want more of it, to enjoy life, to love the people around me…I hope I will be healthy again.

And in health and all aspects of her life, I wish her well.

 

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Lori Smith has written several books including, Jane Austen’s Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman.

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My Edition
Title: A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith
Author: Lori Smith
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 2007
Pages: 235
Full plot summary

Challenges: Mount TBR, #AusteninAugustrbr

 

 

 

 

 

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (1814)

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The nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech you and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins…Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last….

 

Fanny Price is taken from her working class family to live with her more affluent aunt and uncle. Lady Bertram is her mother’s sister and it is suggested by her mother’s other sister, Mrs. Norris that taking Fanny in would relieve their sister of the burden and expense of raising another child. Fanny is 9 years old and a quiet and frightened child when she comes to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and their four children at Mansfield Park. For the next decade, while she is given everything material she could need, she lives a liminal life, sometimes included in the activities of her cousins and sometimes treated like a servant; decisions are made for her without her consent and criticisms of her thoughts and behavior are discussed by her aunts and uncle as if she isn’t there. Edmund, the younger of the two brothers, is her constant champion amidst the crassness and criticism of her Aunt Norris, who regularly reminds her of her humble place, regardless of how the Bertrams treat her or what they give to her.

Most of the action takes place through Fanny’s eyes and especially through her moral compass. Her cousins, the neighbors in the parsonage next door, are seen through her world view, which is exacting, unsentimental and harsh.

A Rigid Social Structure or is it just Fanny?

I don’t quite know what to make of Fanny Price. She has an unrelenting moral code that is so rigid and unforgiving it impedes her social interactions. With her delicate constitution she is forced to sit on the sidelines of many of life’s events, so she becomes the observer, the critic and the conscience-filter through which the motivation of each of her family and friends is measured. They ‘commit,’ what seem to me, infractions of the slightest intent or the folly of teenagers, yet to Fanny they are so grievous she cannot forgive.

I think there are subtleties of right and wrong, of etiquette and behavior during this period I am just not familiar. For instance, Fanny’s discomfort with Mary Crawford, which feels like plain old jealousy (over Edmund), yet I think even if she had not been Fanny’s rival, she would have found fault. Each person Fanny comes into contact with—Maria and Julia, her aunts, the Grants—can never live up to her impossibly high standards.

Who is Fanny, Anyway?

Edmund, from her first days at Mansfield Park, shows an almost 6th sense to Fanny’s material and emotional needs and comfort. He makes sure she is given a horse to ride every morning for her health, gives her a chain for the necklace her brother William gave her so she can wear it to the ball. Sir Thomas as well shows immense kindness to Fanny, especially once he returns from his business abroad. She accepts all of this with the appropriate gratitude, embarrassment and deference. But after the downfall of Maria and Julia, the break-up of Edmund and Mary Crawford, and Henry Crawford’s demise and finally, her triumph in winning Edmund, her quietude and deferential demeanor become something else. I see her as a conniver, who bides her time until she gets what she wants. Am I just mean, jaded or am I missing the point entirely?

I think there is a subtlety in this world that is foreign to me. For example, as loathsome as Mrs. Norris is to Fanny and everyone else at Mansfield Park, she is the least subtle and feels the most familiar. Her meanness comes from her own liminal life as a widow without a purpose or a place. She is a busy-body and treats Fanny abominably and tries to force the rest of the family to do her bidding often with disastrous results. She unnerves the Bertrams who want her gone from Mansfield Park; at Maria’s downfall, they get their wish. Yet, she is obvious in her brutishness; no one would expect anything different.

Austen 101

I would love to understand the details of this society; those minute cues and subtle looks that set Fanny off. If there is such a book that would explain it all to me, please let me know!

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My Edition
Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Books
Device: Paperback
Year: 1814
Pages: 427
Full plot summary

Challenges: #AustenInAugustRBR, Classics Club, Mount TRB

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (1817) #AustenInAugustRBR

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….there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them….

 

Catherine Morland is seventeen when she accompanies her wealthy neighbor Mrs. Allen to Bath where her husband has been ordered to take in the healing waters for his gout. Catherine has lived a happy, physically active, carefree, but insulated life with her large family; her imagination developed through the mostly Gothic books she reads. She has never had a suitor, “never seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility,” never “having inspired one real passion….” On her first excursion away from her family and the familiarity of village life, Bath exposes her to the complex society of her peers and widens her perspective on friendship and romance, with comical, frustrating and finally, joyful, results.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it often had me on the edge of my seat. Austen puts poor Catherine through the ringer with her gullibility and worldly inexperience. She is completely unprepared morally to doubt the sincerity of Isabella Thorpe, the first ‘friend’ she meets at Bath and was not only goaded and duped several times by Isabella and her brother John, even her brother James took advantage of her naiveté. Catherine makes all kinds of gaffes in her friendship with Henry and Eleanor Tilney and could not stand up for herself in other situations and yet, I felt myself pulling for her after each blunder and felt relieved when she found the strength of character to make her own decisions. It is a good thing this is a short novel because it was all I could do to keep from going to the back pages and skimming the end!

One of the more interesting aspects of this book for me concerned Bath as a destination, not for healing, but for socializing during ‘the season.’ When I visited Bath and toured the Roman Baths, I do not remember this aspect of its history being told to us, just that it was an important example of Roman architecture and culture that capitalized on the therapeutic properties of the water. In Northanger Abbey, I do not recall the mention of anyone beside Mr. Allen in Catherine’s sphere who went for that reason. The young people met in the Pump Room, the Upper and Lower Rooms at the “fashionable hours” for tea, for meals, to socialize and to plan trips to the theater and outings throughout the countryside. That Austen herself lived for a time in Bath explains how she created the atmosphere and the details of the variety of people who would have spent time here.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed is the intensity with which Catherine becomes obsessed with a well-known Gothic novel, called The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe to the extent she cannot put it down eschewing social engagements and asking her friends if they have read it. Of course, they had and Isabella recites a list of other ‘horrid novels’ Catherine will enjoy after she finishes Udolpho. “…but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”* Catherine is hooked.

Austen uses the haunted house aspect of The Mysteries of Udolpho as the lens throughnorthabbey which Catherine imagines Henry Tilney’s home. After she befriends Henry’s sister, Eleanor, and is invited to their home for an extended stay, Catherine’s obsession becomes fodder for a great bit of teasing by Henry when it is mentioned they live in an abbey. Catherine is excited to think “it is a fine old place, just like what one reads about.” Henry asks her if she has a stout heart and “nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” She is not concerned since the home has never been uninhabited for years with the family coming back unawares and without giving notice “as generally happens.” Henry leads her on with a definitive description of a haunted house:

…you must be aware that when a young lady is introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the home, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you, when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber—too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size—its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance?

How fearfully will you examine the furniture of your apartment!—And what will you discern?—Not tables, toilettes, wardrobes, or drawers, but on one side perhaps the remains of a broken lute, on the other a ponderous chest which no efforts can open, and over the fire-place the portrait of some handsome warrior, whose features will so incomprehensibly strike you, that you will not be able to withdraw your eyes from it. Dorothy meanwhile, no less struck by your appearance, gazes on you in great agitation, and drops a few unintelligible hints. To raise your spirits, moreover, she gives you reason to suppose that the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted, and informs you that you will not have a single domestic within call.

(This passage goes on, reminding me of the Haunting of Hill House and just about any horror book or movie with a haunted house I have ever seen. It can’t be a coincidence)?

Henry continues highlighting every stereotypical element of a haunted house, forcing Catherine to insist she is not afraid. And so with this conversation fresh in her mind and her obsession firmly implanted into her imagination, she is lead to her room. Where, of course, she experiences almost everything Henry just described.

However, the days pass and most of what originally scared her finds a reasonable explanation in the light of day. Though many angst-filled events conspire to keep Henry and Catherine apart, it was a relief to finally end the book knowing they would be together.

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*As I was doing a little research about this novel, I came across some discussions of that list of ‘horrid novels’ Isabella mentioned above. It was thought Austen made up the titles until they were rediscovered in the early 20th century. Valancourt Books is publishing them all in affordable new editions.

My Edition
Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Penguin Books
Device: Paperback
Year: 1817, 1972
Pages: 252
Full plot summary

Challenges: Classics Club, #AusteninAugustRBR, TBR

Austen in August

All that angst about expanding my blog to include a wider variety of books and what do you know? I plan on immersing myself in Jane Austen this month thanks to the many Austen in August events going on. Admittedly, I have an abysmal track record on keeping up with these events and challenges, but I did make a plan that includes books and films, so I am opting for optimism. And I finished Northanger Abbey last week, so I am off to a good start!

The main Austen event for me is Austen In August hosted by Adam of the Roof Beam Reader blog, following along with his blog and on Twitter, #AustenInAugustRBR

 

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Three films chosen for no other reason than I own them

ETA-Thanks to Brona (Bronasbooks), I just added Love & Friendship which I found on Amazon Prime 🙂

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Northanger Abbey

 

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Mansfield Park

 

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A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith,  by Lori Smith

I look forward to learning more about Austen this month.