English verdure

Illustration by Joan Hassall, View of Abbey-Mill Farm, Emma, Folio Society, London (1961)VERDURE

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. The Narrator on Abbey-Mill Farm, Emma, Chapter 42

These poetic lines were prefaced by a description of Abbey-Mill Farm, which Emma and her party of family and friends view on an excursion at Mr. Knightley’s estate, Donwell Abbey. They have assembled to pick strawberries. As they stroll across the countryside, they come to a rise.

it was in itself a charming walk, and the view which closed it extremely pretty. The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey-Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

This is one of the rare instances when Jane Austen gives more than a brief description of the physical environment. When she does elaborate, it is usually by design. In this scene we see the pastoral beauty of the English countryside, specifically the view toward Abbey-Mill Farm, the property of Mr. Knightley and the residence of the prosperous farmer and former beau of Harriet Smith, – - Robert Martin. This is Jane Austen’s underlying irony at it’s best.

This subtle enlightenment places Emma’s disqualification of Robert Martin as a suitor for her protegee Harriet Smith in a new perspective. Previously through Emma’s eyes, we thought that he was a lowly tenant farmer, below the station in life that she feels her friend is equal to. Now we learn of the extent of Abbey-Mill Farm and it’s improvements and question her decision. 

*Illustration by Joan Hassall, “It was a sweet view”, page 285, Emma, published by The Folio Society, London, (1963)