Emma Woodhouse: Poverty, Marriage & Pedestals!

Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, Emma, Roberts Bros, Boston (1892)“Dear me! it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!”  

“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house, as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”  

“But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!”  

“That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly — so satisfied — so smiling — so prosing — so undistinguishing and unfastidious — and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.”  

“But still, you will be an old maid — and that’s so dreadful!”  

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper. Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 10 

Miss Emma Woodhouse is such a prig! She proclaims that only poverty makes an old maid contemptible. Oh really? She need not marry because it offers her nothing that she does not already possess: fortune, employment or consequence. Arrogance! The first time a read Emma, I scowled so much my face hurt. 

Some readers complain that they can not identify with Emma. Jane Austen has certainly created “a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” It is difficult for a reader to sympathize with her struggles, because her arrogance is her biggest fault, and who can feel empathy with that? When I think of other literary heroines we love to hate, I think of Scarlet O’Hara, that smug southern belle in Gone With the Wind. Even though we want to give them both a swift kick in the rear, we are mesmerized over the prospect of what silliness they will do next and who will eventually knock them off their self appointed pedestals. It’s along fall, but worth the wait! 

*Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, Emma, Chapter 10, Roberts Bros, Boston (1892)

Vintage flourish urn

Oooh Mr. Woodhouse … it’s snowing!

Woodhouse weather6, Seattle snow storm (2008)“This will prove a spirited beginning of your winter engagements, sir. Something new for your coachman and horses to be making their way through a storm of snow.”  

Poor Mr. Woodhouse was silent from consternation; but every body else had something to say; every body was either surprized or not surprized, and had some question to ask, or some comfort to offer. Mrs. Weston and Emma tried earnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his son-in-law, who was pursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.  

“I admired your resolution very much, sir,” said he, “in venturing out in such weather, for of course you saw there would be snow very soon. Every body must have seen the snow coming on. I admired your spirit; and I dare say we shall get home very well. Another hour or two’s snow can hardly make the road impassable; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over in the bleak part of the common field there will be the other at hand. I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight.” John Knightley, Emma, Chapter 15 

Enjoy these snowy photos. They are a “spirited beginning to my winter engagement” as John Knightley would say.

Woodhouse weather5, Seattle snow storm (2008)

Woodhouse weather4, Seattle snow storm (2008)

We are in the midst of a bitter snow storm here near Seattle. I live in the country and took these photos of our pastures and trees yesterday morning. It looks so pretty and peaceful, but the snow and cold are causing quite a bit of anxiety and stress. Mr. Woodhouse would be comatose. 

Woodhouse weather3, Seattle snow storm (2008)

Woodhouse weather2, Seattle snow storm (2008)

I have always enjoyed this passage from Emma. Wicked John Knightley. He knows just how to terrify his poor father-in-law Mr. Woodhouse with the possibility of snowy bleak parts and carriage blow overs! Jane Austen is really the wicked one. She knows just how to make us laugh at his expense. 

Woodhouse weather1, Seattle snow storm (2008)

I am off to work tomorrow morning to attempt to sell books and holiday gifts to anyone foolish enough to venture out of their homes. We are expecting an even bigger storm with high winds by 4:00pm, so if you don’t hear from me for days, I am without electricity, huddled under my down quilt with a flashlight reading Emma


Laurel Ann

Jane Austen and the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride and Vanity

Illustration by CE Brock, Persuasion (1894)Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did; nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. The Narrator on Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion, Chapter 1 

As a clergyman’s daughter Jane Austen would have been well aware of the significance of the seven deadly sins, those cardinal vices identified by the Catholic church in the 6th- century and later adopted by other Christian religions as the most offensive and serious of sins against god and humanity.  Listed as luxuria (extravagance, later lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (greed), acedia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride), they were all egregious offenses that would qualify the sinner to at least one foot in hell unless they confessed and were penitent. This collection, though not identified in the Bible, was in the eyes of the church the foundation of moral corruption and considered mortal sins, a most serious offense threatening eternal damnation. Pretty serious stuff.   

Throughout Jane Austen’s novels, her characters exhibit a wide range of qualities from integrity to dissipation and vice making them very realistic, and not unlike people of our own acquaintance or popular renown. One could say that the struggle against the seven deadly sins is the driving force in her plots and one of the main reasons why people connect with them so readily. Her most popular characters Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice are prime examples of two of the deadly sins, the offence of pride and wrath. Though Austen does not condemn them for it (as the church might), their vices are the whole axis of the story.  

Today we shall look at the sin of pride, also known as vanity which was one of Jane Austen’s most popular choices of the seven deadly sins in her novels. Vanity appears 85 times and pride 111 times. Here are a few choice quotations: 

Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Emma 

With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body’s destiny. Emma 

Their vanity was in such good order that they seemed to be quite free from it, and gave themselves no airs; while the praises attending such behaviour, secured and brought round by their aunt, served to strengthen them in believing they had no faults. Mansfield Park 

Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. Mansfield Park 

Catherine listened with astonishment; she knew not how to reconcile two such very different accounts of the same thing; for she had not been brought up to understand the propensities of a rattle, nor to know to how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead. Northanger Abbey 

From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. Northanger Abbey 

In vanity, therefore, she gained but little; her chief profit was in wonder. Northanger Abbey 

It was a struggle between propriety and vanity; but vanity got the better, and then Elizabeth was happy again. Persuasion 

“That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” Pride and Prejudice 

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonimously. Pride and Prejudice 

“Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” Pride and Prejudice 

“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed.” Pride and Prejudice 

If his own vanity, however, did not mislead him, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause. Pride and Prejudice 

The world had made him extravagant and vain — extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish. Sense and Sensibility 

Vanity while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment, which extravagance, or at least its offspring, necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Sense and Sensibility 

Of all of Austen’s characters guilty of vanity, Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion is definitely the leading offender. Austen leaves us in no doubt of his priorities in life toward his appearance and how it impacted his family. Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey arrives at a distant second being excessively fond of her clothing and constantly commenting on the inferiority of others choice of fabrics and garments. Who would dare dispute that Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has the most pride since an entire novel stems from it. Mrs. Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility in my mind is second in offence of pride after Mr. Darcy. She is so arrogant and prideful that she basically evicts her mother-in-law Mrs. Dashwood out of her home after the death of her father-in-law and talks her own husband out of giving them a decent living –  all for her vanity. There are others who come to mind: Miss Elizabeth Elliot in Persuasion who is definitely her father’s daughter, Mrs. Elton in Emma who is arrogance and puffery personified, Miss Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park who thinks herself above the truth, and that tactfully bereft General Tilney in Northanger Abbey who ejects poor Catherine Morland out of his house when he learns that she is not as flush as he thought. The list goes on and on with different degrees of offence, but in the end, we can rest assured that Austen does not treat these offenders lightly, passing her judgment according to propriety and her Christian principles.

Which characters do you find prideful and vain, and do you think that Austen portrayed them correctly?

Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today

You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. – But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh’d have been now! – Sick or Well, beleive me ever your attached friend. J. Austen Letter to Anne Sharp, 22 May 1817

Image of three volumes first edition of Emma, presented to Ann SharpJaneites with deep pockets and warm hearts will be winging their way to London for the June 24th auction of a first edition of Emma being offered at Bonham’s Auction House. The rare three volume presentation copy of Jane Austen’s fourth and final novel to be published in her lifetime was a gift from the authoress to Anne Sharp, a dear friend and previous governess to her brother Edward Austen Knight’s daughter Fanny at Godmersham, Kent.

Bonham’s online catalogue description contains some interesting facts.

Jane Austen was allocated twelve presentation copies by the publisher John Murray. Of these, nine were sent to family members (including Jane herself), one to the librarian of the Prince Regent (to whom the work was dedicated), and one to Countess Morley, these last under obligation from the publisher. The present copy is the only one given to a personal friend, testament to the strength of Jane’s feelings for Anne.

First editions of Jane Austen’s novels can garner healthy prices. A November 2007 article in Antiquarian Books listed a recent sale of a three volume set of Sense and Sensibility by Bloomsbury Auctions in New York for $48,000.00. (1) Because the ‘Anne Sharp’ edition of Emma has unique provenance, and no known presentation copies of Emma have ever hit the market before, Bonham’s is anticipating a sale price between £50,000 to £70,000. This could be quite a windfall for its present UK owner who had the volumes shelved in their family library for three generations without a clue as to how their ancestors acquired them. One wonders what else they have loitering about, and why they chose this moment to dispose of them!

Illustration of Godmersham Park, Kent, England

Godmersham Park, Kent, home of the Edward Austen Knight family circa 1804

Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight (1793-1882) Jane Austen’s niece, at Godmersham from 1804 to 1806, resigning for health reasons. (2) She is mentioned fondly several times in Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra and in this wonderful passage from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.  Continue reading “Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today”

Apple Blossoms in June? Austen’s Literary Mystery

Image of Jane Austen commanding the apples to bloom

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…It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending. Emma, Chapter 42 

An orchard in bloom in June? Did Jane Austen get her seasonal timing wrong? Most fruit trees bloom in May, as my apple-trees in the Pacific Northwest will confirm. This anomaly is unusual, since Austen is so correct with other facts throughout her novels according to scholar R. W. Chapman. Many have questioned this slip-up, including Jane Austen’s brother Edward, who pointed out the discrepancy to her, ‘Jane, I wish you would tell me where you get those apple-trees of yours that come into bloom in July?‘ Well, Edward, it was June but we’re splitting hairs here. 

Image of the cover of Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet, by John SutherlandThere are two possible explanations; one by a scholar and the other by a meteorologist. In the book Is Heathcliff a Murderer: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction  (new edition 2002), author John Sutherland questions Austen’s timing in chapter two, Apple blossoms in June?  His creative theory prompted a few polite objections from leading authorities; Dr. Claire Lamont and Deirdre le Faye, which are included in the next volume in the series, Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?: Further Puzzles in Classic Fiction (1999). They pretty much shoot holes in his theory. You can read the discussion here and draw your own conclusions, but honestly, I was so relieved to discover that a meteorologist Euan Nisbet of the Royal Holloway College in London was a Janeite, and has closely studied Jane Austen’s astute observance of accurate weather in her novels and wrote this enlightening articleContinue reading “Apple Blossoms in June? Austen’s Literary Mystery”

Oxford World’s Classics Reveal New Jane Austen Editions

Image of the cover of Emma, by Jane Austen, Oxford World Classic, (2008) “Be satisfied,” said he, “I will not raise any outcry. I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincere interest in Emma. Isabella does not seem more my sister; has never excited a greater interest; perhaps hardly so great. There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for Emma. I wonder what will become of her!”  

“So do I,” said Mrs. Weston gently; “very much.” Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston discussing Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 5 

The Austen book sleuth is afoot again and happy to reveal new discoveries for our gentle readers! The news is quite exciting, and like Miss Emma Woodhouse, we are always intrigued with a piece of news.   

Oxford University Press is rolling out six new Jane Austen trade paperback editions of its Oxford World’s Classics series in June. They will include full unabridged texts, new introductions, notes on the text, selected bibliography,  chronology, biography, two appendixes, textual notes and explanatory notes on each of the major novels; Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey with a bonus of Lady Susan, The Watson’s and Sandition included.  

Image of the cover of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Oxford World Classics, (2008)Oxford World’s Classics launched its new re-designed classics line in April, and the improvements are quite stunning both visually and texturally. With over 750 titles of world literature to choose from, their commitment to scholars and pleasure readers is nonpareil. You can browse their catalogue here.  

Here is a description of the new edition of Emm

‘I wonder what will become of her!’ 

So speculate the friends and neighbours of Emma Woodhouse, the lovely, lively, willful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen’s fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her own heart. As Emma puzzles and blunders her way through the mysteries of her social world, Austen evokes for her readers a cast of unforgettable characters and a detailed portrait of a small town undergoing historical transition. 

Written with matchless wit and irony, judged by many to be her finest novel, Emma has been adapted many times for film and television. This new edition shows how Austen brilliantly turns the everyday into the exceptional.  

Image of the cover of Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Oxford World Classic, (2008)Product Details: Edited by James Kinsley, with a new introduction and notes by Adela Pinch, the author of Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen (Stanford UP, 1996) and numerous articles on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature and culture. 448 pages; ISBN13: 978-0-19-953552-1, retail price $7.95 

Five of the beautiful new cover images are taken from classic paintings of Regency era women, and Northanger Abbey includes an image of Gothic architecture. You can read further about the re-design at the Oxford University Press website. Don’t miss taking the fun literary quiz, and discover which character from Oxford World’s Classics you are most like. I was surprised to learn that ‘today’ I am Emma Woodhouse! Who would guess?

Austen’s Emma: Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me.

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, (1948)“I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to “‘Yes,'” she ought to say “‘No'” directly. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 7 

Have you ever been in the position to advise a friend on a serious decision knowing full-well what the practical decision should be, – but held back your true opinion for fear of it turning around and biting you in the rear? I was faced with such a dilemma this week, and I was reminded of this passage in Emma. Did I take the high road you ask, or the Woodhouse way? 

Jane Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse knows the power of a friendly omission, actually taking it one step further adding clever manipulation to achieve her goal. She advises her friend Harriet Smith by not advising her at all; – asking well placed questions that prompt Harriet’s insecurity, and skillfully guides her toward the decision that Emma wants her to make. Scary stuff! 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, (1948)

This scene was one of the earliest examples in the novel of how full of herself Miss Woodhouse can be. I have often wondered how a young woman raised without a mother and in a secluded environment learned how to be so conniving beyond her years. The way she moves the conversation away from her having to give Harriet a direct answer to Harriet coming to the conclusion that she should decline Robert Martins proposal is disturbing. 

Some people might admire her strength of conviction and say her cunning was ingenious, but it just throws up a big red flag for me. How can we like a heroine who is so controlling? What will she do next to poor naïve Harriet and the rest of the Highbury community? Was Jane Austen correct in warning her family that she had created a heroine “whom no-one but myself will much like.”? 

Illustration by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London (1948)

Anyone who has read the novel or seen one of the movies knows the answer, but did you also remember the lesson that Jane Austen gave us about advice and when it turns to avarice? I did, and it may have saved me from a very uncomfortable situation. 

*Illustrations by Philip Gough, Emma, McDonald & Co, London, 1948

Clueless about Jane Austen’s Emma? Investigate These Resources

Image of Samantha Morton & Kate Beckinsale in Emma, (1996)  



Emma wants to see her better informed; it will be an inducement to her to read more herself. They will read together. She means it, I know.” Mrs. Weston, Emma, Chapter 5


Image of the DVD cover of Emma, staring Kate Beckinsale, (1996)I hope that you all enjoyed Emma, staring Kate Beckinsale, Sunday on PBS. This movie version is my favorite of the Emma adaptations. The screenwriter Andrew Davies made some changes from the novel, and I do not agree with all of them, but I do like how he and director Diarmud Laurence brought in the Regency environment and grounded the film with glimpses of the working community. Three scenes come to mind that exemplify this; Mr. Woodhouse, the leading citizen of Highbury, showing concern for the laborers by waving at them from his carriage, the gaggle of giggling school girls in church reminds us of the rest of the families in the community, and the complete invention of the harvest festival showing the differences between the upper and lower classes of the Highbury agricultural community, and the gracious appreciation displayed by their landlord and master, Mr. Knightley.

Image of the DVD cover of Emma, staring Paltrow, (1996)My only regrets about this version of Emma is that it lacked the humor of the novel and the other 1996 film of Emma, staring Gwyneth Paltrow, and that it was not longer in length. One can always wish that film producers would aspire to adapt the entire novel, but one understands the restrictions of the cinematic medium. Being a greedy sort myself, I crave all of Jane Austen’s lovely words, characters and plot in toto!

If this adaptation peaked your curiosity, but you still feel a bit clueless about Emma, I heartily encourage you to read the novel. There are excellent versions in print and online. Like Emma, I am an imaginist and am partial to artistic creativity, prefering a good illustrated edition to visualize the story. You might also be interested in many of the sequels and pastiches about, and here are a few suggestions.

Jane Austen’s Emma through Another’s Eyes (1997)Jane Fairfax: Jane Austen’s Emma through Another’s Eyes, by Joan Aiken, St. Martins Press (1997). Emma Woodhouse feels that Jane Fairfax is too reserved, but she may indeed be the only young lady in Highbury that Emma truly envies. Read about Jane Fairfax’s back story as it is revealed through Aiken’s skilled and accomplished parallel story to Austen’s  Emma. Aiken’s style is easy and affable; – both similar and respectful to Jane Austen, and she does Fairfax due justice. ISBN: 9780312157074 Read a preview here.

Image of cover of Mr. Knightley’s Diary (2007)Mr. Knightley’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange, The Berkley Publishing Group, (2007). Relive Jane Austen’s Emma – from Mr. Knightley’s point of view. At times, I wish that Mr. Knightley had some of Emma’s energy and imagination, but you know they say that opposites attract, and in this case it is true. This perspective of a gentleman in his late thirties whose chief interests are his estates and the well being of the Highbury community reveals why Knightley is still a bachelor, and make it all the more interesting to see his transformation from friendly neighbor into Emma’s love. ISBN: 9780425217719 Read a review from Ms. Place of Jane Austen Today here.

Image of cover of Lovers’ Perjuries (2007)Lovers’ Perjuries: Or, The Clandestine Courtship Of Jane Fairfax And Frank Churchill, by Joan Ellen Delman, self published, (2007) Description (from the author) Have you ever wondered about the hidden romance contained within Jane Austen’s Emma? Written with great fidelity to the original, Lovers’ Perjuries fills in all the details of scenes only hinted at in Emma. It also introduces new characters in a substantial subplot inspired by Persuasion, but featuring a lively heroine more reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet than Anne Elliot. ISBN: 9780615150055. Read an excerpt. Read a review by Mags of AustenBlog here.

Image of cover of Amanada (2006)Amanda, by Debra White Smith, Harvest House Publishers, (2006) Publishers description: Book #5 in White Smith’s Austen Series, is a delightful contemporary novel set in Australia that captures the wit and humor of Jane Austen’s Emma. Amanda is a bit bored-until she meets Haley and decides that she would be the perfect wife for the local pastor. Amanda’s plan is falling into place when she discovers that Haley is dating Roger…and Pastor Eldridge is seeing someone else. Not to be thwarted, she steers Haley toward newcomer Frederick West. But when Haley is attracted to Nathaniel, why is Amanda’s heart suddenly anxious? ISBN: 9780736908757 Read a review by Erin Valentine of Novel Journey here.

Image of cover of Emma and Knightley (2008)Emma and Knightley: The Sequel to Jane Austen’s Emma, by Rachel Billington, SourceBooks (2008) Publishers description: After a year of marriage, Emma wants Knightley to stop treating her like a child. Knightley meanwhile wants his young bride to love him as a husband, not as the man she’s always looked up to. With tragedy in the offing, and events unfolding that include beloved characters from Jane Austen’ Emma, the couple must find their way to each other, and to perfect happiness. ISBN: 9781402212079 Read a review by Alison T. on AustenBlog here

Image of cover of Mrs. Elton in America (2004)Mrs. Elton in America: The Complete Mrs. Elton, by Diana Birchall, Edgerton House Publishing (2004) This amusing and often hilarious volume includes the Mrs. Elton triology of three short novels; In Defense of Mrs. Elton, The Courtship of Mrs. Elton, and Mrs. Elton in America. Inspired by Jane Austen’s presumptive and officious character Mrs. Augusta Elton from her novel Emma. Laugh out loud, and then throw things if need be, because Mrs. Elton can just do that to you! It is amazing to think that Mrs. Elton’s ego could get much larger, but it does, and happily to our abject delight! ISBN: 9781905016013 Read an excerpt here.

Image of cover of Emma Adapted (2007)Emma Adapted: Jane Austen’s Heroine from Book to Film, by Marc DiPaolo, Peter Lang Publishing (2007) Description from the publisher: This work of literary and film criticism examines all eight filmed adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma produced between 1948 and 1996 as vastly different interpretations of the source novel. Instead of condemning the movies and television specials as being “not as good as the book,” Marc DiPaolo considers how each adaptation might be understood as a valid “reading” of Austen’s text for Austen fans, scholars, and students alike.  This book is a bit pricey at $67.95 online, and will be a good library request. ISBN: 9781433100000

A Casebook (2007)Jane Austen’s Emma: A Casebook, edited by Fiona Stafford, Oxford University Press (2007) Interesting title, since it supports my theory that Emma is a mystery story disguised as a comic romance! Description from the publisher: The essays in this collection demonstrate the varied delights of reading Emma. The purpose of the collection is to introduce readers of Austen to new ways of interpreting her most substantial and rewarding novel. The collection opens with an introduction encouraging readers to re-read Emma, and to find its pleasures magnified by the critical interpretations and scholarship represented in this casebook. ISBN: 9780195175318

Image of DVD cover of Clueless (1995)Clueless, the movie, director Amy Herkerling, Paramount Studios (1995) staring Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd. Studio description: Loosely based on Jane Austen’s comedy of manners Emma, Clueless employs high school as a microcosm of a larger society; in this case, the sun-drenched paradise of conspicuous consumption known as Beverly Hills. Leading the pack as a rich, blonde cutie named Cher is Alicia Silverstone, in a career-making performance. With the help of her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash), well-meaning busybody Cher attempts to turn the school nerd, Tai (Brittany Murphy), into a teen queen — with unexpected results. Heckerling’s witty satire is dead-on, particularly in its rendering of the kids’ speech, an adolescent patois peppered with vacuous expressions like “as if!” and “whatever!” The beauty of Clueless is that, even as it makes fun of Cher’s relentless pursuit of popularity, it reveals an insightful, well-meaning individual beneath its heroine’s image-obsessed surface. Read a review by Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle here

So, read on Janeites!

Emma Woodhouse; I Have a Piece of News for You!

Image of Kate Beckinsale as Emma Woodhouse, Emma, (1996)

“Emma,” said Mr. Knightley presently, “I have a piece of news for you. You like news — and I heard an article in my way hither that I think will interest you.”

“News! Oh! yes, I always like news. What is it? Why do you smile so? Where did you hear it? Mr. Knightly & Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 21

Jane Austen’s character Emma Woodhouse loves a bit of news, so I am sure that she will be amused to know that others are talking about her around the Blog-o-spere.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am confident in saying that Miss Emma Woodhouse would find Austen-esque author Laurie Viera Rigler’s honest admission that she has, on occasion, offered unsolicited advice quite gratifying! In her recent musing on her Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict Blog, she professes to have been a bit Emma like, missapplyments and all. Her cure was in understanding Austen. Continue reading “Emma Woodhouse; I Have a Piece of News for You!”

Emma: Just Desserts for Austen’s Mr. Elton

Image of steel engraving frontispiece by William Greatbatch after George Pickering, Emma, (1833)DISCERN

Mr. Elton was only too happy. Harriet listened, and Emma drew in peace. She must allow him to be still frequently coming to look; anything less would certainly have been too little in a lover; and he was ready at the smallest intermission of the pencil, to jump up and see the progress, and be charmed. There was no being displeased with such an encourager, for his admiration made him discern a likeness almost before it was possible. She could not respect his eye, but his love and his complaisance were unexceptionable. Mr. Elton, Emma, Chapter 6

This passage is a great example of why many believe Jane Austen’s Emma is actually a mystery novel, and not a comical romance. Here she has laid out a great physic clue about the fate of Mr. Elton, which until today, had totally passed my notice. To understand Austen foreshadowing, one would have to meet, and or believe in the following three conditions.

  1. You have read the entire novel.
  2. Agreed to the possibility that Emma was a sly mystery disguised as a comic romance.
  3. Believe that in fiction and in true life, characters and or people are often attracted to the exact person that they deserve.

If we investigate further, Mr. Elton is observing Emma Woodhouse sketch a portrait of Miss Harriet Smith. He is hovering over Emma, fussing over her progress, and praising her before the image is even visible. Total foppery and affectation. What a suck-up!

After Mr. Elton’s solicitous attempts to woo Miss Woodhouse are flatly rejected, he quickly marries wealthy but outrageously un-couth Augusta Hawkins on the rebound. She is officious and overbearing. Emma is offended and annoyed, thinking her insufferable and ill-bred; unable to understand what attractions she held to him.

We continue to see examples of Mrs. Elton’s ill judged and presumptuous opinions until Austen drops another clue flatly in our laps. From the following conversation that she has with Mr. Weston regarding his son Frank Churchill, we at once understand Mr. and Mrs. Elton’s ironic attraction to each other.

“A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with him. You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsome young man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve — so truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike to puppies — quite a horror of them. They were never tolerated at Maple Grove. Neither Mr. Suckling nor me had ever any patience with them; and we used sometimes to say very cutting things! Selina, who is mild almost to a fault, bore with them much better.” Emma, Chapter 38

Here she is, talking and preaching about how she can not abide puppyism, when in fact, the very man that she married is the biggest puppy in Highbury!

Just desserts I say!

*Steel engraving frontispiece, “There was no being displeased with such an encourager”  by William Greatbatch, after George Pickering, Emma, published by Richard Bentley, London, (1833)

A valuable woman

Image of watercolour painting of poet Sara Coleridge & Edith May Warter, by Edward Nash (1820)VALUABLE

“I cannot rate her beauty as you do,” said he; “but she is a pretty little creature, and I am inclined to think very well of her disposition. Her character depends upon those she is with; but in good hands she will turn out a valuable woman.”Mr. Knightley on Harriet Smith, Emma, Chapter 8

Ah, Harriet Smith, that dear docile creature. So willingly amenable to Emma’s advice and guidance. Sweet natured and supple. Putty, ready to be sculpted into the woman that Emma thinks she ought to be.

Some say that she is a sop, but I LOVE Harriet. Pure of heart, even tempered, and truly artless. Jane Austen has given us a treasure to cherish and root for.

Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition; was totally free from conceit; and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to. Her early attachment to herself was very amiable; and her inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, shewed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected. Ch 4 

 Even Mr. Knightley, the voice of reason and authority in the novel, who was at first opposed to Emma’s choice of companion, later thinks very highly of her. So why do some misguided souls dislike her?

Image of the cover of Emma, published by Dover Publications (1999)I have heard/read shocking slander about her character. In the introduction to the novel in the Dover (1999) edition of Emma, Harriet is described as “pretty but dreary“; from the on-line article The Modern Sorcerer, author Scott Horton thinks Harriet is “the naïve and rather simple illegitimate daughter of a somebody“; and in The Enigma that is Harriet Smith, further debasement by Ivor Morris ensues.

The question arises whether Harriet’s moderate mental powers would be a hindrance. Emma sees the want of cleverness as adverse; and our own early impressions are of a thoughtlessness and indecision implicit in the “‘Oh, dear, no'” and “‘Oh! dear, yes!'” of Harriet’s hasty assents during their first walk (87), the see-saw response to Emma’s inference that Mr. Martin does not read – “‘Oh, yes! – that is, no – I do not know – but I believe he has read a good deal – but not what you would think anything of'” (29) – and the agonising at Ford’s as to the destination of the purchased muslin and ribbon.

Ok, enough already. If her greatest faults are that she uses short sentences to express herself, and has difficulty choosing ribbon colours, then I think her critics as snobbish as Emma herself. Honestly, I think that poor Harriet is a target and easy prey to those who choose to place her beneath them because of her social position “the natural daughter of somebody“, her scrambled education at Mrs. Goddard’s School, and her inexperience of the ways of the world. Geesh, give her a break, she’s only 17!

A Study of Dialogism, by Barbara Seeber, McGill Queen Press (2000)For further reading in defence of the amiable Miss Harriet Smith, you will enjoy General Consent in Jane Austen: A Study of Dialogism, by Barbara Karolina Seeber, published by McGill Queen Press (2000), where an entire chapter entitled “Exactly the something which her home required“: The “unmerited punishment” of Harriet Smith, is devoted to the author’s opinions and others, of Miss Smith and how she is solely and undeservedly maligned in the novel. Bravo Babs!

*Image of watercolour portrait of poet Sara Coleridge, and Edith May Warter, by Edward Nash (1820) National Portrait Gallery

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)

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