Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review & Rant

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

When a book is universally acknowledged by Janeites as the worst Jane Austen sequel ever written, why would I want to read it? Temptation? Curiosity? Due diligence? Take your pick. I like to think that I am open to carefully drawing my own conclusions before passing judgment. After-all, Austen told us through her observant character Elizabeth Bennet, “It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”— Pride and Prejudice

So, it was with wide eyes and an open heart that I began Emma Tennant’s Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued. Published in 1996, it was controversial before it even hit bookstores. Eager to cash in on the release of two film adaptations of Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, Tennant’s UK publisher chose to move up the publication date to stymie its competitor, Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington. That might seem like good business (or mercenary tactics by some), but that was not the real controversy. Tennant had chosen to include a romantic relationship between the married Emma Knightley and a new female character, Baroness Elisa d’Almane. Her reasoning for this provocative choice? Why historical precedence by scholars of course! When interviewed in 1996 Tennant boldly stated, “I am not taking any liberties. Emma is known as the lesbian book in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. It has strong lesbian overtones and undertones. In the original, Emma absolutely adores Harriet Smith, her protégé and spends a lot of time with her. There’s a passage where she describes how Harriet’s soft blue eyes are just the type of eyes that Emma loves. I am not the first to draw out her lesbianism. Serious academics have found many clues to it in Emma.” 1. Continue reading

The Annotated Emma, by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard – A Review

The Annontated Emma, by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard (2012)Of all of Jane Austen’s six major works, I have always been daunted by Emma: both the novel and its eponymous heroine. It is Austen’s longest work and contains her most “troublesome creature” Miss Emma Woodhouse.

I am not alone in my challenge to understand and appreciate this clever tale. The first time I read it many years ago I was mystified. It took further readings and research to fully appreciate it. I only wish on a first acquaintance that I had this new annotated edition of Emma by Prof. David Shapard available to me. This is the fourth Austen novel that he has annotated – and it is indeed a wonder. At a hefty 928 pages, no stone has been left unturned to offer the reader: an introduction, bibliography and detailed chronology of events; explanation of historical context; citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings; maps of the places in the novel, and nearly 200 informative illustrations. Phew! If the eBook version included film clips, we could all throw up our hands and proclaim that there was indeed nothing left to experience in the Emma Woodhouse lexicon.

Published in 1815, Austen was at the top of her game as a writer and many scholars proclaim it as her masterpiece. Readers will argue that point. I will too. There are many elements of story and characters that I adore – and some not so much. Though first-time readers (especially young students and some early critics) thought it is a snooze fest, if one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Our heroine Emma Woodhouse is a complex character that on first acquaintance is rather a pill. Austen gave herself a great challenge in creating “a heroine whom no one but myself will like.”  In contrast with her other heroines, Miss Woodhouse does not have any social or financial concerns and thus no compelling need to marry. Therein lies the rub. We have no sympathy for her whatsoever. She’s rich, she’s spoiled and she’s stuck up. Who indeed could possibly like such a “troublesome creature”? During the course of the novel, we witness her exerting her superior notions of who is suitable for whom as she matchmakes for her friends with disastrous results. But…what a great journey we are privileged to be taken on. Here are a few of my reactions to the novel and David Shapard’s elaboration of it:

The Good: Notwithstanding Emma Woodhouse, it is the secondary characters that really shine in Emma for me. Harriet Smith, Emma’s young, impressionable friend is one my favorite of Austen’s creations. Even though she is undereducated and from the wrong side of the blanket, by the end of the novel she knows her own heart and is superior in my mind to the grand dame of the first family of consequence in Highbury, Emma herself. Austen excelled at sharp wit and comedy in this novel. None can match Mrs. Elton in snobbery and conceit, Miss Bates as the garrulous spinster who is all heart and no brains, and Frank Churchill who is so slyly smarmy that we don’t see it coming. Ha! Continue reading

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite – A Review

George Knightley Esquire: Book One, by Barbara Cornthwaite (2009)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

The fact that he was in love with Emma had been confronting him for some time, but he had pushed it away and given other names to the emotions that ought to have enlightened him. He had blundered on, deaf to the pleadings of his heart until the revelation of them burst on him in a surprising and, it must be said, inconvenient way.  No doubt he had appeared as a complete imbecile tonight, standing there in a trance and unable to do anything but watch Emma as he acknowledged to himself for the first time that it was not because he was a partial old friend that he admired her dancing and her figure and her liveliness—it was because he wanted her for himself.

Ever prudent, inner-directed and thoughtful, George Knightley struggles with his feelings for Emma.  Is she more like a little sister or a girlfriend?  Can he really handle her conceited and sometimes impudent ways?  Would marriage with her be a constant string of reprimands and eye-rolls for being so precocious?  Boy oh boy Mr. Knightely is confused, and probably more so than you thought from your Emma readings.  George Knightley, Esquire, by Barbara Cornthwaite, is a delightful re-telling of Emma that gives Mr. Knightley a chance to shine.

Truth be told, I went into this review kicking and screaming.  Emma is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, mostly because it seems like a story that happens in high school (and as the movie Clueless shows us, I’m not entirely wrong).  Emma herself seems an over-inflated child of idle pleasures to me, a quality which might really lend itself to a story if only something would happen!  It plods along with the pace of a turtle walking through molasses.  Despite the work being from the lovely Jane Austen and therefore commanding instant respect, Emma gets a big ‘ol “meh” and a dismissive hand wave from me.  I tell you this only so you can fully understand the breadth of my meaning when I ask, is it a crime to like the re-telling better than the original?

Because well, I did.  SURPRISE!  George Knightley, Esquire was a delight.  Written from the perspective of the oft-unexplored quiet life of the neighborhood bachelor, it makes the reader privy to all kinds of mindful musings, delicious realizations (WOW!  I LOVE EMMA!), and even bouts of loneliness spent in front of the fire in the soft gloom of Donwell Abbey’s library.  George Knightely goes about his business keenly aware of his surroundings and indeed, of all Emma’s schemes and shortcomings while he moves about his lands.  It was wonderful to see the rarely-exposed work life of a gentleman, with all his account balancing, estate visits, charity donations, and efforts to rebuild a cottage for one of his residents.  It was even more wonderful to point and laugh at Emma, whose actions seem positively absurd when seen through the clear mind of Mr. Knightley.  I found myself laughing more than once.

George Knightley, Esquire is but half the story of Emma and her silliness, leaving off at the moment when Frank Churchill heads for the hills instead of the dance floor and leaves Mr. Knightley to muse about whether he should be open with Emma about his feelings.  He’s consumed with love for her but won’t say it.  How very English.  Hope remains, however, and it becomes obvious that Knightley and Emma are truly great friends with a mutual adoration for one another (despite the fact that many days go by where one is ignored by the other or haunted by japes and snarky comments).  It’s really quite adorable, made only better by Barbara Cornthwaite’s mastery of prose and storytelling.  The book is teeming with interest and intrigue and will leaving you grumbling when it’s over, especially when you realize that the sequel isn’t available until August 25th.  No matter, though!  This will keep you entertained until then!  This is Emma, but better!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite
CreateSpace (2009)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1449587079

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Deconstructing Miss Emma Woodhouse

Image from Emma (2009): Emma Woodhouse © BBC 2009 for MASTERPIECE

The second episode of the new adaptation Emma (2009) aired last night on Masterpiece Classic. You can read my review of Emma and watch previous episodes until March 9th, 2010 at the Masterpiece website. As we move further into the story of Highbury’s misapplying matchmaker, I thought it would be interesting to delve into her character in the novel a bit deeper and explore the different Emma’s portrayed in the film and television adaptations.

Since it’s publication in 1815, Jane Austen’s Emma has had its share of advocates and adversaries. What impressed early readers was not that it lacked energy and style, but that its story was dull and uneventful. Even Austen’s famous publisher John Murray thought it lacked ‘incident and romance’ and Maria Edgeworth, a contemporary author so greatly admired by Austen that she sent her one of the twelve presentation copies allotted by her publisher, could not read past the first volume and thought “there was no story in it.” Ironically, what these two prominent and well-read individuals attributed as a weakness, is actually Emma’s greatest strength.

If one looks beyond the surface, Emma is an intricate story focused on the astute characterization and social reproof which Austen is famous for. Its heroine, the privileged, self-conceited and spoiled Emma Woodhouse may not be as appealing as Austen’s sparkling and clever heroine Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, but her character offers the reader a harder wrought and more rewarding dénouement. Like Miss Woodhouse who believes that she knows better than anyone else what is best for them, we must trust Jane Austen’s instincts for what she believes is the best subject and narrative style. Since many scholars, critics, and readers attribute Emma as a masterpiece of world literature, I think Jane Austen has the final laugh on her early critics. Emma may be about nothing and lack romance, but what a pleasure it is to be so resplendently deficient. Continue reading

Austen at Large: Mr. Elton on Facebook

My class assignment taken to the fullest extent!

Mr. Elton on Facebook

 

 And of course he must have his say.

Mr. Elton's Facebook Page Notes

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

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

Oxford World’s Classics: Emma, by Jane Austen – A Review

“I will keep my ill-humour to myself. I have a very sincere interest in Emma . . . There is an anxiety, a curiosity in what one feels for Emma. I wonder what will become of her!” Mr. Knightley, Emma, Chapter 5 

For me, reading Jane Austen’s  Emma is a delight. However, not all readers have been in agreement with me over the years including Jane Austen herself who warned her family before publication “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” She was, of course, making fun of herself in her own satirical way; – her critics, on the other hand, were quite serious. When the book was published in 1815, Austen sent a copy to her contemporary author Maria Edgeworth who gave up reading the novel after the first volume, passing it on to a friend and complaining, “There is no story in it.” Others had mixed feelings offering both praise and censure for its focus on the ordinary details of a few families in a country village. One important advocate of Emma was Sir Walter Scott, whose essay published in the Quarterly Review of 1815 represents the most important criticism of Austen’s writing during her lifetime. Even though the review was published anonymously, she must have been pleased when the reviewer heralded her Emma as a ‘new style of novel’ designed to ‘suit modern times’. Heady stuff to be sure. When it was later learned that Scott had contributed the review, it would place Jane Austen in a whole other league of writers.

Emma can be enjoyed on different levels. For pure humor and witty dialogue, it may reign as Austen’s supreme triumph. Just Google quotes from Emma and you might agree that it has the best bon mots of any of her novels. Modern critics claim it as her masterpiece, and I do not doubt it. Pride and Prejudice may be the most beloved and well know of her works, but Emma represents Austen at the height of her writing skill and power as a storyteller. Like some of Austen’s contemporaries, the modern reader might find challenges in its minutiae and supposed lack of story. Not to worry. There are several annotated available to assist in understanding Jane Austen’s subtle and often witty dialogue, her unique characterizations, and help place the novel in historical context.

One source to consider is the new 2008 edition of Emma, by Oxford World’s Classics. Recently revised in 2003, this re-issue contains the same supplemental and textual material with a newly designed cover. For a reader seeking a medium level of support to help them along in their understanding, you will be happy to find a thoughtful 23-page introduction by Associate Professor of English and Women’s Studies Adela Pinch of the University of Michigan. The essay contains a brief introduction, and segments on Shopping and Suburbia, Narrative Voices: Gossip and the Individual, The Politics of Knowledge, and Emma: Much Ado About Nothing?. Her emphasis is on understanding Austen’s choice of writing about the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of the lives of its heroine Emma Woodhouse and her circle of family and friends in Highbury, a small English village in which she sets about to match make for all of its singletons, and blundering hilariously along the way. I particularly appreciated Prof. Pinch’s positive comments throughout the essay.

“Austen makes voices stick in the mind through her use of free indirect discourse, which makes character’s voice seem indelible, capable of soaking into other beings. But she also uses the same technique for representing thought. Her cultivation of this mode of representing her heroines’ minds has made her novels crucial to the history of the English novel, markers of a movement when the novel as a literary genre perfects its inward turn, and begins to claim human psychology as its territory. Above all it creates the feeling of intimacy with her heroines that many readers prize.” Page xvii-xviii

If I may be so bold and interject as the everyman Austen reader for a moment, parts of this essay are scholarly and touch on areas beyond my immediate understanding, especially when she delves into the philosophical and psychological pedantry. For the most part, Prof. Pinch’s essay is written in accessible language and is reverent and admiring to the author and the heroine. I found this outlook refreshing since the heroine Emma, and the novel Emma has received some criticisms for their shortcomings over the centuries. The novel is about so much more than the “no story” that Maria Edgeworth hastily condemned it to be. I especially adore Emma’s little friend Harriet Smith and think her much-maligned in the recent movie adaptations, and well – can there ever be enough praise bestowed upon Mrs. Elton? She is a comedic genius and worthy of a nomination to the literary comedy hall of fame.

Professor Pinch has also supplied the helpful explanatory notes throughout the text which are numbered on the page allowing the reader to refer to the back of the book for an explanation. Honestly, I prefer the notes to be footnoted at the bottom of the page instead of riffling back and forth, but that is a quibble on convenience. The remainder of the supplemental material; Biography of Jane Austen, Note on the Text, Select Bibliography, Chronology of Jane Austen, Appendix A: Rank and Social Status, and Appendix B: Dancing are repeated throughout the other Jane Austen editions in this series and discussed in our previous reviews.

This Oxford edition is a sweet little volume at an incredible price if you are in the market for a medium amount of supplemental material from reputable sources containing an authoritative text edited for the modern reader. If you enjoy matchless wit and irony, unforgettable characters, and a unique story that turns the everyday imaginings of a young Georgian era woman into an extraordinary story filled with a comedy of manners and romance, then take note; – Miss Emma Woodhouse commands you to purchase this book immediately!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars 

Read our previous reviews of the Oxford World’s Classics – Jane Austen Collection

Oxford World’s Classics: Emma by Jane Austen, edited by James Kinsley
Oxford University Press, Rev. Ed. (2008)
Trade paperback & eBook (418) pages
ISBN-13: 9780199535521

Cover image courtesy of  Oxford University Press © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

A Memoir of Jane Austen: The Beginnings of a Pop Icon

Illustration of Jane Austen after the frontispiece in A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)“The Memoir of my Aunt, Jane Austen, has been received with more favour than I had ventured to expect. The notices taken of it in the periodical press, as well as letters addressed to me by many with whom I am not personally acquainted, show that an unabated interest is still taken in every particular that can be told about her.” James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Second Edition, November 17, 1870

When Jane Austen’s nephew Rev. James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote and published a family memoir of his aunt in 1869, he unknowingly opened the door to her modern popularity, sparking public interest and critical acclaim far beyond the family expectations, planting the seed of a future pop icon.

Illustration of Chawton Church, A Memoir of Jane Austen, (1871)

His publisher Richard Bentley & Son who also held  the copy write on Austen’s six major novels quickly saw the advantage of promoting an author already within their catalogue, and issued the second edition with a new preface by the author, additional content, letters, the fragment of the novel The Watson’s, the canceled chapter of Persuasion, and the novella Lady Susan in 1871.  Continue reading