The Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Blogosphere

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.”
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Austen around the blogosphere for the week of September 21st

‘Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey’ begins on October 1st here at Austenprose, so start reading Northanger Abbey and gearing up for another great Austen novel event. I have been investigating Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho which will be our second group read and happened upon this nice article about the author and her work on PopMatters by Deane Sole.

The Austen Shopaholic deal the week is 40% off on the book New Friend’s and Old Fancies by Sibil Briton at Sourcebooks on line shop. This novel is reputedly the first Austen sequel ever published, though I do not think that scholars will ever let us believe that it was the first, but it has been claimed thus by Sourcebooks. Use code AUSTENSOURCE 10 at check out to receive your discount, and enjoy!

Austenesque author Lori Smith announces the release of her book A Walk with Jane Austen in the UK with a stunning new cover. We think that the pink Wellies are quite appropriate! Congrats, Lori!

With the movie The Duchess opening in the US theaters this week, Lady Georgian Spencer continues to be a hot topic in entertainment news. She married William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, in 1774, and they resided at Chatsworth, a grand estate in Derbyshire. Musings on Pride and Prejudice blog writes about the Jane Austen connection and similarities in the Cavendish and Darcy families. You can also get three perspectives on the movie The Duchess at Jane Austen’s World.

Austen quote of the week from an interview of actress Amanda Lisman who is portraying Elizabeth Bennet in Tom Woods new stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Septmeber 20 – October 12. Read a review of a prevue on the production here.

In reading her, I realized how much Austen’s writing has influenced romantic comedy, the (mis-matched) couple overcoming obstacles after first impressions. I just think it’s so remarkable that such a young woman, so geographically isolated, had such insights into human nature. And was so witty…. And it still resonates, in specific situations and class structure, and in the humour. We were all pleased and surprised there was so much laughter in (first performances in) Banff: the humour of the characters, so many lines people love…. It’s a book that speaks to people’s hearts; it’s pretty iconic.

Austenesque book reviews for the week; The Jane Austen Book Club, Pride and Prejudice Board Game, Northanger Abbey, Me and Mr. Darcy, The Matters at Mansfield, Persuasion, Impusle & Initiative, Mr. Knightley’s Diary, Mansfield Park Revisited, Seducing Mr. Darcy, The Watson’s and Emma Watson, Jane Austen: A Life, Oxford World’s Classics: Emma, and The Darcys and The Bingleys. Wow! Lots of Austen readin’ going on out there folks. Keep it up.

Actress Brenda Blethyn who portrayed Mrs. Bennet in the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice is currently staring as faded southern belle Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee William’s classic play The Glass Menagerie at The Norwich Theatre Royal, September 22-27. Here is a great interview of actress Anna Chancellor who played Caroline Bingley in the 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, and presently appearing in the play Creditors at Covent Garden in London.

The Becoming Jane fan site has announced that The Jane Austen Centre on line magazine has added their biography of Madame LeFroy to their section on Jane Austen family biographies. Congrats ladies!

Author of Sex and the City Candace Bushnell has delusions that she is the modern Jane Austen!?! Well, not quite, but this writer likes to sensationalize a bit to get our attention. Did it work?

Lost in Austen, the ITV mini-series pastiche of Pride and Prejudice on UK tellie continues to amaze us in a bus accident sort of way. The whiplash rubber necking abounds as the media and on line blogs are deconstructing episode 3 which aired this past week.  Jane Austen in Vermont blog has an interesting vantage from a British viewer, Jane Austen’s World has some fabulous screen caps and a review, AustenBlog readers continue to tell it like it is with their comments, of course I had to have my share of the conversation, and here is some eye candy for you all as Jane Austen Today displays the Hunks of Lost in Austen.

The Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England opened on September 19th and will continue through September 28th. On Saturday the 20th, Regency finerie was afoot as participants paraded about the city in the grand Promenade. Talented photographer Owen Benson contacted Austenprose to tell us he had uploaded many stunning shots of the event, including someone that you might recognize, Austen intern Virginia Claire Tharrington, who looks quite stunning in her mustard ribboned bonnet. Lucky girl to be there. Pea Green of course!

So where is Jane Austen’s true home? Chawton or Bath? The debate continues as the two cities duke it out over bragging rights in Literary Smackdowns: Jane Austen Territory on The L Magazine blog and Satisfaction Will Be Demanded at AustenBlog.

Unseen Austen an new radio play on BBC4 by Judith French imagines Pride and Prejudice through an impertinent and over the top Lydia Bennet and available by Podcast. Oh la! Go Lydia! Feeling sentimental? Then listen to a Podcast from CBC Radio from 1996 entitled Jane Mania, focusing on the wave of popularity spawned by the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series. Sharon Farrell interviews novelist and film adaptor Fay Weldon (P&P 1979), Oxford scholar Marilyn Butler and Austen biographer Claire Tomalin. What an incredible group a well informed and witty women, talking about our favorite subject. Personally, I can never get enough of that!

The third annual R.I.P. reading challenge is underway until October 31st. This reading event is hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and has a horror and Gothic theme. I have taken up the challenge and will be reading three ‘perils’ written or influenced by Jane Austen; Northanger Abbey, Pemberley Shades and The Mysteries of Udolpho. You can also join in this reading challenge since Austenprose’s two group reads during ‘Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey’ in October will qualify you for R.I.P. III. So, go Gothic with us in October y’all, cuz ya won’t regret it.

Until next week, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

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,

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”

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

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)

Ill-judged measure

Illustration by Fritz Kredel, Emma,The Heritage Club Press, (1964)MEASURE

“Ah, my dear, as Perry says, where health is at stake, nothing else should be considered; and if one is to travel, there is not much to chuse between forty miles and an hundred. Better not move at all, better stay in London altogether than travel forty miles to get into a worse air. This is just what Perry said. It seemed to him a very ill-judged measure.” Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 12  

Mr. Woodhouse, that beacon of hope and optimism! If there is a ounce of concern to be discovered, he will root it out and endlessly obsess about it. Ha!

Opinions on Mr. Woodhouse run hot and cold. But what is the measure of a man? Was he hypochondriac or valetudinarian? Is he a pet or menace to Emma? Did he neglect his parenting skills? These are troubling issues indeed, which have all been investigated with thorough study and expert evaluation by The Benevolent Society for the Preservation of the Good Name of Mr. Woodhouse (a.k.a. The Woodhouse Defence League). Who are the members you ask? They are ladies and gentleman of information who have created an informative web site dedicated to all things Mr. Woodhouse. Read on. You may be both amazed and amused!

*Illustration by Fritz Kredel, “The evening was quiet and conversable”, page 89, Emma, published by The Heritage Press (1964)  

Insufferable woman

Illustration by William C. Cooke, Emma, Chapter 32INSUFFERABLE

“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 under-bred 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. Emma Woodhouse on Augusta Elton, Emma, Chapter 32

You go girlfriend! Bet you wish you could say it straight to her face. But decourum and common courtesy prevent your first best instinct. (Oh drat!) But if you said exactly what you were thinking, instead of a witty, subliminal, between the lines, over their head, delayed put-down, zinging repartee, it would not be a Jane Austen novel! Right?

Jane Austen is often accused (by the unenlightened minority) of being that ‘insufferable woman‘ who was a prim boring spinster writing puffy parlor pulp, whose plots are indistinguishable from each other, whose characters are namby-pamby wimps, and whose ultimate from the grave revenge was the feminist satisfaction of tormenting the male half of the world by making their mothers, girlfriends, wives, and daughters compare them against that perfect pinnacle of proud manhood, – – MR. DARCY.

Yea, rrrright! This attitude will not be bourne!

With this excellent example from the novel Emma of how our daintily gloved Jane can dole it out like the big boys, how can you classify her as prim and boring? Emma is a feisty, fallible, and intriguing creature that could only have been imagined by a strong willed writer, totally in command of the of her talent. So there!

Doubt my position? Please peruse the refereed discussion and discover if you love or loath Jane Austen? Is our Jane the “virgin of the vicarage” or “the authorial equivalent of crack cocaine“? Hark, ye of little faith and heed the truth, or a close facsimile of it in this excellent on-line debate presenting the opposing views of two accomplished British journalists Toby Young and Frances Wilson. Be prepared to fume over the folly and cheer the praise!

*Illustration by William C. Cooke, “A little upstart vulgar being”, Emma, Chapter 32, published by J.M. Dent & Company, London (1892)  

Exceedingly hilarious

Illustration by Niroot Puttapipat, Emma, Chapter 39, Folio Society (2007)EXCEEDINGLY

they had suddenly perceived at a small distance before them, … a party of gipsies. A child on the watch, came towards them to beg; and Miss Bickerton, excessively frightened, gave a great scream, and calling on Harriet to follow her, ran up a steep bank, cleared a slight hedge at the top, and made the best of her way by a short cut back to Highbury. But poor Harriet could not follow. She had suffered very much from cramp after dancing, and her first attempt to mount the bank brought on such a return of it as made her absolutely powerless; and in this state, and exceedingly terrified, she had been obliged to remain. The Narrator on Miss Bickerton & Harriet Smith, Emma, Chapter 39

Jane Austen has such a sense of humour. She has taken a potentially dangerous situation for two young ladies walking in the countryside and turned it around; – -making us laugh at them instead. Miss Bickerton high tails it over a hedge, and poor Harriet unable to follow because of dancers cramp (oh my) is paralyzed with fear, throwing money at the gipsies and begging for mercy. Hilarious!

With my over-active imagination in high gear, I envision Jane Austen as a contemporary woman. No doubt that she would be brilliant at whatever profession that she chose, but I believe that she would excel as a comedy writer, testing her material on her family and friends … “a Gentleman, a Baronet, and a Clergyman go into a pub…”

If you too are feeling in the adventurous spirit and ready for a waggish romp through Regency society, check out Laurie Viera Rigler’s exceedingly hilarious new book, The Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers; – – and join her online at her diverting website.

*Illustration by Niroot Puttapipat, “Such an invitation for attack could not be resisted” page 296, Emma, published by The Folio Society, London (2007)  

Incomprehensible imaginist

Frontis Illustration, Emma, Published by J.M. Dent & Co, LondonIMAGINIST

“Oh! to be sure,” cried Emma, “it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her.” Emma Woodhouse, Emma, Chapter 8

Emma has just told Mr. Knightly that her friend Harriet Smith has declined a marriage proposal from Robert Martin, that he thought was very suitable, but Emma did not. He suspects that Emma’s influence upon Harriet has motivated her decision, and is angered by her interference.

Jane Austen has endowed Emma with an active imagination that fuels the novel along like dry brush to a forest fire. She imagines Harriet is a gentleman’s daughter, (not because she has evidence to support it), and as such, deserves a better match than Robert Martin the tennat farmer. It suits her fancy to influence Harriet, and defends her decision to Mr. Knightly by blaming his objections on the jaded male perspective!

Many Austen scholars have written about Emma the imaginist, crediting Jane Austen for coining the word. You can read further how Emma imagines up all sorts of misapplyments in the novel deemed by many critics to be Austen’s masterpiece, on-line at Mollands circulating library. 

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