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

Emma in Love Emma Tennant 1996 x 200When 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 Continue reading “Emma in Love: Jane Austen’s Emma Continued, by Emma Tennant – A Review”

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

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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