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52 Authors: Week 45 - Jane Austen

I love reading Jane Austen and have read all her novels, but I wouldn't want to be the subject of her satire! I think I'd be scared to death, if I had ever met her, which thankfully is not possible in this life. I first read Pride and Prejudice when, unaccountably, I checked a book out of the school library. I say unaccountably, because I didn't read very many books until I was in my twenties and those I did read were mostly for school. Until then, Pride and Prejudice had been just a name to me, but I'm glad I read it.

I didn't do anything more about reading the lovely Jane Austen until after I watched the BBC's (Firth/Ehle) Pride and Prejudice in the mid-nineties. I had forgotten almost the whole story by then, but the production was every bit as enjoyable as my first reading had been. The children and I still like to watch it. Within a few years, I had read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park. The last three are not my favourites and Persuasion least of all, I think, but I'm not yet sure why. I think the characters of the first three I named were more appealing to me and perhaps the story-lines too.

PrideAndPrejudice

I'm not surprised that there are men who don't like reading Austen. It is after all, mostly ladies sitting around in parlours talking, or taking walks in the country-side, talking. Sometimes the ladies “murmur gently” at one another and sometimes they are confiding in each other and at other times they are ridiculing the hero, as yet unknown to them as the hero. When put like this, it's terribly dull stuff, but if I let the author and characters speak for themselves it might create more interest.

Before I do, it came to my attention recently that someone I know of had given up trying to read Austen after trying P&P for the third time and not being able to get into it. If I ever have the chance, I will probably suggest to him that he try Emma and to give the story a good three chapters or so before giving up on it. I once made a couple of attempts at Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, but the third time I skipped to the second chapter and never looked back. Today I make it a rule to read at least a few chapters before giving up on a novel which does not appeal at first.

The introduction to Northanger Abbey is pretty amusing.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on — lived to have six children more — to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any... she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.

Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; ...“Catherine grows quite a good–looking girl — she is almost pretty today,” were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.

...But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.

This is probably my favourite opening chapter of Austen's. I really wish I could quote the whole chapter, but you can find it here.

Here are some quotes from Emma:

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do. ” - Mr. Knightley to Emma.

“Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives.” - Mr. Knightley to Emma.

“The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, 'Men never know when things are dirty or not;' and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, 'Women will have their little nonsense and needless cares.”

“Mr. Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs. Elton's beginning to talk to him.”

“Miss Bates…had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness and quick-sighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and a mine of felicity to herself.” 

“A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.” - Emma to Mr. Knightley

The following section (about 1100 words) was written by my daughter, Eilidh, for one of her English assignments. She was required to write a Marxist-Feminist analysis of Emma. I included it because I found it enjoyable, and I am a proud mother and also the concept of a Marxist-Feminist reading of Austen is a hoot! But perhaps don't read on if you haven't yet read Emma, as there might be a bit too much information in it. I'm not sure it really includes spoilers as such. My contribution now over, I do hope someone is inspired to give Jane Austen a try!

***

Emma

Equality and Inequality between Emma’s Romantic Leads: A Marxist-Feminist Analysis

The relationship between Emma and Mr Knightley, in Jane Austen’s Emma, is as endearing to the Marxist-feminist reader as it is to the Austen-loving romantic. The two characters, perhaps unusually for their time, are equal in many respects, such as verbal intelligence and social power. The chief inequality between them is one of morality, and this stems not from gender or material circumstance, but age.

Emma and Mr Knightley's relationship, in general, is one of mutual respect and affection. Knightley is “a very old and intimate friend of the family...the elder brother of Isabella's husband” (Austen, Emma 8). This suggests that he and Emma have a warm, sibling-like relationship. And since he has a “cheerful manner” (9) and she a “happy disposition” (5), it comes as no surprise that they like to tease each other: “Mr Knightley loves to find fault with me you know—in joke—it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another” (9). It is significant that, in a story where conversation is so important, Emma and Knightley have a comfortable, bantering relationship—as is demonstrated, for example, during their first scene together (9-12), the Coles' party (167-8), and when discussing Emma's childhood (362-3). Emma can also hold her own in an argument against Knightley; when they disagree about Harriet (48-53), it is Knightley who gives up (albeit out of anger), and although “she [does] not always feel...entirely convinced that her opinions [are] right” (53), Emma makes a reasonable case for her actions. In verbal intelligence, therefore, Emma and Knightley are equal, and this is emphasised by their sibling-like relationship.

A primary theme in Emma is marriage. Significantly, Emma, unlike the novel’s other female characters, “does not need to marry” (Pinch, Introduction ix). In her own words: “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 have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature” (68). When Emma does marry, it is because her mind has changed, not her circumstances; she marries purely because she wants to. The same can be said of Knightley, who “sacrifice[es] a great deal of independence” (353) in giving up his home for her. Regarding courtship and marriage, then, the power dynamic between the two is, on the whole, equal.

Another important theme is Emma's moral development, which is strongly influenced by her relationship with Mr Knightley. As part of “the town's traditional elite” (Pinch, Introduction xiv), Emma and Knightley have fairly equal material and social power. Knightley is not dependent on his father, but then, Emma's “privileged social position” allows her to view “[t]he hard facts of economic life...with complaisance” (Pinch, Introduction viii). However, unlike Knightley, “Emma uses her wealth and position, her charm and her attractiveness—her real power—to coerce others” (Juhasz, Reading Austen Writing Emma), and “[she] blunders through the novel, misjudging the motives and best interests of one character after another.” (Craig, “The Value of a Good Income”: Money in Emma).

Emma is essentially a spoiled brat, “having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself” (Austen, Emma 5). Conversely, Knightley is “a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty” (8), so he “has the advantage of age, and thus perspective, a perspective both critical and rational, but also empathetic” (Jackson, The Dilemma of Emma: Moral, Ethical, and Spiritual Values). This, in addition to their sibling-like relationship, gives Knightley the “privilege” (Austen, Emma 294) to hold Emma accountable for her actions. Knightley is “one of the few people who [can] see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever [tells] her of them” (9-10). While this “privilege” may be “endured rather than allowed” (294), “[Emma has] a sort of habitual respect for [Knightley's] judgement” (52). This is shown when Knightley challenges her behaviour towards Miss Bates (294-5), “which finally forces Emma to acknowledge her own folly and to grow as a human being” (Craig, “The Value of a Good Income”: Money in Emma): Emma deeply regrets having “exposed herself to such ill opinion in [someone] she value[s]” (Austen, Emma 296).

Knightley shows Emma respect by confronting her about her behaviour instead of condemning her behind her back. He “loves the person who is both beautiful and not” (Juhasz, Reading Austen Writing Emma). As he says: “This is not pleasant to you, Emma—and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,— I will tell you truths while I can, satisfied with proving myself your friend by faithful counsel” (295). And Emma admits that she “was very often influenced rightly by [him]” (363). However, she usually feels free to question his judgement or ignore his advice—regarding Harriet, for example (54)—and although this never turns out well, it shows that she considers him a trusted advisor, but does not permit him to have absolute power over her.

The theme of moral development is linked to that of marriage, as many of Emma’s mistakes revolve around love, marriage, and motivation. Juhasz (Reading Austen Writing Emma) writes:

If Emma began her novel self-absorbed to a fault...thereby abusing [her social power], she needs to be able to use that power responsibly. To do that she needs to be able to feel as well as think, and to let the actuality of others’...subjectivity, affect her, rather than...inventing them as creatures who can do her bidding. Falling in love, for the Emma who says she never will, is precisely an experience of vulnerability to another which will allow for this kind of maturation. It is of course her very own true love who says, “‘I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good’” (41).

So, although Emma and Knightley are equal in many things, they are unequal in moral development—an inequality caused not by gender, or lack of social power on either side, but by age and differing levels of experience. But since it is alleviated by mutual respect, lessened by the end of the novel, and will likely continue to diminish as Emma ages, it is an inequality that is not intrinsic to the relationship, but eradicated by it.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Emma. 1815. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Craig, Sheryl. “‘The Value of a Good Income’: Money in Emma.” Persuasions On-Line 22.1 (2001): n.pag. Web. 30 August 2015.

Jackson, Karin. “The Dilemma of Emma: Moral, Ethical, and Spiritual Values.” Persuasions On- Line 21.2 (2000): n.pag. Web. 30 August 2015.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Reading Austen Writing Emma.” Persuasions On-Line 21.1 (2000): n.pag. Web. 30 August 2015.

Pinch, Adela. Introduction. Emma. By Jane Austen. Ed. James Kinsley. Oxford UP, 2008. vii-xxix. Print. Oxford World’s Classics.

Austen

 

—Louise is an Australian homeschooling mother of six, currently living in Texas.

Comments

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Marvelous post, Louise! I have only read the Big 3 (P&P, S&S, Emma) but do intend to read the lesser 3 at some point. Austen is a wonderful writer, to the point that I cannot say which of the three I have read I really like the most; maybe Emma since it is the longest? I just re-read Emma not too long ago and was struck at how inconsequential her offense to Miss Bates seemed in writing. I had this memory (most likely made larger by watching the movie a few times since my first reading of the book) of it being more. But then of course these are novels of manners.

If many men are not interested in reading the real thing, there is always the cottage industry of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (soon to be a major motion picture) and that sort of thing.

Then there are also more modern versions of these novels, and the very good (I thought so) The Jane Austen Book Club I think it is called ... I did not read the book but only enjoyed the movie.

I am babbling, but I do like Austen so. And I enjoyed your daughter's analysis as well.

Thank you, Stu!

My brother gave me P&P&Zombies. I just can't bring myself to read it!

The upsetting thing about Emma's offense to Miss Bates is what Knightley tells her about - that Miss B is getting older, lives in comparative poverty, and deserves better from Emma, whom she has known and loved since babyhood. Also, Emma is the first woman in that circle and sets the example.

But compared to modern people (especially on the 'net!) it's pretty mild.

When I was a teenager, and maybe into my early 20s, I liked Northanger Abbey the best. Now when I read it, I find that astounding. Now I like P&P and Emma and Persuasion a close third--in fact, on any given day it might be second or I might like Emma best. It all depends on what suits my mood.

I used to not like Mansfield Park at all. I thought Fannie was a complete cypher, but after talking with a friend about her, my opinion has risen a bit.

AMDG

Having read only P&P, I was going to ask which Austen I should read next, but I think y'all have more or less answered that question: clearly Emma would be a good choice.

Stu, am I misremembering, or were you pretty cool toward Austen until fairly recently?

"Emma" for sure, Maclin. I think "Emma" is my favourite, if I didn't already say that.

"Northanger Abbey" is pretty amusing as a would-be gothic novel!

Fanny Price might be a bit under-rated, Janet.

I may have been dismissive of her in a discussion ranging wider and including other British authors of the period, Mac. Please don't get me in trouble with Janet and Louise! But I have come to really love her and just realize her fairly limited worldview and experience, short life, etc. Jane Austen is wonderful and deserved of all attention paid to her works!

I think Emma for sure.

AMDG

Louise, I'm sure you are right, and after seeing what they did to her character in the 1999 movie, the original looks even better.

AMDG

I think you're safe, Stu.

AMDG

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I've never been able to get much beyond a few pages in an Austen book. I'm going to put it down to having seen Greer Garson's P & P at a very early age and ever after seeing all the movie faces in my head. That seeing prepackaged characters, rather than imagining them for myself, has always hampered reading a book for me. But this lovely post, Louise, makes me want to give it another try.

Enjoyed your daughter's Marxist-feminist review. This in her analysis of the relationship between Emma and Knightley -- "Regarding courtship and marriage, then, the power dynamic between the two is, on the whole, equal" -- tells me a Marxist should never be allowed anywhere near Austen.


My favourite is P&P, followed by Emma, followed closely by S&S. The others I don't know well.

I was once reading P&P on an airplane, and the woman next to me asked what I was reading. I showed her, and she said, with some surprise, "Don't you find it painful?" I was about to ask for clarification when I noticed what she was reading: Michel Foucoult. Then I had a dark inkling of what the problem might be. I simply answered "No" and carried on.

I recently re-watched the 1995 Ang Lee film version of S&S, and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Northanger Abbey has always been my favourite. I suppose I have a less refined sense of humour than most who read Austen. In fact, that and Persuasion (which is mercifully short) are the only ones I've managed to finish. But you've convinced me to give some of the others another go.

NA is a good spoof of Gothic novels, but when I was a teenager, I just thought it was a good romance.

AMDG

"Please don't get me in trouble with Janet and Louise!"

LOL!

"But this lovely post, Louise, makes me want to give it another try."

My job here is done. :) Thanks Marianne.

"Enjoyed your daughter's Marxist-feminist review. This in her analysis of the relationship between Emma and Knightley -- "Regarding courtship and marriage, then, the power dynamic between the two is, on the whole, equal" -- tells me a Marxist should never be allowed anywhere near Austen."

Heh!

Paul, I have never thought of your humour as less refined (or of mine as being refined at all!) But I echo Janet's comment that it's a good spoof. It really is quite good fun in that way. I think maybe I just didn't like Henry Tilney quite so much as a hero.

"Jane Austen is wonderful and deserved of all attention paid to her works!"

Awww. That's lovely, Stu.

I thought the risk was low, Stu. :-)

As I most likely said here a while back when I read P&P, one thing that really strikes me about it is that it defines (for the first time?) the basic template of the romance novel. Not that it's Austen's fault that a thousand terrible writers liked the idea, just as it doesn't take anything away from Tolkien that all kinds of stuff from mediocre fantasy novels to heavy metal albums borrows some of his paraphernalia.

I don't enjoy Emma very much because I spend so much of the book furious at Emma! I reread Persuasion recently and thought it much better than the first time. Generally I get more out of rereadings, perhaps because I'm not racing through the plot so I can appreciate more of the prose and character development.

"I don't enjoy Emma very much because I spend so much of the book furious at Emma!"

Anne-Marie, LOL! That's a good point. Maclin and others might find her equally vexing. She didn't bother me at all.

Actually, I probably should read "Persuasion" again. I might appreciate it more too.

I really like Persuasion. I think it's the nautical element, and I want to go walk on that beach.

AMDG

A friend of mine spent part of a trip to England visiting sites of Jane Austen episodes. She even jumped down from the Cobb at Lyme.

Did she fall and hurt herself and then fall in love with a sailor over poetry?

AMDG

I would have never thought that Austen was someone I would like until one of my college profs put me on to the key: the humor. He said, basically, "Pay attention -- this is funny stuff! If you're not laughing every few pages you're not getting it." This was P&P he was talking about, and I think he's correct. Go at Austen as typical novels of manners and you miss things, whereas if you note the satire they're much more enjoyable.

This is undoubtedly why I liked 'Mansfield Park' least among her books that I've read -- it's the "straightest" of the bunch, I'd say (although I've yet to read 'Persuasion').

Oh, there's a good bit of humor in Persuasion.

AMDG

"I really like Persuasion. I think it's the nautical element, and I want to go walk on that beach."

The nautical element ought to make it much more interesting to me, but I didn't take to Capt. Wentworth all that much the first and only time I read it. Might be about time to re-read, anyhow.

I just thought of this and it's appropriate for November and also to this series. I think it's a good idea to pray for the souls of the authors who have died and their families. Also we can pray for those authors still living. Just an idea.

I was thinking this because Jane's favourite brother was in the Navy, if I'm not mistaken, and I got to thinking about them both because of "Persuasion."

That is a good idea.

The humor that I noticed in P&P was very much of the subtle and arch variety, the sort that makes you smile but not laugh.

On the other hand, when we read NA aloud to our kids, all of us laughed out loud.

When I was in my erly 20s I said something dismissive about Jane Austen being a romance novelist (having just given up on Emma), and a fellow student pointed out to me: "Except she's always making fun of all of her characters."

I love P&P and Emma - I enjoyed the others, but not as much. I tried to get my son a (sophomore in college) to read P&P but he hasn't. I think he would identify with Mr. Bennet (he enjoys observing the absurdity of people around him), but he won't listen (in spite of all the good books he has resisted and then enjoyed). I seem to have gone off topic :)

As far as I can tell, you can go pretty darn far around here without going off topic. You aren't even close.

AMDG

Yeah, I don't really acknowledge the concept.

I was just wondering how to get my 16yo son to read Austen. Having seen his four older sisters go gaga over Mr. Darcy, he has fixed Austen (or at least P&P) in his mind as mushy girl stuff. Maybe I should start with Persuasion, introducing it by the naval theme, since he's a big Hornblower fan. (In fact, he happened to be walking through the living room at just the moment that my ladies' book club was puzzling over a naval matter in Persuasion. He explained it lucidly on the basis of his Hornblower knowledge. The ladies were impressed.)

Btw, Maclin, I see a gap on the schedule for November 29. I thought I was doing Mary Renault then, but I won't if you don't want/need a post.

Perish the thought! I was going to post a note later today asking. I was hoping someone had spoken for that week and I had just failed to note it at the time (and then inevitably forgotten it). I will update the schedule shortly. Thank you. That was the last remaining unallocated week, so it looks like we will make it after all. Very exciting.

I think getting a 16-year-old boy to like Austen is going to be difficult, nautical elements notwithstanding. Unless maybe the heroine follows her sailor to sea, like the girl in Jackaroe.

And why is it important? My husband read Austen for the first time when he was in his 60s and he really enjoyed it, but it was his choice.

There's just so much out there that he would like better.

AMDG

Ah, good old Hornblower!

My husband has never had any interest in JA and always teases the children and me "she fills your head full of rubbish!"

I can't imagine getting a 16yo boy interested in reading her. Can't even get my 40-something husband to read her. Not that I really care.

When I was 16 I was very resistant to any reading suggestions my mother made. Stupidly, but perhaps not untypically for a 16-year-old. A better strategy might be to laugh out loud at something and when he asks what it is, say "Oh, I'm not sure you'd appreciate it." Then he'll want to like it just to be contrary.

That's an excellent idea. I suppose "It's a little old for you" might be tipping the hand too far. Though I'm not sure he would get much out of it if he did read it. I wouldn't have at 16.

My son played Frank Churchill in a production of Emma when he was 16.

My sister played Elizabeth Bennett when she was 16. Totally unfair. The little brat was born and then got all the good stuff. ;-)

But now she's not so bad.

AMDG

I wrote some kind of essay in 5th or 6th grade complaining about my little brother breaking my model airplanes. He's ok now, too.

Still, I didn't notice any model airplanes. ;-)

AMDG

I had 500 paper dolls--some bought, mostly made by me--in a department store box under my bed and one day I came home and found that my sister had cut the hair off all of them.

AMDG

And yet they grow up thinking themselves oppressed by their older siblings.

Thanks, Grumpy.

AMDG

You know, it honestly hadn't occurred to me that it would be ok for my son not to read Austen. She's great! Everyone has to read her! was my attitude.

So today in the car, he was reading "P & P & Zombies." As mildly as I could, I asked, "Don't you think you'll get more out of this if you read the original P&P first?" It turns out he had read it last summer, when he was facing a long car trip with nothing else at hand... and he really liked it! When I told him Persuasion is more Austen with sailors, his eye lit up.

*eyes
He does have two.

Well there you go. 16yo males can be very... surprising!

Janet I made another comment on your blog after that and it didn't make it.

Rats.

Sorry I haven't responded to that or anything else. Very busy till Sunday afternoon.

Yep. That's what I figured.

AMDG

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