Prepared by member Jenny K.
Tantalising clues and false leads together with careful plotting mark Jane Austen’s Emma, Volume II
A carefully constructed persona and the imaginist character of the heroine serve to create entertainment in this section of the book.
Frank Churchill’s avowal of “being the wretchedest being in the world at a civil falsehood” followed by Emma’s assertion that she does not believe “any such thing. I am persuaded that you can be as insincere as your neighbours when it is necessary…” set the tone for the games of misinterpretation that are to follow. Apparently, the critic, D.W.Harding, suggested that society can only survive through civil falsehoods.
Mr Knightley serves as the central still point in the novel around which spin Emma’s dynamism and Frank Churchill’s resourcefulness. While some felt that Emma and Mr Knightley’s conversation was stilted compared to that of Mrs Elton, Harriet Smith and Miss Bates, it was also suggested that it may have been an indication of their deeper feelings.
Mr Woodhouse’s old fashioned good manners did not disguise his basically tyrannical approach to everyone regarding food and sickness. Emma’s skill at managing her father, lovingly, was praiseworthy.
This volume was likened to a musical fugue with the introduction of four new themes – three new characters – Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax and Mrs Elton with their back stories — and the Broadford square piano. Fugal threads of Harriet, “swayed by half a word”, Mr Elton with his smug self-satisfaction, the Martin family with their good manners, Emma’s dislike of Jane, Miss Bates’ stream of consciousness and Mr Woodhouse’s whimsies play out, interlacing the plot.
Mrs Elton with her opinion of having “quite a horror of upstarts” was seen as one of Austen’s “grand” comical creations by some. She certainly serves as a perfect foil for Emma.
Discussion involving the possible entrapment of Emma in an enclosed society was divided. Most felt she was “too cheerful” – happy to be a big fish in a small pond. Some felt that Emma’s extreme snobbishness became increasingly irritating. But the idea of gentlemen and “half-gentlemen” attending the whist parties was a source of considerable amusement.
Two interesting pieces of research were very telling. One revealed that the much vaunted “barouche-landau” revealed the carriage as being a strong indication of the nouveau riche status of Mrs Elton and her sister’s family. It was middle class hybrid version of the landau and the barouche even if it was expensive. The other research revealed Mr Knightley in his discussion with his brother John, as a most progressive agricultural innovator. He was following the latest ideas in crop rotation, enclosing fields and using drainage. But as a good neighbour, he planned to check with the village concerning the rerouting of a pathway through his property. Once again, he showed his generosity, even though he had “little spare money.”
Our meeting ended with our usual teasing quiz provided by our quiz master although she was unable to attend herself. True devotion to the cause.
- John Wiltshire will be speaking on the topic of “Emma: a heroine no-one will like” to the Southern Highlands branch of JASA (JASH) on Thursday, April 9, 2-4pm.
- Walking Jane Austen’s London by Louise Allen is a newly published book for those going overseas.
- Our resident Jane Austen quilt maker, Marilyn, will be presenting a session on how to recreate Jane Austen’s quilt at the Jane Austen Festival Australia on Friday, April 10, repeated on Saturday, April 11, at the Albert Hall.
- The next meeting on Saturday, April 20th will consider the final volume of Emma.