Monday, June 14, 2010

Emma, Chapters 14-28

Whew, is anyone else finding the characters difficult to keep track of? Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice have smaller sets of characters, but Emma, like Sense and Sensibility, seems to have a much more populated neighborhood. I feel like I’m constantly flipping back and forth to check who someone is. Despite this, Emma has a lot in common with the other three Austen novels we’ve read — there’s the heroine who can’t seem to figure out that someone is in love with her, the visiting girl who everyone loves despite her being boring/odd, the rambling/busybody/annoying old maid, and the man who leads all the ladies on. Here’s a quick recap of these chapters.

While Emma is worrying that Mr. Knightley may be right about Mr. Elton’s feelings for her, she learns that Frank Churchill is coming to visit in January. It turns out that Emma, despite her declarations that she’ll never marry, seems to think she will get along swimmingly with Mr. Churchill and maybe marry him. But probably not.

It starts to snow, and the visitors set off for home. Emma ends up in a carriage with just Mr. Elton and he seizes the moment and declares his love for her. Emma can’t understand how he transferred his feelings from Harriet to her, and he tells her that he’s never had feelings for Harriet, and that it has always been Emma. Emma turns him down and decides to stop matchmaking.

Frank Churchill postpones his visit, and Emma and Mr. Knightley debate his character -- they wonder how an adult male can be so influenced by his aunt not to come. Emma believes he will be delightful when she does meet him, while Knightley expects him to be insufferable. Emma can’t understand why Knightley isn’t open-minded about him.

Emma and Harriet go to visit Mrs. and Miss Bates, and they hear about Mr. Elton’s trip to Bath and learn that Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Bates’ granddaughter will be visiting. Jane lives with the Campbells, who are leaving to visit their daughter Mrs. Dixon, in Ireland. The ladies aren’t sure why Jane isn’t going with them, and Emma assumes that Jane and Mr. Dixon had a flirtation at some point.

Austen gives up Jane’s back-story: she was orphaned when her father died in battle and her mother died of grief. Mrs. and Miss Bates initially raised Jane, but then the Campbells, friends of her father’s, offered to take her in and educate her. They planned to make her a teacher, which she will have to do after visiting her family. Emma has never been a big fan of Jane, but on this visit she feels pity for her. She learns that Jane has known Frank Churchill for quite some time.

Mr. Elton gets engaged to Miss Hawkins, a wealthy and beautiful lady, and news makes its way back to Highbury. Emma is relieved by the news, and thinks it will make things less awkward when he returns to town. Harriet has a run-in with the Martins, and though the encounter is awkward, they’re nice to her. Miss Martin later visit her at Mrs. Goddard’s when Harriet is out, and Emma tells her repay the visit, but only stay a short time. This is precisely what happens, and the Martins are hurt by the brief visit.

Frank finally arrives and Emma finds him attractive and charming, but he leaves her company to go visit Jane Fairfax. Frank later tells Emma that he doesn’t find Jane attractive but that they were regular acquaintances previously. Emma tells him that she thinks Jane and Mr. Dixon had something going on, and Frank doesn't quite believe it. Frank leaves town to go get his hair cut in London, which rubs Emma the wrong way, but she’s starting to be smitten with him.

More social acquaintances surface — the Coles — who invite everyone to a dinner party, but Emma’s invite is delayed, prompting her to be put out by an imagined snub from a nouveau-riche family, but she accepts the invite when it arrives. At the Coles, everyone learns that Jane has recently received a piano as a gift, from a mysterious benefactor. Everyone thinks it is from the Campbells, but Emma thinks it’s from Mr. Dixon. Mrs. Weston tells Emma that she thinks Mr. Knightley likes Jane, that he may have given her the piano, and that he brought his carriage so he could take her home. Emma is stunned by this suggestion, since her nephew won’t inherit Mr. Knightley’s estate if he marries. Mr. Knightley denies to Emma that he sent Jane the piano, and Emma feels better about the whole thing when he doesn’t ask Jane to dance. Emma dances with Frank, and he tells her that he’s glad he doesn’t have to dance with Jane.

After the dinner, visiting takes place, and Emma and Harriet visit Mrs. and Miss Bates. Miss Bates tells them that Mr. Knightley sent Jane some apples. When they enter the house, Frank is there fixing Mrs. Bates’ glasses. Mr. Knightley pops by, but won’t come in since Frank is there.

So that’s where we leave things. I’m not really sure how I feel about Emma as a heroine — sure, she feels pretty darn bad for leading Harriet on, but she starts and spreads rumors about Jane’s past without worrying that it might affect her reputation. Though Emma doesn’t do anything with malice, she doesn’t understand how meddling in others’ affairs could cause problems for them and for herself.

Emma, so far, seems most like Sense and Sensibility. There are incessant visits and parties taking place in the country, but there’s also this undercurrent of assumption — but one more dangerous than in Austen’s first novel. While everyone assumes that Marianne is engaged to Willoughby, they do create that impression, probably in part since Marianne believes it herself. But here, Emma assumes certain things and shares these assumptions, but only because she has made herself believe them. She tries to set up Harriet and Elton, then imagines an attraction between them and convinces herself that it’s real. She’s imagined a relationship between Jane and Mr. Dixon, and while we don’t yet know what the truth is, Austen is laying the groundwork for it to be false.

But I think what’s really interesting here is that Emma is the first wealthy Austen heroine. She says she doesn’t want to marry, and whether or not she means that, she is the first one who doesn’t have to. Because Emma can do whatever she pleases with her life, she assumes the roles filled by Mary Crawford, the Palmers/Mrs. Jennings, and the Bingley sisters — she can play around with the romantic lives of the less-well-off girls with little consequence to herself. I’m interested to see where Austen takes this.

Next up, chapters 29-40.

1 comment:

  1. Although Austen's work couldn't be more different from mine, I admire her so much. In Emma, be sure you don't breeze past one of the most famous almost non-verbal largely non-conscious "love connection" scenes when Austen and you-know-who have to make a quick decision about a carriage....