Saturday, July 31, 2010

Northanger Abbey, Chapters 21-31

This section begins shortly after Catherine’s arrival at Northanger Abbey. Eleanor takes her to her room in the thoroughly modern edifice, which disappoints Catherine -- at first. There’s a storm that night and she discovers some old papers in a chest of drawers. Before she can read them, the candle goes out and she hears footsteps. She immediately goes to bed, but discovers the next morning that they’re merely a washing list -- so far Northanger does not meet her expectations.

The General and Eleanor show her around Northanger, and Catherine begins to sense that the General is hiding something --- he won’t go down a path that was his late wife’s favorite, he tells Eleanor not to show Catherine more of the house until he can be there. Catherine jumps to the conclusion that his killed his wife and starts to question Eleanor about how she died. Suddenly, it turns out, and of an illness -- it's somehow a confirmation of Catherine’s suspicions. She develops an alternate hypothesis as well: that Mrs. Tilney is alive and hidden in the cellar. When she finally sneaks away from the others to see Mrs. Tilney’s room, there’s nothing of note.

Henry catches her at it, and he tells her what she suspects. He tells her he was present for his mother’s death and he scolds her for thinking that. Catherine is beside herself thinking that she blew it with Henry, but he acts no differently toward her. She does, however, chastise herself for getting too caught up in her books.

James writes to tell Catherine that he and Isabella broke off their engagement and says she’s now engaged to Frederick Tilney. Henry tells her that he doesn’t think it’ll really happen and that Isabella is probably doing it for money. He and Eleanor don’t think the General will let the engagement go through since she doesn’t have much money, which makes Catherine upset as she doesn't have a lot of money either.

The gang goes to visit Henry’s house at Woodston, and the General hints about Catherine marrying Henry -- she loves the house, but isn’t sure of Henry’s feelings. Isabella writes to say that Frederick left her and asks for help in getting James back. Catherine’s outraged, but Henry tells her she should be happy her brother's engagement didn’t go through.

When Catherine has been visiting for a month, she asks Eleanor if she should get ready to leave, but Eleanor tells her she can stay indefinitely. Suddenly, the General tells Eleanor that they have to go make good on a previous engagement and that Catherine has to leave immediately. There’s no explanation, and Catherine is forced to undergo a strenuous journey home.

She can’t imagine what possibly caused the General to do a 180 in his feelings for her, and her family is upset to see how she returned. Catherine has a tough time readjusting to life with her family, but after a few days Henry comes. He tells her that the General believed that the Morlands were wealthy, but learned lately from John Thorpe that they were not. Henry apologizes and proposes to Catherine. But the general won’t consent to the marriage so the Morlands won’t either. Luckily, Eleanor quickly gets engaged to a nobleman, which makes the General happy -- everyone consents and Henry and Catherine marry.

That’s the end of Northanger Abbey. Austen’s gently mocking riff on the Gothic novel doesn’t have the same depth as Pride and Prejudice, but it is an entertaining read. Catherine is a younger heroine than in some of the other novels, and  she spends a lot of time dealing with peer pressure and trying to figure out what makes a good friend -- things the other Austen heroines have already figured out for themselves.

A good chunk of the dramatic tension in this novel takes place in Catherine’s head, which is, in a way, what causes the dramatic tension of all of Austen's novels. Marianne imagines that Willoughby is more in love with her than he is, Elizabeth and Darcy each imagine things about the other that isn't true, Emma imagines that Mr. Elton loves Harriet, and so on. It's a more obvious example of Austen's point about how people imagine things and project desires onto situations rather than discussing them. There's so much gossip in all her books, but so little serious talks that need to be had -- Catherine's situation is the same.

Attic Salt's Jane Austen Challenge draws to a close with Persuasion, Austen's final novel. It's another short one, which means it'll give you some extra reading time to catch up on any books you may not have completed. Here's the schedule:

August 7: Chapters 1-6
August 14: Chapters 7-12
August 21: Chapters 13-18
August 31: Chapters 19-24

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Northanger Abbey, Chapters 15-20

Confession: I've already finished this book. That makes it hard to remember specific things from each section I wanted to remember, so after today, I'll write just one final post on the last day of July. Here's a recap:

Catherine learns that Isabella and James are engaged, and the Morlands consent to the marriage. John Thorpe tries to hint to Catherine that maybe they can be engaged too, but she blows him off and he takes it as a good sign. At the beginning of volume two, Catherine dines with the Tilney family, and is pleased by how nice General Tilney is to her. The other Tilney son, Captain Frederick, comes to Bath as well.

After James tells Isabella that they will have a long engagement while he waits to inherit a living, she’s pretty upset, which makes Catherine angry. Things get better for Catherine though, since the Tilneys invite her along to their abbey for a visit. Not only is she excited to spend time with Henry, she’s thrilled about the idea of staying in an abbey like the ones found in her novels.

Catherine tells Isabella that she isn’t interested in her brother, after he writes to say that he wants to propose. Isabella’s flirtation with Frederick also bothers Catherine, but Catherine chalks it up to Isabella being polite. She starts to get worried for James, and talks to Henry, who tells her to leave the situation alone.

The ride to Northanger Abbey is pleasant -- Henry and Catherine ride together, and he tells her stories about the mysteries she’ll encounter there, complete with a hidden passage and violent storms. They arrive in time for dinner.

Catherine consistently misreads social situations -- she misreads the situation between Isabella and Frederick, even though Isabella seems to make it clear, telling Catherine that there’s more than one way for the two of them to be sisters. She also misreads her relationship with John Thorpe, not understanding that he wants to marry her. And, as we’ll soon see, she misreads the situation at the Abbey, where she allows her imagination to run rampant.

The lessons she’s applying to her life in Bath and at the Abbey come straight from the pages of novels and from the Allens, who can’t offer much guidance. Like the other Austen heroines we’ve seen, Catherine is missing a strong, positive influence in her life who is able to teach her the ways of the world. Each heroine, whether by death or poverty, is deprived of at least one parent who could alert her to the fact that she’s choosing friends unwisely or misreading social cues. But then, how would anyone ever figure out anything for herself?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Northanger Abbey, Chapters 9-14

For the first time in this project, I’ve read ahead of schedule — I’m a few chapters beyond 14, so I’ll try to refrain talking about anything after that. Here’s a quick recap.

The social world of Bath is still a marvel for Catherine, who decides to befriend Eleanor Tilney. Before she can pay her a visit, Isabella, James Morland and John Thorpe arrive to take Catherine for a ride. Catherine gets stuck riding with John, who is manipulative and exaggerates. Despite James and Isabella’s fondness for John, Catherine looks on him with disdain. She learns that her guardian, Mrs. Allen, ran into the Tilneys while she was out, and Catherine kicks herself for missing them.
Catherine remains oblivious to the new romance between Isabella and James, because she’s caught up in her interest in the Tilneys. She meets Eleanor at the Pump-Room, they hit it off, and she awkwardly asks Eleanor about Henry. Eleanor figures out that Catherine likes Henry, but Catherine doesn’t realize that she shared this information.

At a ball, Catherine dodges John and dances with Henry. He tells her that dancing is like a brief marriage, and each side has responsibilities. The Tilneys set up a walk with Catherine for the next day. The Thorpes arrive to take Catherine to Bristol, and John lies and tells her that he saw Henry driving in the opposite direction. Since it's raining, Catherine believes him and goes along. When they set off, she sees the Tilneys walking toward her house, but John refuses to turn around.

Catherine goes to apologize to the Tilneys the next morning, but they won’t see her. She then confronts Henry at the theater and explains everything. She learns that General Tilney, their father, thinks that she’s the finest girl in town.

The Thorpes plan yet another ride, and when they try to get Catherine, she turns them down. She goes to the Tilneys’ house, and meets the General, who invites Catherine to dinner. At the Allens, Mr. Allen tells Catherine not to see John Thorpe anymore. The Tilneys take Catherine on a walk the next day, and Catherine and Henry discuss books again, as well as drawing. When she goes back home, Catherine learns that one of the Thorpe sisters took her place on that day’s drive.

In these chapters, Catherine is beginning to stand up for herself and make her own decisions, instead of having Isabella help navigate for her. She recognizes that some social acquaintances can be hurtful, and that others are much better matches in terms of friendship. It’s actually kind of interesting how the intelligent, funny, down-to-earth Tilneys seek the companionship of Catherine, a girl who is only beginning to develop social graces and desires that her life resemble a Gothic novel.

Henry Tilney is shaping up to be a great Austen hero — he’s funny, charming, smart, and has no problem teasing Catherine. He seems more well-rounded than recent heroes we’ve encountered — Mr. Knightley, Edmund Bertram — and doesn’t seem to have any flaws to overcome.

For next week, read Chapters 15-20.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who do you write like?

I write like
Margaret Atwood
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Here's a fun Internet thing circulating around -- this web site will analyze your writing style and compare to an famous author's. My last post on this site deemed my prose Margaret Atwood-like, while a post on Emma earned a comparison to, yes, Jane Austen. And my short stories? Chuck Palahniuk.

Who do you write like?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Imperfectionists

In Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, the newspaper staff of a dying international English language newspaper in Rome struggle to keep their professional — and personal — lives afloat. This isn't a new idea, since changing ideas about information render print publications obsolete every day, but what's intriguing is the motley staff (though speaking from experience, all newspaper staffs are rather eclectic). We meet them one by one, though many appear in other chapters before their own.  Each gets a chapter, and each provides insight into how their purview of the newspaper works.

Rachman reveals the paper's back story with a few pages slipped between chapters. Founded by an art-collecting millionaire, the first editors are a married couple from America. They're replaced by editors and publishers who alternately help the paper thrive or sink. These pages add yet another melancholy note to the whole proceedings — today's staff doesn't care about saving something that was vitally important to prior generations. Rachman is preaching to the choir.

About a third of the way through The Imperfectionists, I realized that each character's story is devastating. Everyone, from Lloyd, the kooky Paris correspondent, to Herman, the lovable corrections editor, faces cheating spouses, failed love affairs, or deaths in the family. Or, if they're truly unlucky, they're dealt more than one blow. This, of course, helps put the failing newspaper into perspective. The reasons why it's failing are clearly laid out: no web presence, a young publisher who simply doesn't care, a need to cut staff but the recognition that cutting staff cheapens the product and therefore loses readers. (There are hints that The Imperfectionists was written in the mid-2000s, before the worldwide recession but after the Internet had begun to destroy newspaper advertising and steal away younger readers.) But the reasons why personal lives are failing are more ambiguous in some cases; why family members lie to each other or why people carry on affairs are more complex, and Rachman often leaves them that way.

You'll pick up echoes of Joshua Ferris' debut Then We Came to the End in the workplace drama built around a business going through tough times, but the similarities end there. Perhaps it's just because I've worked in newspaper and magazine offices, have always wanted to live abroad, and seriously lament the destruction of print media, but the emotional resonance in The Imperfectionists is stronger. It's less innovative, but I don't need innovation every time I pick up a novel.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Northanger Abbey, Chapters 1-8

I’ve been looking forward to reading Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s parody of 18th century gothic novels, for some time. And since cracking open the spine this week, I’ve been surprised by the amount of fun Austen is clearly having. Though all her novels are parodies, Northanger Abbey parodies not just contemporary society but also the literature of the time -- I think I’m going really like it.

Austen gets things going by introducing Catherine Morland as an unlikely heroine. Her family is kind of wealthy, but not overly, and she’s neither pretty nor very good at anything. She gets prettier as she gets older, which is when we really meet her. She’s also abandoned her childhood activities of sports in favor of reading. The Allens, a rich couple without any children, decide to invite her to go along with them to Bath.

Catherine’s mother isn’t concerned about her daughter leaving, and her father gives her a little money to take along. Though they don’t seem the best of parents, neither are the Allens -- Mrs. Allen is neither smart nor well-mannered, and she’s certainly not beautiful. As we learn when the trio arrives in Bath, she isn’t well acquainted either -- at balls and other events, Mrs. Allen tells Catherine how sorry she is she can’t find a dancing partner for her. Luckily for Catherine, at an event she’s introduced to Henry Tilney, who she immediately has a spark with. He’s handsome and witty, and happens to also be a clergyman (the profession Austen heroines seem to lust after a lot).

Catherine doesn’t see Henry the next day, but she and Mrs. Allen meet some people they know. Mrs. Thorpe went to school with Mrs. Allen, and they meet her three daughters. Catherine hits it off with her eldest daughter, Isabella, and the pair run into their brothers (James Morland and John Thorpe) one day, drawing more people into their social circle. James and Isabella immediately get along, and John seems interested in Catherine as well, asking her to dance in advance of the night’s ball.
But John is late, and Catherine runs into Henry. She has to turn down his request for a dance, as she is previously engaged to John, and she’s annoyed. She doesn’t get another chance to talk to Henry.

Unlike Austen’s other books, so far Northanger Abbey has been set primarily in the social world, with a flurry of balls and events. There’s a larger world to work with here, so it’ll be interesting to see how many people Austen has Catherine and the Allens meet.

A large section of these chapters discuss novels and reading. Austen submits a page-long defense of the novel as a genre (they were associated with lower classes), but of course, she’s riffing on the lowest of the “low” -- the horror novel. The girls are big fans of Gothic horror novels, like The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Catherine is distracted from her daily activities when she’s reading it. She’s even put off when John tells her he doesn’t read novels. Is it a suggestion for contemporary readers to pick better material? Or more than that?

Next week, read Chapters 9-14.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In the Attic With Ben H. Winters

I conducted this interview to coincide with the publication of Winters' book Android Karenina — and then it never ran where it was supposed to. Much belatedly, here we are:

How did you make the jump from Austen to Tolstoy?

Quirk Books and I knew by the time we were done with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters that it was time to expand the franchise beyond Austen. Austen was great as the first “victim” of this idea, since her style is so prim and proper. We hit on Tolstoy next since he wrote great books, very important and serious literature, but he’s not like Dickens -- Tolstoy isn’t in any way silly on his own. You can give him many positive adjectives but “laugh out loud” is not one of them. His work calls out for this type of parody, whereas with other authors, trying to add levity gets in the way of the silliness already there.

Had you read Anna Karenina before sitting down to write the mash-up? What were your feelings on it?

I had read Anna Karenina several times and loved it. Before taking on the parody I needed to refresh myself with the plots and characters but I did know it and love it before.

How did you decide what to change in the world to incorporate robots?

It was tricky because the original is so long. It was pretty clear from the outset that the final version could not be as long as the original version — Anna Karenina is 800 or 900 pages. So the first step was abridgment, which was not as hard as it might have been — Tolstoy writes a lot into his books beyond the main plot. In his life when he became interested in agriculture or science or philosophy, suddenly a character would discuss it. I winnowed out what wasn’t central to the love story or the action story, and I had a shorter book.

Where did you go from there?

It was time to start reinventing, making big decisions and seeing how they play out in small ways. The first big decision was deciding where the technology was going to come from, so I created a miracle metal, discovered in the Russian soil around the time of Ivan the Terrible, and the metal enables the technology in the book. Once I figured this out, it allowed me to start reshaping characters. Levin is one of the Tolstoy protagonists, and in the original, he’s a landowner who owns huge estates, but in my version, he’s a miner who owns a huge mine that mined by robots.

Since Anna Karenina is written in Russian, you couldn’t use the original. What translation did you use?

The one by Constance Garnett. Anna Karenina is in the public domain, but the translation is not necessarily in the public domain. I couldn’t use the one from six or seven years ago by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that was part of Oprah’s book club, but the Garnett is a staple translation. Because this is a mash-up, I also had more freedom to play around with the text — if I found a sentence that wasn’t fluidly translated, I could recast the original sentence even if not adding to it.

What were some of the differences between working with Austen and Tolstoy?

Austen is a much more contained writer, while Tolstoy… writes on a huge scope. His books are epic, vast things that cover years and years and dozens of characters. Austen uses a more limited range of characters and situations. The vastness of Tolstoy’s world meshed nicely with the grand vision of science fiction. Classic science fiction works take place on a grand scale, and they feel really Tolstoyan in breadth and depth.

In what way do you think the addition of robots and such adds to thinking about Tolstoy’s novel?

One thing it does is give the feeling of more forward motion. Anna Karenina is a beautifully plotted story, but it gets baggy in parts… making it a challenge to stay with the story. By adding some very plot heavy stuff, I made it, an action adventure with lots of plot, foreshadowing and tensions — the things contemporary readers look to to stay hooked in. This version has wizard aliens, and talking robots, and lasers — all the stuff Tolstoy forgot to put in.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Catching Up With An Old Friend: Lorcan Roche on Crime and Punishment

Catching Up With An Old Friend is a series in which readers, authors, and other bookish people share their favorite books. Read more about the project or see all the past entries. To participate, e-mail

Lorcan Roche, born in Dublin in 1963, is journalist, playwright, travel-writer, magazine editor and one-time male nurse. His novel, The Companion, was published by Europa Editions on Tuesday. His other works include award-winning plays for radio (Angel of Suburbia) and stage (Him and Her, Whatever Happened to Joe Magill, and The Old Fella). He lives in Dublin with his wife and daughter.

My father was a writer, historian, and one of those deadly earnest bibliophiles who handed his son a book for every stage of his development. He was also Books Editor for a national newspaper, and though our house was lined with books, and though I had already reviewed some "teenage" fiction for him and begun writing poetry and short stories, it was in New York City that my abiding love of certain books and writers was developed. This had much to do with being properly alone for the first time, being an exile, and being exposed to cultures more exotic and possibilities more frightening than any I had thus far experienced. It also had to do with being seriously ill — I contracted amoebic dysentery on a trip to Peru, and being young and stupid, failed to do anything about it for too long. As a result, I spent about five months lying on my bed, retching. And reading.

This list is made up of the books recommended to me by my father and books I discovered when I was in New York. All these "patient-books" have stayed with me — they still sit on the shelves of my house in Dublin.

If you were to torture me and make me pick just one book, I would confess to being a life-long admirer of Crime and Punishment. I have always been passionately interested in moral fables (blame my father for asking me to read too many mythologies, and my Greek and Latin teachers for setting my imagination alight) and felt, ever since I put pen to paper, that the art of the fable was in decline, that the exigencies of cinema and TV had diluted, if not desecrated, the form. Ambiguity, particularly the kind of ambiguity one finds in Crime and Punishment was made to seem very old-fashioned, very Russian, very arch.

Ambiguity fascinates me. I find people who live in black and white, us and them, right and wrong worlds to be terrifying. I have never been sure of anything. My wife says it is like living with Laurence Olivier — she never knows who is coming down the stairs in the morning. This is a writer's curse. I can empathize with the coward, the cur, the cheat, and especially the murderer. I found Raskolnikov fascinating, compelling, intelligent and very persuasive. I read the book every Christmas, and fantasize as I read it about doing in my mother-in-law with a hatchet — just kidding. I read it and I am transported inside the mind of a man who decides to step outside convention, and then bumps into fate, destiny, or maybe just some really shitty brand of luck.

I am also attracted to madmen. I like books that blur boundaries. I like protagonists who transgress, take risks, and stick two fingers up to authority. Raskolnikov's claim to be “extraordinary” was like an invitation to me. I was fascinated by the way the author turned the interior journey into a moral maze, how he managed to create tension and drama from mere thought. I admired, greatly, the balance he set up inside the head of his character, of how he knocked that balance out of kilter, then re-established it only to do the same over and over again, thereby creating a rolling movement, an irresistible internal rhythm.

I am also obsessed with that beat, that meter. For me, it is impossible to read a book by a writer who does not have this gift for stepping inside the head of a character and showing us not just how he thinks, but at what speed, and with what doubts, misgivings, etc.

When I finished Crime and Punishment, I determined that I too would write a moral fable. It took a long time — it turns out ambiguity is hard to achieve on the page. It turns out that it takes years to get to know a character, fully. Fyodor rocks. He is a god of detail and devil. He is a man who knows the blackness in all our hearts. He is honest, cruel, and crafty. He is sly. He is, for a writer, heroic.

My Father's List:

The Collected Poems of Martin O'Direain (a Gaelic language poet)
Shane by Jack Schaefer
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Tales of Cu Chulainn (from The Ulster Cycle)
Beowulf translated by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Richard Roche (my father)
Langrishe, Go Down by Aidan Higgins
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The Tin Drum by Günther Grass

The Books I Discovered for Myself:

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O' Connor
The Dangling Man by Saul Bellow
Factotum by Charles Bukowski
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
The Art of Living by John Gardner
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Emma, Chapters 41-55

We bid farewell to the Highbury world and head to Northanger Abbey today. Here’s a summary of the last chapters of Emma, along with some comments, and the reading schedule for Northanger Abbey.

Mr. Knightley figures out that there’s something brewing between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill — Frank announces something that he says is common knowledge, but was really only discussed at the Bates household — but when he brings it up to Emma, she tells him it can’t possibly be true.

The gang decides to plan a picnic to Box Hill, which gets pushed back thanks to a sick horse. Mr. Knightley invites them all to his house for a gathering, which comes together, and, the horse having healed, Box Hill is planned for the next day. At Mr. Knightley’s, Jane tries to tell Mrs. Elton that she doesn’t want the governess job Mrs. Elton wants her to take, and Jane leaves the party early. Shortly after she leaves, Frank arrives and seems upset.

The Box Hill picnic isn’t much fun either — everyone breaks into groups (the Eltons; Knightley, Miss Bates, and Jane; and Emma, Harriet and Frank). Frank flirts shamelessly with Emma, and Emma makes a rude comment to Miss Bates. Knightley later chastises her for it.

After the picnic, Emma visits Miss Bates to apologize and Jane decides to take the governess job. She’ll have to leave in two weeks, but the job will pay well. When she returns home, Emma runs into Harriet and Knightley, who’s happy that she went to see Miss Bates. Word arrives that Mrs. Churchill died, which Emma thinks might bode well for setting Harriet up with Frank. Jane seems to be ignoring Emma, who has been trying to do good deeds for her.

Things finally get set in motion with the death of Mrs. Churchill. Mrs. Weston calls Emma to come visit her, so that she can tell her that Frank and Jane have been secretly engaged. Everyone was worried that Emma had feelings for Frank, which Emma tells them she does not. Frank’s uncle agreed to the engagement, but asked that it stay secret for a while longer. Emma is only worried about how Harriet will take the news, but Mr. Weston has already relayed the news himself. Harriet tells her that she never liked Frank, but actually has feelings for Mr. Knightley and thinks that he reciprocates them. Emma is appalled, as she has just realized that she is in love with Knightley.

Looking back, she realizes that she has always loved him, but decides that she can’t marry him while her father is alive, since he won’t be able to live on his own. Emma heads out for a walk and runs into Knightley, who has something to tell her. He starts to say something, but Emma worries that it is about his feelings for Harriet, so she stops him. He goes ahead with it anyway, and declares his love.

Emma decides that Harriet should visit Isabella in London for a time. Meanwhile, Mrs. Weston shows Emma a letter from Frank, in which he apologizes but says that he never thought Emma was attached to him and that she thought their flirtation was all in good fun. Jane had broken off their engagement after Frank flirted with Emma at Box Hill, and after his aunt died and he heard about how Jane was going to be a governess, he secured his uncle’s permission for marriage and won Jane back.

Emma and Knightley decides that he should move into Hartfield after they marry, but Emma has decided to wait to tell her father until after Mrs. Weston has her baby. When she does tell him, he’s surprised but comes around.

There’s one more engagement to come — Harriet and Robert Martin. Knightley arranged it, but sending Martin to London to see his brother and to spend time with the family. Emma is relieved. They marry first, followed by Emma and Knightley, and Frank and Jane a few months from the novel’s end.

Emma is the fourth Austen novel with absent/lapsed parents, and Emma grew up with guidance from Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley — making it somewhat odd that she marries him in the end. Knightley isn’t a friend who Emma suddenly realized she was in love with, but rather someone who held authority over her, and interceded when Mrs. Weston and Mr. Woodhouse spoiled her too much. It makes sense that Emma can’t call him by his Christian name, but insists on continuing to call him “Mr. Knightley.” What’s Austen doing with this — does a spirited, innocently meddlesome girl need to be paired with a father figure to balance their relationship? I do like Knightley, but still it seems kind of strange.

Emma is — like all of Austen’s works — about social status, and how marriage can elevate someone’s rank. The failed marriage from the beginning of the novel (Mr. Weston and Miss Churchill), fails because Mr. Weston is of a lower rank. He fares better with the working class Miss Taylor. The same is true with Harriet and Mr. Elton — she’s ranked much lower than him — but things work out for her with Robert Martin. Frank Churchill can’t tell his family about his engagement to Jane, since she’s both an orphan and headed for a working life, but once his aunt has died, he’s more willing to take a social risk when his family doesn’t have to hear about it. Since Sense and Sensibility, this is the most overt discussion of social rank through marriage. In that novel, Elinor and Marianne each married up socially, but here, social ranks seem more evenly matched in each pairing. Is Austen offering other ideas about what makes a good marriage? Or just acknowledging that there are all types of marriages in the world?

I didn’t even get into the wordplay aspects of Emma, but did anyone find that especially fun?

Here’s the posting schedule for Northanger Abbey, which you can look for on Thursdays this month. It’s a much shorter book this time — perfect for summer reading!

Thursday, July 8 - Chapters 1-8
Thursday, July 15 - Chapters 9-14
Thursday, July 22 - Chapters 15-20
Thursday, July 29 - Chapters 21-27
Saturday, July 31 - Chapters 28-31