Read Along Wednesday: Emma Chapter 19

Read Along Wednesday: Emma Chapter 19

Tamsin Greig, 2009
“‘Do let me hear what she says.'” Miss Bates quoting Mrs. Cole, by way of dropping Emma hint. Image of Tamsin Greig, 2009.

Welcome to volume two! In volume one we remained within the elite confines of Emma’s preferred society. Now we begin to meet Highbury at large, and there is no better place to begin such an acquaintance than with Miss Bates. We have already heard her voice in chapter two. Austen need not tell us this is Miss Bates speaking; if you have read the book before, she is unmistakable:

"That is what she writes about." Image of Prunella Scales as Miss Bates in 1996.
“That is what she writes about.” Image of Prunella Scales as Miss Bates in 1996.

For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. “I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill has written to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life.”

"I declare I do not know which it was, but we shall see presently in Jane's letter ..." Image of Sophie Thompson, 1996.
“I declare I do not know which it was, but we shall see presently in Jane’s letter …” Image of Sophie Thompson, 1996.

In the following chapter we are given a description of her character and are told she is “a great talker upon little matters,” but it not for sixteen more chapters that we actually meet her, and she is an extremely important character in this book. Readers are tempted to pass over her long, rambling speeches, just as Emma listens to them so impatiently and with only half an ear. Yes, Miss Bates is repetitive. Yes, she includes a thousand seemingly irrelevant details, but read every one, for it is Miss Bates who provides the bulk of the clues necessary to “solve” the novel’s mysteries. You just have to find them beneath all the minutia.

"Well, now I have just given you a hint of what Jane writes about, we will turn to her letter ..." Constance Chapman (Miss Bates) almost physically detaining Doran Goodwin (Emma) in 1972.
“Well, now I have just given you a hint of what Jane writes about, we will turn to her letter …” Constance Chapman (Miss Bates) almost physically detaining Doran Goodwin (Emma) in 1972.

Austen once again demonstrates the brilliance of her narrative voice in this chapter. We hear Miss Bates through the screen of Emma’s impatience to escape her. We can almost feel the claustrophobia of the Bateses’ upstairs apartment, and our frustration with the yapping younger is as real as Emma’s. It is truly a masterful chapter.

"She regained the street--happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax's letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself." Romola Garai as Emma, 2007.
“She regained the street–happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself.” Romola Garai as Emma, 2007.

Join us at The Writer’s Block for discussion of the chapter. Your comments are most welcome! http://austenauthors.net/writers-block/emma-read-along/emma-chapter-19/#p275

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