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Emma Chapter 9 & 10
Emma Volume I, Chapters IX and X Questions and Discussion
August 2, 2016
1:42 PM
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From Chapter 9:

In Emma’s efforts to improve Harriet’s mind, she finds that:

the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with ciphers and trophies.

In this age of literature, such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Nash, head-teacher at Mrs. Goddard’s, had written out at least three hundred; and Harriet, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped, with Miss Woodhouse’s help, to get a great many more. Emma assisted with her invention, memory and taste; and as Harriet wrote a very pretty hand, it was likely to be an arrangement of the first order, in form as well as quantity.

Can you hear the sarcasm in “this age of literature?” Lol.

Emma uses the riddle book to her advantage, deciding that they would ask Mr. Elton for a riddle to put in Harriet’s book. He kindly obliges, writing a charade, which he claims comes from a friend.

To Miss—

CHARADE.
My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply,
May its approval beam in that soft eye!
She cast her eye over it, pondered, caught the meaning, read it through again to be quite certain, and quite mistress of the lines, and then passing it to Harriet, sat happily smiling, and saying to herself, while Harriet was puzzling over the paper in all the confusion of hope and dulness, “Very well, Mr. Elton, very well indeed. I have read worse charades. Courtship—a very good hint. I give you credit for it. This is feeling your way. This is saying very plainly—’Pray, Miss Smith, give me leave to pay my addresses to you. Approve my charade and my intentions in the same glance.’

May its approval beam in that soft eye!

Harriet exactly. Soft is the very word for her eye—of all epithets, the justest that could be given.

Thy ready wit the word will soon supply.

Humph—Harriet’s ready wit! All the better. A man must be very much in love, indeed, to describe her so. Ah! Mr. Knightley, I wish you had the benefit of this; I think this would convince you. For once in your life you would be obliged to own yourself mistaken. An excellent charade indeed! and very much to the purpose. Things must come to a crisis soon now.”

She was obliged to break off from these very pleasant observations, which were otherwise of a sort to run into great length, by the eagerness of Harriet’s wondering questions.

“What can it be, Miss Woodhouse?—what can it be? I have not an idea—I cannot guess it in the least. What can it possibly be? Do try to find it out, Miss Woodhouse. Do help me. I never saw any thing so hard. Is it kingdom? I wonder who the friend was—and who could be the young lady. Do you think it is a good one? Can it be woman?

And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
Can it be Neptune?

Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
Or a trident? or a mermaid? or a shark? Oh, no! shark is only one syllable. It must be very clever, or he would not have brought it. Oh! Miss Woodhouse, do you think we shall ever find it out?”

“Mermaids and sharks! Nonsense! My dear Harriet, what are you thinking of? Where would be the use of his bringing us a charade made by a friend upon a mermaid or a shark? Give me the paper and listen.

For Miss —————, read Miss Smith.

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
> That is court.

Another view of man, my second brings;
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!
That is ship;—plain as it can be.—Now for the cream.

But ah! united, (courtship, you know,) what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown.
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.
A very proper compliment!—and then follows the application, which I think, my dear Harriet, you cannot find much difficulty in comprehending. Read it in comfort to yourself. There can be no doubt of its being written for you and to you.”

Harriet could not long resist so delightful a persuasion. She read the concluding lines, and was all flutter and happiness. She could not speak. But she was not wanted to speak. It was enough for her to feel. Emma spoke for her.

This leads me to my first question:

1. Why do you think Emma doesn’t realize that Mr. Elton likes her instead of Harriet? Does she feel her station is too far above Mr. Elton’s or is she simply too modest in assessing her own attractiveness? Perhaps, she is just too busy scheming to see things from anyone else’s perspective.

In Chapter Ten, Emma and Harriet embark on an errand of mercy to a poor sick family. On their way, they pass Mr. Elton’s house and Emma explains why she’s not interested in marrying:

“I do so wonder, Miss Woodhouse, that you should not be married, or going to be married! so charming as you are!”—

Emma laughed, and replied,

“My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming—one other person at least. And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all.”

“Ah!—so you say; but I cannot believe it.”

“I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted; Mr. Elton, you know, (recollecting herself,) is out of the question: and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it.”

“Dear me!—it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!”—

“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 never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”

“But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!”

“That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly—so satisfied— so smiling—so prosing—so undistinguishing and unfastidious— and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.”

“But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”

“Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. And the distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper.

Onto question number two:

2. In the last part of the above quote, where Emma distinguishes between an old maid and a respectable single woman, can you hear Jane Austen’s critique of her society? Is she poking fun of the notion that a wealthy single woman is more respectable than a poor one, or do you think she believed this is true?

Emma and Harriet go on to visit the poor family and continue to think of the family’s plight until they catch sight of Mr. Elton:

“These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear!—I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?”

“Very true,” said Harriet. “Poor creatures! one can think of nothing else.”

“And really, I do not think the impression will soon be over,” said Emma, as she crossed the low hedge, and tottering footstep which ended the narrow, slippery path through the cottage garden, and brought them into the lane again. “I do not think it will,” stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within.

“Oh! dear, no,” said her companion.

They walked on. The lane made a slight bend; and when that bend was passed, Mr. Elton was immediately in sight; and so near as to give Emma time only to say farther,

“Ah! Harriet, here comes a very sudden trial of our stability in good thoughts. Well, (smiling,) I hope it may be allowed that if compassion has produced exertion and relief to the sufferers, it has done all that is truly important. If we feel for the wretched, enough to do all we can for them, the rest is empty sympathy, only distressing to ourselves.”

I found the last part of this quote interesting. It makes sense that it doesn’t do much good to sympathize if you aren’t doing anything to relieve the sufferers. Here is my final question:

3. What do you think Emma would think of our modern practices of watching the news and sharing events on social media, considering her ideas about “empty sympathy”? Does it do any good to sympathize without taking action?

Once they meet up with Mr. Elton, Emma contrives to skip out on Harriet and Mr. Elton. She takes another footpath and later breaks her shoelace, by which method she gets herself and Harriet invited into Mr. Elton’s home:

Mr. Elton looked all happiness at this proposition; and nothing could exceed his alertness and attention in conducting them into his house and endeavouring to make every thing appear to advantage. The room they were taken into was the one he chiefly occupied, and looking forwards; behind it was another with which it immediately communicated; the door between them was open, and Emma passed into it with the housekeeper to receive her assistance in the most comfortable manner. She was obliged to leave the door ajar as she found it; but she fully intended that Mr. Elton should close it. It was not closed, however, it still remained ajar; but by engaging the housekeeper in incessant conversation, she hoped to make it practicable for him to chuse his own subject in the adjoining room. For ten minutes she could hear nothing but herself. It could be protracted no longer. She was then obliged to be finished, and make her appearance.

The lovers were standing together at one of the windows. It had a most favourable aspect; and, for half a minute, Emma felt the glory of having schemed successfully. But it would not do; he had not come to the point. He had been most agreeable, most delightful; he had told Harriet that he had seen them go by, and had purposely followed them; other little gallantries and allusions had been dropt, but nothing serious.

“Cautious, very cautious,” thought Emma; “he advances inch by inch, and will hazard nothing till he believes himself secure.”

Still, however, though every thing had not been accomplished by her ingenious device, she could not but flatter herself that it had been the occasion of much present enjoyment to both, and must be leading them forward to the great event.

 

Thus, Chapter X concludes. Please let us know what you think of these chapters and questions in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you.

August 3, 2016
4:52 AM
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Rebecca has set us up for a really fun discussion. I’m actually going to answer her question each in turn instead of rambling, for a change. 

1. I absolutely think Emma cannot even begin to conceive that Mr. Elton would be so presumptuous as to court her. As Mr. Knightley says of Elton: “He is as well acquainted with his own claims, as you can be with Harriet’s.” Well, Emma knows her own claims very well, too. 

2. I was struck more than on previous reads during this scene that Austen might be almost describing herself, also an impecunious old maid. Is she speaking of what she has noticed in herself (or perhaps her mother) when Emma observes that “a very narrow income has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper.” The notions put forth through Emma’s musings are certainly rational within the context of Regency society. In fact, like many of Austen’s observations about humanity, they might be considered universal truths.

3. I think Emma, in a very revealing moment, is showing in the quote how well she knows her own limitations – how easily triviality can seduce her senses. I think the empty sympathy argument she produces is one of her many, many rationalizations for indulging her frivolity when she knows very well there are more worthy subjects to occupy her mind. Not that that makes her wrong, but as far as she would apply those thoughts to our modern, news addicted society, I think she would prove just as flexible at rationalizing her own inclinations in whatever environment you thrust her into. 

My favorite parts of these chapters are how well we can see the workings of Emma’s brain. Austen has been credited for employing far more modern conceptions of consciousness than her peers, even portending the notions around which modern psychology would converge a few decades later, and we can really see how this plays out in this part of the book. Austen’s truly revolutionary use of the narrative voice is on full display, giving readers unusual perception into the workings of our heroine’s mind, even as we are simultaneously blinded, just as she is, to the events occurring immediately before us. As always, Austen leaves me in awe.

August 3, 2016
2:25 PM
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Very good points, Alexa. What I love about these chapters is that Emma seems so wise, but something breaks down in between the wisdom and its application. Somehow she manages to excuse her actions with words that sound noble and intelligent. Yet, in her behavior, she’s not much different from Harriet. I love how Austen is setting us up to see some major changes in Emma’s character. 

August 4, 2016
9:59 AM
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I really like how you expressed that, Rebecca. There is indeed a huge break down somewhere between the expressed wisdom and the application.

I often talk about how the one overriding theme throughout Austen is that a person should be judged based on their actions not their words. Emma is a huge challenge in this sense as she is the only one of Austen’s heroines to display this disconnect. That’s part of why Emma is so fascinating.