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Emma Chapters 39-41
Emma Volume III, Chapters III-V
November 8, 2016
9:36 PM
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Such an adventure as this,–a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?–How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!–especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made.

The three chapters for this week focus back in on Emma’s penchant for seeing matches where there are none, while still remaining blind to those very real matches forming before her nose. So let’s examine Emma’s fancies, and a bit of Mr. Knightley’s, too. All of chapters 39 and 40 are seemingly about Harriet – her encounter with the gypsy camp, and her solemn torching of the Elton memorabilia – but I believe they are both really preparing us for this moment:

“Harriet, I will not affect to be in doubt of your meaning. Your resolution, or rather your expectation of never marrying, results from an idea that the person whom you might prefer, would be too greatly your superior in situation to think of you. Is not it so?”

“Oh! Miss Woodhouse, believe me I have not the presumption to suppose–Indeed I am not so mad.–But it is a pleasure to me to admire him at a distance–and to think of his infinite superiority to all the rest of the world, with the gratitude, wonder, and veneration, which are so proper, in me especially.”

“I am not at all surprized at you, Harriet. The service he rendered you was enough to warm your heart.”

“Service! oh! it was such an inexpressible obligation!–The very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time–when I saw him coming–his noble look–and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness!”

“It is very natural. It is natural, and it is honourable.–Yes, honourable, I think, to chuse so well and so gratefully.–But that it will be a fortunate preference is more that I can promise. I do not advise you to give way to it, Harriet. I do not by any means engage for its being returned. Consider what you are about. Perhaps it will be wisest in you to check your feelings while you can: at any rate do not let them carry you far, unless you are persuaded of his liking you. Be observant of him. Let his behaviour be the guide of your sensations. I give you this caution now, because I shall never speak to you again on the subject. I am determined against all interference. Henceforward I know nothing of the matter. Let no name ever pass our lips. We were very wrong before; we will be cautious now.–He is your superior, no doubt, and there do seem objections and obstacles of a very serious nature; but yet, Harriet, more wonderful things have taken place, there have been matches of greater disparity. But take care of yourself. I would not have you too sanguine; though, however it may end, be assured your raising your thoughts to him, is a mark of good taste which I shall always know how to value.”

Harriet kissed her hand in silent and submissive gratitude. Emma was very decided in thinking such an attachment no bad thing for her friend. Its tendency would be to raise and refine her mind–and it must be saving her from the danger of degradation.

It is hard to watch Emma try so hard not to interfere and yet still thoroughly do so. She makes a string of mistakes here. What do you consider the most glaring? Which will haunt her most?
 
In Chapter 41 we turn away from Emma’s muddled thinking and get insight into Mr. Knightley’s clearer head.
 
Mr. Knightley, who, for some reason best known to himself, had certainly taken an early dislike to Frank Churchill, was only growing to dislike him more. He began to suspect him of some double dealing in his pursuit of Emma. That Emma was his object appeared indisputable. Every thing declared it; his own attentions, his father’s hints, his mother-in-law’s guarded silence; it was all in unison; words, conduct, discretion, and indiscretion, told the same story. But while so many were devoting him to Emma, and Emma herself making him over to Harriet, Mr. Knightley began to suspect him of some inclination to trifle with Jane Fairfax. He could not understand it; but there were symptoms of intelligence between them–he thought so at least–symptoms of admiration on his side, which, having once observed, he could not persuade himself to think entirely void of meaning, however he might wish to escape any of Emma’s errors of imagination. She was not present when the suspicion first arose. He was dining with the Randalls family, and Jane, at the Eltons’; and he had seen a look, more than a single look, at Miss Fairfax, which, from the admirer of Miss Woodhouse, seemed somewhat out of place.
 
The chapter goes on to detail the most damaging evidence against Frank and Jane – the “blunder” over Mr. Perry’s potential carriage and their subsequent behavior. Besides that which Mr. Knightley lays out for us, what other evidence do you see in these chapters that something is going on between Frank and Jane?
 
There is so much sub-text to analyze here. I want to point your attention to just one last facet of it. Chapter 39 begins with Emma’s happy reflections on her interactions with Mr. Knightley at the Weston’s ball, yet Mr. Knightley’s feelings about Emma are far more conflicted by the time chapter 41 ends:
 

She spoke with a confidence which staggered, with a satisfaction which silenced, Mr. Knightley. She was in gay spirits, and would have prolonged the conversation, wanting to hear the particulars of his suspicions, every look described, and all the wheres and hows of a circumstance which highly entertained her: but his gaiety did not meet hers. He found he could not be useful, and his feelings were too much irritated for talking. That he might not be irritated into an absolute fever, by the fire which Mr. Woodhouse’s tender habits required almost every evening throughout the year, he soon afterwards took a hasty leave, and walked home to the coolness and solitude of Donwell Abbey.

What has so irritated Mr. Knightley? And why is Emma so very cheerful? Are both characters blind to their feelings, or does Mr. Knightley have clearer insight into his own, just as he does with Frank and Jane?

 
November 9, 2016
9:12 AM
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Leenie
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BLUNDER — the one word that sums up most of Emma 🙂 I love that this is dropped here, and we can, if paying attention, begin to view the story through that word.  

I tend to think Knightley is still blind to his own feelings or at least in great denial of them — although he does seem close to catching on just as he has finally realized or begun to suspect the attachment between Jane and Frank. 

November 9, 2016
2:38 PM
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I think Knightley is used to having Emma all to himself. He’s been comfortable with the way things have been–sitting by the fire and enjoying her company but still living on his own, maintaining his bachelor independence. I think he just wants things to keep on going the way they’ve been. Maybe the fact that Emma is so much younger also contributed to his not knowing his own feelings. Now, with the advent of Frank, Knightley finally has to face the fact that things aren’t always going to stay the same, but then, slowly, he goes from worrying about Frank stealing Emma away to worrying about Frank hurting Emma.

Emma should catch onto Frank’s deception by now. Especially since Knightley tells her about it. When she doesn’t listen to Knightley, it’s just further evidence to him  that Frank is stealing her away.

It’s also  hilarious that Emma thinks she can avoid mettling by telling Harriet not to name names. Then she gives advice based on her ignorant assumptions. In trying to correct her self, she’s gone from bad to worse.

I find the episode with gypsies to be fascinating. I spent a year in Portugal, where I encountered the Roma people (or gypsies) quite frequently. Things haven’t changed much over the years there. The Roma still travel nomadically and keep themselves separated from the regular people. The Portuguese tended to be suspicious of them but not very fearful. Here, on the other hand,  Emma and Harriet are terrified of them. I’d be interested to know if Jane Austen had any real life experiences with gypsies or if she’d simply heard tales. In essence, what I’m wondering is whether she’s stereotyping the gypsies here. If so, it might be the only layer of the lower class that she describes in such an unsympathetic way.