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Emma Chapters 54 & 55
Emma Volume III, Chapters XVIII & XIX
December 27, 2016
12:19 PM
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We have reached the end of Emma. She has found love, but Austen is still tying up all the loose ends created by all the meddling. First and foremost is what to do with Harriet. Mr. Martin and Mr. Knightley solve that problem, but they’re not sure Emma will approve.

Time passed on. A few more to-morrows, and the party from London would be arriving. It was an alarming change; and Emma was thinking of it one morning, as what must bring a great deal to agitate and grieve her, when Mr. Knightley came in, and distressing thoughts were put by. After the first chat of pleasure he was silent; and then, in a graver tone, began with,

“I have something to tell you, Emma; some news.”

“Good or bad?” said she, quickly, looking up in his face.

“I do not know which it ought to be called.”

“Oh! good I am sure.–I see it in your countenance. You are trying not to smile.”

“I am afraid,” said he, composing his features, “I am very much afraid, my dear Emma, that you will not smile when you hear it.”

“Indeed! but why so?–I can hardly imagine that any thing which pleases or amuses you, should not please and amuse me too.”

“There is one subject,” he replied, “I hope but one, on which we do not think alike.” He paused a moment, again smiling, with his eyes fixed on her face. “Does nothing occur to you?–Do not you recollect?–Harriet Smith.”

Her cheeks flushed at the name, and she felt afraid of something, though she knew not what.

“Have you heard from her yourself this morning?” cried he. “You have, I believe, and know the whole.”

“No, I have not; I know nothing; pray tell me.”

“You are prepared for the worst, I see–and very bad it is. Harriet Smith marries Robert Martin.”

Emma gave a start, which did not seem like being prepared–and her eyes, in eager gaze, said, “No, this is impossible!” but her lips were closed.

“It is so, indeed,” continued Mr. Knightley; “I have it from Robert Martin himself. He left me not half an hour ago.”

She was still looking at him with the most speaking amazement.

“You like it, my Emma, as little as I feared.–I wish our opinions were the same. But in time they will. Time, you may be sure, will make one or the other of us think differently; and, in the meanwhile, we need not talk much on the subject.”

“You mistake me, you quite mistake me,” she replied, exerting herself. “It is not that such a circumstance would now make me unhappy, but I cannot believe it. It seems an impossibility!–You cannot mean to say, that Harriet Smith has accepted Robert Martin. You cannot mean that he has even proposed to her again–yet. You only mean, that he intends it.”

“I mean that he has done it,” answered Mr. Knightley, with smiling but determined decision, “and been accepted.”

“Good God!” she cried.–“Well!”–Then having recourse to her workbasket, in excuse for leaning down her face, and concealing all the exquisite feelings of delight and entertainment which she knew she must be expressing, she added, “Well, now tell me every thing; make this intelligible to me. How, where, when?–Let me know it all. I never was more surprized–but it does not make me unhappy, I assure you.–How–how has it been possible?”

Proving herself a changed woman, Emma is pleased with this news. After all of Harriet’s various crushes, she didn’t expect her to come back to loving Robert Martin, but now it seems the best resolution possible.

Some things about Emma haven’t changed, however, as we see when Emma learns about Harriet’s true parentage. She is still a typical high class snob in some ways.

The event, however, was most joyful; and every day was giving her fresh reason for thinking so.–Harriet’s parentage became known. She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment.–Such was the blood of gentility which Emma had formerly been so ready to vouch for!–It was likely to be as untainted, perhaps, as the blood of many a gentleman: but what a connexion had she been preparing for Mr. Knightley–or for the Churchills–or even for Mr. Elton!–The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.

But just to prove that Emma isn’t the worst high class snob, Austen throws in this criticism of Emma’s wedding from Mrs. Elton:

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.–“Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!–Selina would stare when she heard of it.”–But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

Now for our discussion questions:

1) I admire Emma more for having a simple wedding. What do you think? Does it make you like her more?

2) I think Emma best fits in the Young Adult category because our heroine is quite immature and makes a lot of mistakes that would be made by a typical high schooler. In which genre would you place this book?

3) Do you think Emma is a feminist novel? Or is it quite the opposite? (Feminist literature is fiction or nonfiction which supports the feminist goals of defining, establishing and defending equal civil, political, economic and social rights for women.)

December 28, 2016
12:28 PM
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I like that her wedding is simple, and I wonder if this is because Emma likes that style or if it is because having something more elaborate would have set Mr. Woodhouse off on trail of despair. Emma has a good heart.  She truly does care for her father and her friends — even though sometimes it seems (and maybe it is) that she does so for her own good. I could see her putting her wishes aside to do what is best for her father.  (Also, I tend to think Mrs. Elton’s idea of fashion and what is the thing is probably over the top and too showy — she is rather a social climber and always elevating herself)

I had to keep reminding myself as I read that the heroine of this novel was not in high school but was an adult. She is very immature, in my opinion.  I realize this is likely due to her upbringing and overly protective father but still, she is immature.  I could see this being in the YA category as to me it really seems like a coming of age — self-discovery sort of story.

I don’t think that this is a feminist novel. It illustrates the fact that most women needed to marry. Harriet needed a husband. Emma did not. Why? Money — class. I would say the book is more about class divides and moving between them.  Harriet is a good example of this.  When Harriet’s father is supposed by Emma to be a gentleman, Harriet is too good for Mr. Martin. When the truth is revealed, Harriet is no longer good enough for any of the matches Emma was trying to arrange.  (And this is a woman, Emma, speaking of another woman, Harriet, as not equal.) 

I do find that comment about illegitimacy unbleached by nobility or wealth to be interesting. I don’t remember for certain, but at least in one of the audio drama productions of Mansfield Park, there is a comment that is similar. I should look it up to see if it was an addition to the dramatization or if it really is in the manuscript. 

Thank you, Rebecca and Alexa, for putting up with my spouting off about know-it-all Knightley and such through this journey. 🙂  Emma is still not a favourite, but I do not hate it. I even (gasp) like Emma (in small doses 😉 ) and Knightley, well, I still think he is a know it all bossy pants, but he is quite perfect for Emma and a very nice gentleman.  

December 28, 2016
4:46 PM
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We’ve reached the end! Way to conquer one of Austen’s most complicated novels, ladies! It has been a blast.

1) I also admire the simplicity of Emma’s wedding. It was not a time when elaborate weddings were particularly common, which is why Mrs. Elton’s criticisms focus on Emma’s attire, where more money might customarily be spent. Interestingly, Austen’s mother, who came from a well-to-do family, had an extremely practical wedding suit which was reworn and remade repeatedly over the years. I’ve always wondered if Mr. Knightley hadn’t purchased a carriage for Emma, as Mr. Elton did for Mrs. Elton. A carriage would be a customary wedding expenditure for those who could afford it, and we know he doesn’t have one. They have to get to the beach somehow.

I imagine Mrs. Elton’s family did much to show off their personal wealth at her wedding. Her admittedly over-trimmed gowns suggest it. They would have the social insecurity of the nouveau riche that would require such display, while Emma and Knightley are both thoroughly secure in their social standing. I think it very interesting the novel ends with Mrs. Elton expressing such sentiments, as the entire story has been so socially consciousness: tracking both the upward mobility of several tradespeople, the decline of gentry for the Bates, but in the end upholding the old social order. Everyone marries appropriately to their sphere. The horrors of illegitimacy mixing with landed wealth are illustrated and thwarted. In this way, the book is deeply conservative, which leads me to jump to question 3.

3) It’s hard to apply a feminist agenda to Austen, as feminism was in its nascent form at the time. We can guess she probably read Mary Wollstencraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, as it was in her father’s library, but feminism as we understand it did not exist at the time. We can, however, certainly do a feminist analysis of Emma. I think the novel comes up short in that sense. In the end, this novel really upholds traditional, patriarchal values, just as it reaffirms the reigning social order. I point primarily to Emma’s idea of never marrying being rounding dismissed by Mr. Knightley early in the book as ridiculous, just one of the may area in which he proved correct, and to the absolute deference Emma gives to her father. Yes, she loves him and he requires care. That’s very admirable. But a modern woman, even one acting as a primary care giver, would never be expected to put her life entirely on hold to satisfy the whims of a neurotic parent, yet this is the main characteristic which Austen gives us to admire in this heroine. She gives us an extraordinarily intelligent and capable heroine, who nevertheless makes a muddle of pretty much everything except when she submits to Mr. Knightley’s firm guidance.

2) I’ve got to disagree on this one. I first read Emma as a young adult and did not get nearly as much out of the novel as I did on subsequent reads as an adult. This novel is far too complex and nuanced to be oriented to a teenage audience, which is why high school teachers usually go for P&P or S&S. Is Emma immature? Yes, and I could see it as a coming of age novel, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the same as young adult. Forgive me if I am way off here, but I am wondering how much Clueless might have influenced the idea of Emma as a young adult novel. Just a thought.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this read along! We have no plans in place for another, but we will be sure to announce it with fanfare if/when we do. Happy New Year!   

December 28, 2016
11:22 PM
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Alexa —  I see the relationship between Clueless and Emma and being YA the other way around. I see it being made into a high school story because the themes of the book are applicable to that age group. There are class divides in high school and social mobility is not easy. I know the category YA is a large range of ages (maturity-wise, a 12 year old is so very different from an 18 year old), so when I think of this book being used as a novel study (which by the by, I do have a novel study based on this book for teenagers 🙂 along with some other JA teacher things 🙂 ) I would say that used in a grade 11 or 12 class this book would be perfect. (Especially if British history happens to fall during one of those years 🙂  )  I don’t see it as any harder than any of Jane’s other novels. The old style of writing and the length of the book are going to be challenging no matter what book is chosen, but the content is not any more complex to me.  I also think about what books they do read at these ages and think well, if they can handle Hamlet and Othello or The Glass Menagerie or The Scarlet Letter or The Lord of the Rings or some other classic, they can probably handle Emma. Perhaps we would be better to class this as a new adult book? I could see it working in that grouping as well.