I was thinking lately of blunders – and my inability to put them into my story. It seems I don’t have the easy facility Austen did with playful, and not so playful, character misdirects. There’s a shocker – I’m not as facile or gifted a writer as Jane Austen. 🙂

So rather than wrestle with my own… I returned to relish some of hers.

Northanger Abbey is full of them. Catherine Moreland and Henry Tilney can’t have a conversation without comedic misdirection. Dancing compared to marriage?

And she is certainly at cross-purposes with John Thorpe and his sister Isabella throughout the story. Austen uses that on Isabella’s side to reveal manipulation – and it catches Catherine often. At one point, Catherine even stumbles into the understanding that a blunder has led to possible engagement with Isabella’s brother John. Even we are a little unsure of how far the blunder has gone…

If you want a blunder from Pride and Prejudice, head to Mr. Bennet’s library. Near the end of the story, he calls Lizzy in for a good laugh. It is reported by Mr. Collins that Mr. Darcy is in love with Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet is ready to laugh and tease about the absurdity of it all and Lizzy is ready to sob.

But it isn’t just for fun… Austen has a purpose behind these blunders. She used these misdirects to teach lessons, bring humor and heart to her stories. Readers knew where the characters were headed, but they did not. With each one in Northanger Abbey, Catherine is learning to think and articulate her thoughts. In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy is first striking upon a separation between herself and her father. She is growing up, has secrets, and new loyalties.

And last but not least – really, it’s the best – spend a moment on that final delicious blunder between Emma and Mr. Knightley. She is certain he wants to tell her of his love for Harriet Smith and she is heartbroken. He is certain she can never love him. Start. Stop. Start. Stop… It takes quite a few back and forths to work out this blunder and produce the happiest of endings.

…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.

So I’ll keep at it, as I believe blunders and misdirects are delightful and often subtle way to reveal personality, hopes, fears, character and plot. Who knew blunders could be so powerful?


Oh… Just a note. I am out of town visiting my publisher today. I will chime in here, but it may be later in the day. I look forward to chatting with you. 🙂



11 Responses to Blunders

  1. (Here I am just now reading some blogs sent nearly a year ago. Sorry but at least I didn’t delete them. I just get too many and don’t get to them if I am deep into the book I am reading that day.) This was interesting. I do remember reading of all these mentioned but just never put them under an entitled file as “blunders”. They were always another type of misunderstandings in my files but I agree that that is a synonym for blunders of a type. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. This post was so interesting. We also have Mr. Elton thinking Emma returned his regards. Emma thinking Mr. Elton was perfect for Miss Smith… then Frank Chruchill was for Miss Smith. However, Miss Smith had turned her eyes toward Mr. Knightley. Emma suddenly discovered she wanted Mr. Knightley but, there is that problem you mentioned above. Everyone was thinking Frank was for Emma. That whole story was a merry-go-round. I believe I now have a headache.

    • I know, right? Austen does this again and again. I am wondering if the merry-go-round would work today. If done well, I suspect it would as we often act on what we think/believe/feel rather than what is true. Thanks for chatting.

  3. Lovely post. 🙂 When I saw the title of your post I immediately thought of Emma and the scene where Frank places the word blunder before Jane and Harriet sees it and reads, causing Jane to blush because she understands the incident to which Frank is referring — I believe that it had to do with a carriage if I am remembering correctly. That story is so full of blunders…and Jane Austen even uses the word several times in that novel. 🙂 Have a lovely day!

  4. I’m terrible at blunders, as you call them. I like that word for it. I’m not good at understanding them in real life, so it’s not easy to put on the page. Renata is much better at it, though, so it all works out well. I hope it’s a great meeting with your publisher 🙂

  5. I’m not a writer so don’t have to worry about it ?. I think one of the biggest blunders was Mr Collins thinking that Elizabeth really wanted to marry him and was just being modest ??

  6. Appreciate your post, Katherine. I realized real quick that I didn’t have Jane Austen’s abilities either. I don’t think like her, consequently, I don’t write like her. 🙂 So, I started writing my way, and my writings have improved. Even writing JAFF, I think all of us need to find our own way and appreciate Austen’s writings as you have. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply to Katherine Reay Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.