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. 🙂