I rewatch my favorite scenes in movies without watching the whole movie. There are three scenes I’ve rewatched many times, and they don’t come from Jane Austen movies.
I suspect that if someone mentioned the movie Dirty Dancing (1987) there would be people who have seen only a single scene from it. It’s the finale, the dance between the two leads. In Seven Brides for Seven Brothers the barn raising dance is another scene that I love. The Princess Bride has many wonderful scenes, but the I-am-not-left-handed duel is particularly fun.
These are action scenes, and particularly suited to movies. There are people who think of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice wet shirt scene was in the book. Powerful scenes and images make us remember movies. But what about great scenes or sections from books?
I reread extensively, not only whole books, but scenes from books. I’ve reread my favorite scenes or sections from books many more times than I’ve read the entire books. Sometimes the scenes are short, sometimes they are long. In Emma, I like a very short scene, which I’ll include in its entirety.
Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ballroom again, her eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked. He was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Elton’s conduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness; and Mrs. Elton’s looks also received the due share of censure.
“They aimed at wounding more than Harriet,” said he. “Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?”
He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, “She ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be.—To that surmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Harriet.”
“I did,” replied Emma, “and they cannot forgive me.”
He shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he only said,
“I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections.”
“Can you trust me with such flatterers?—Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?”
“Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.—If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it.”
“I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!”
“And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself.—Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl—infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected.”
Emma was extremely gratified.—They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr. Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.
“Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing?—Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!”
“I am ready,” said Emma, “whenever I am wanted.”
“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”
“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.
“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”
“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”
I like it partly because Emma admits she was wrong and Mr. Knightly was right. I also like it because we are given a hint that Mr. Knightly is interested in Emma.
In Persuasion, there are two very different sections that vie for first place. The first runner up is the first chapter. The description of Sir Walter is wonderful. But I must go for my first choice, that is the chapter where Anne says, “…All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” I believe it is the most romantic scene in all of Jane Austen’s works.
Just in case you think I am a sucker for romance, Darcy’s disastrous proposal is a runner up in Pride & Prejudice. However, I prefer the whole section where Elizabeth stays at Netherfield Park. The sparing between Elizabeth and Darcy is wonderful, and I love how Miss Bingley repeatedly reveals her character.
Northanger Abby has a wonderful beginning, and I have to go with that for my favorite section, although it is hard not to like Henry Tilney’s interaction with Catherine or Isobel Thorpe and her brother revealing their characters to the reader without Catherine understanding it. I’ll still go with the first chapter, although I realize others may have other favorite parts.
Mansfield Park has the longest section that is my favorite. The whole section about Lover’s Vows is wonderful. About a dozen characters are drawn so well and interact in such an interesting way, it is a pleasure to read. From the time Mr. Yates arrives to the time Sir Thomas returns is beautifully written. It is over 17,000 words, which is clearly more than just a scene, but it is well worth rereading.
Sense and Sensibility has several good choices. I love how Mrs. Dashwood persuades her husband to break his promise to his dying father. The scene where Willoughby explains himself to Elinor, is also a great scene, especially since he reveals his underlying selfishness. But I think I must go with the scene in London, where Marianne shows Willoughby’s letter to Elinor, while Elinor conceals the reasons for her own sadness.
I don’t expect others to agree with me, but in this case disagreement can be interesting. What are your favorite scenes from Jane Austen’s books?