Jane Fairfax – so much more intriguing than Emma Woodhouse

Jane Fairfax – so much more intriguing than Emma Woodhouse

‘Emma’ has always been my favourite Jane Austen novel. I studied it in detail at school and then again at University. Imagine if ‘Persuasion’ has been on the syllabus? My Highbury Trilogy would never have been written! In it I have explored the more minor characters who have always intrigued me; Mrs Bates, her two daughters and the enigmatic Miss Fairfax.

Jane Austen predicted that nobody but herself would much like Emma Woodhouse and in my case she predicted quite accurately. I don’t like her and even given her mortification at the end of the book, I can’t quite forgive her.

Many people seem to be taking objection to the new film adaptation of the book because of the way Emma is played; as pert, calculating and arrogant. But I think that accords with the way she is written!

In comparison, the Jane Fairfax in the film is a vapid creature but that, I believe, is far from the reality. Jane, truly accomplished, well-travelled and sophisticated, glitters far more brightly for me than Emma, who is the brightest star in a very small firmament.

Miss Austen necessarily veils Jane in a shroud of reserve and mystery.  Given Jane’s superior qualities, though, I struggled to understand her attraction, let alone her secret engagement to Frank Churchill. Not only could I not understand it, I couldn’t square it with the sensible girl Jane seems to be. What might have driven her to embark on such a dangerous course? What alternatives did she have? How might her upbringing with the Campbells have contributed to her reckless decision? These questions plagued me. I couldn’t believe her capable of the kind of silly, infatuated and materialistic manoeuvrings of Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility but what was her motivation? I had to know. I didn’t understand her but I did admire her. At least she knows her own mind, her own heart. For some reason I had to discover, she chooses Frank from, presumably, a wide selection of eligible young men to whom she has been exposed in London and Weymouth. That in itself is so much more interesting that the young lady of Hartfield who selects her husband from a catalogue of one.

Emma makes mistakes but they are errors of judgement, social gaffes, rather than moral failings. Jane’s sin – if we can call it that – is far more serious and so much more interesting. Her secret engagement contravenes every rule in the book of social behaviour; even a covert correspondence, if discovered, could have tainted her reputation for life. To be secretly meeting a man – as Jane must have met Frank on many occasions – endangered not only herself but her guardians and her friend Miss Campbell. Why would she take such a risk?

Emma suffers, but not much. She only has to endure the sweaty pawings of Mr Elton, the embarrassment of telling Harriet that she has got things wrong and the shame of realising that she has been far too indiscreet in her dealings with Frank Churchill. These things have passing – and deserved – discomfort but they are not devastating. Jane, on the other hand, suffers terribly. We know from her conversation with Mrs Weston that she has known’ no tranquil hour’ from the moment she agreed to the secret engagement. She is wretchedly unhappy, morally compromised, helplessly mired in deceit. The profound seriousness of Jane’s situation is far more moving and raised far more questions than the little ripples of Emma’s faux pas.

The Jane Fairfax we meet in Highbury is reserved – and no wonder! She has much she must conceal. But there is nothing like an enigma to get a writer’s creative juices flowing. I was desperate to see the madly flailing, emotionally broken, morally torn girl beneath that aloof exterior. I wanted to understand it, to identify the causes of it, and I suppose, in that regard, I am no better than Miss Woodhouse.

My book Dear Jane will be discounted this weekend, so that you can read for yourself the story Jane Austen hinted at, but never fully told.

Dear Jane for UK readers

Dear Jane for US readers


15 Responses to Jane Fairfax – so much more intriguing than Emma Woodhouse

  1. First, I adored your trilogy and reading your post above makes me want to go reread it. It will have to wait awhile, drat, as I have so many new reads screaming at me right now, including a couple of yours in a different genre.

    I DO hope anyone on the fence will take advantage of this great sale and get these books. I cannot say enough good about them. I cried, seriously, cried through so many heart wrenching parts. When first introduced to Emma it was through the Gwyneth Paltrow movie which I really enjoyed. Gwyneth plays her as a silly but sweet, wannabe matchmaker bumbling through her privileged life with a high opinion of herself. But she doesn’t seem mean spirited until Frank shows up, flattering her and playing into her jealousy over Jane. Although she really almost managed to ruin Harriet Smith’s future happiness. But I was seriously unhappy with Emma when I actually read the book. Wow, what a snob. I was appalled from the first time seeing it and still am any time I see an Emma production I am appalled all over again by the way Frank treats Jane.

    Apparently, the director of the new Emma really has a low regard for Jane, she looks so drab. I mean her clothes don’t even fit. Ugh. I haven’t seen the new Emma movie but I want to. They had me at Bill Nighy.

    It was so lovely reading your post, Allie. Especially reading about what led you to write your trilogy. What fantastic writing. Here’s to your ongoing success in whatever writing you do from here on. God Bless and stay safe.

    • Thank you so much Michelle. I am sitting here a bit teary from all your kindness.
      I agree with you about the rendition of Jane Fairfax in the new movie. There seemed little for Emma to envy there, did there? I look forward to seeing what you think of the film when you get to see it. Bill Nighy is amazing, and so is Miranda Hart’s playing of Miss Bates. I wanted a lot more of that.

  2. I love delving into motivations as to why characters behave or act in a certain way. IMHO, Emma has always seemed like a character that naturally draws the readers’ attention to herself. She sort of sucks the air out of the room as she has to be the center of the action.

    Now you have brought Jane Fairfax to our attention. I never really thought about the seriousness of her actions in this secret betrothal with Churchill. I am so glad you pointed that out. Wow! She was a mess as the reality of this rash action affected her every breathing moment. She was stuck, not being able to go forward with her life and just waiting for ‘something’ to happen that would free her and secure her marriage. Then, on top of that, she had to stand by and endure watching him flirt shamelessly with others. He was beyond cruel. Man, how she must have suffered. My modern brain just did not grasp or realize how this situation was during that time period. You have really enlightened me on this.

    Even in S&S, I still did not grasp the problems involved with a secret engagement. I suppose I didn’t care for Lucy Steele and I like Jane Fairfax. I already own your book and must read it soon. My TBR pile is starting to glare back at me. Blessings on the success of this work. Stay safe and keep healthy.

    • Thank you JW. I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it in your TBR pile. You’ll see that I have really explored Jane’s feelings and situation. My next blog is about Frank Churchill. He comes of the situation looking shabby but I think I came up with a rationale for his behaviour.

  3. Nice post! I am reading Mrs. Bates of Highbury and it’s very good so I will at some point read the other two as well. I still have to see the new Emma.

    • It niggled at me for years, darcybennett, until I felt compelled to drill down into her history and character to find out. Although Jane Fairfax is nothing at all like Lucy Steele I felt there might be a similar motivation – a difficult relative in the case.

  4. Thank you for this post, Allie. I saw the new Emma movie and felt that Jane Fairfax was somewhat forgettable in the way she was portrayed. Your insight into her circumstances was really enlightening and makes her character so much more sympathetic. I enjoyed your novel Dear Jane very much!

    • Thank you Nancy. I liked the new Emma but, like you, felt that Jane was passed over. Of course I really wish to see the movie of Dear Jane. I wonder who would be the right actor?

  5. Thank you for sharing this post and including a sale as well. I have not seen the newest movie version and plan to wait to see if until I can get the DVD from my library. I admit I have not given Jane Fairfax as much thought as you but will try to pay her more attention in the future.

    Hope you are doing well and staying safe!

    • You are welcome Chelsea. My timeline says you read the post at 1.19am. I hope you are not wakeful because you are unwell. This movie version gives little attention to the Jane/Frank storyline and I didn’t like the casting of either part, but in my opinion the playing of Emma is just right.

      • I am fine, just staying up late and sleeping in late while in self quarantine. Since I don’t go anywhere it doesn’t feel like it matters as much and I have become a bit of a night owl. Hope you are doing alright as well.

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