Welcome to volume two! In volume one we remained within the elite confines of Emma’s preferred society. Now we begin to meet Highbury at large, and there is no better place to begin such an acquaintance than with Miss Bates. We have already heard her voice in chapter two. Austen need not tell us this is Miss Bates speaking; if you have read the book before, she is unmistakable:
For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. “I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill has written to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life.”
In the following chapter we are given a description of her character and are told she is “a great talker upon little matters,” but it not for sixteen more chapters that we actually meet her, and she is an extremely important character in this book. Readers are tempted to pass over her long, rambling speeches, just as Emma listens to them so impatiently and with only half an ear. Yes, Miss Bates is repetitive. Yes, she includes a thousand seemingly irrelevant details, but read every one, for it is Miss Bates who provides the bulk of the clues necessary to “solve” the novel’s mysteries. You just have to find them beneath all the minutia.
Austen once again demonstrates the brilliance of her narrative voice in this chapter. We hear Miss Bates through the screen of Emma’s impatience to escape her. We can almost feel the claustrophobia of the Bateses’ upstairs apartment, and our frustration with the yapping younger is as real as Emma’s. It is truly a masterful chapter.
Join us at The Writer’s Block for discussion of the chapter. Your comments are most welcome! https://austenauthors.net/writers-block/emma-read-along/emma-chapter-19/#p275