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Reading Notes: Emma (2)

Emma possesses “the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.” [Ch.1 p.7] Emma’s stubbornness and vanity produce many of the novel’s conflicts, as Emma struggles to develop emotionally. her struggle aside, there appear passages that provide a sort of comic relief that distract me from the characters’ biased and blind judgment.

Constantly Mr. Knightley corrects and guides Emma Woodhouse who is not always on charity with him. On hearing the news of a ball thrown by the Westons in honor of their son Frank Churchill, about whose motive Knightley is skeptical, he noted:

Very well. If the Westons think it worth while to be at all this trouble for a few hours of noisy entertainment, I have nothing to say against it, but that they shall not choose pleasures for me.—Oh! yes, I must be there; I could not refuse; and I will keep as much awake as I can; but I would rather be at home, looking over William Larkins’s weel’s account; much rather, I confess.—Pleasure in seeing dancing!—not I, indeed—I never look at it—I do not know who does.—Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different. [Ch. 30 p.239]

Of course, Emma is upset at this gloating remark, which Knightley has very well been throwing at her all along. She retaliates:

This Emma felt was aimed at her; and it made her quite angry. It was not in compliment to Jane Fairfax however that he was so indifferent, or so indignant; he was not guided by her feelings in reprobating the ball, for she enjoyed the thought of it to an extraordinary degree. It made her animated—open hearted—she voluntarily said;— [Ch.30 p.240]

Another comic moment arrives when the new Mrs. Elton, wife of the man to whom Emma tried to match Harriet earlier, indulges in some tiredly long monologue about engaging Jane Fairfax to her society. To this Emma bears:

‘Poor Jane Fairfax!’—thought Emma.—‘You have not deserved this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Dixon, but this is a punishment beyond what you can have merited!—The kindness and protection of Mrs. Elton!—‘Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.’ Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!—But upon my honour, there seem no limits to the licentiousness of that woman’s tongue!’ [Ch.33 p.264]

4 Responses

  1. I do love Emma’a disposition. . .so different than most of Austen’s heroines!

  2. I enjoyed Emma’s personality, too. This is one of Austen’s funniest books 🙂

    There’s a Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library now, and they made a great little video about it, with all kinds of great authors, including Cornel West, Colm Toibin and Siri Hustvedt talking about why they love Austen. I really enjoyed it. Here’s the link:

  3. The thing I love about Austen is that she is always surprising me with how funny she is! I don’t know why I’m always somehow forgetting this, but whenever I read her books, I am suffused with joy. I don’t think Emma is her funniest book in the end (I think she goes most obviously for comedy with Northanger Abbey), but there’s no denying how sly and clever she was, regardless of novel!

  4. Sounds like you are enjoying your time with Emma!!!

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