So am I right, or am I right, or am I right: this penultimate section is where Emma gets good.
Because: the strawberry patches of Donwell, and then Box Hill. Ohhhh, Box Hill. What I love about the climax (or whatever the bad version of “climax” is) of the novel is how very Emma it is—just a thoughtless remark, something true but unspeakable, aimed at someone so helpless that it’s like a hawk attacking a baby bird without realizing that it’s a terrible thing to do. Like, maybe it wouldn’t get EATEN so much if it would stop being such a BABY BIRD.
But after the carnage (and Mr. Knightley’s lecture; I don’t know WHAT kind of bird HE is, and maybe this simile is dying anyway) comes what I see as the greatest single moment of character growth for Emma in the whole novel. Of course the best recompense for Emma’s words is the one thing she never wants to give Miss Bates: her time, and therefore her respect. I love this—it’s not an elaborate apology, which would only embarrass Miss Bates further. Emma’s deliberate visit to the Bates house displays the kind of thoughtfulness she’s never been thoughtful enough to realize she was missing. It’s a nice moment, is what I’m saying.
(I forgot to say earlier that I love the part where Mrs. Elton is pleased to see the strawberry patches of Donwell, but would have been just as happy with the cabbage fields, because she really just wants to go somewhere. Anywhere! It gives me such comfort to know I’m not the only one who gets this way, even if it’s me and Mrs. Elton. Usually, it ends with my mom and a spontaneous ice cream cone. So that’s nice.)
And then scandal—scandal!—comes to the Bates-Fairfax home, and you guys, I have such conflicted thoughts about Frank Churchill. On one hand, I think he’s the least of the Austen scoundrels. Can we even call him a scoundrel? How about just a garden-variety tool? So he flirted with the ladies while he was secretly engaged to a nice girl. Because my previous memory of this book was practically nonexistent, I kept waiting for him to have defiled somebody and left her pregnant and alone. But no! He got cranky in the heat, kept his engagement on the DL (by mutual consent, though), and anonymously bought the lady a pianoforte. Gee, that guy’s the worst!
But then I also think: is this the ending we want for sweet, pretty-much-awesome Jane Fairfax? Jane the author presents Jane the character’s happy ending with Frank Churchill as…well, a happy ending. And I just keep thinking that, pianoforte aside, she could do better than that guy. Doesn’t Jane deserve someone noble, who has a good relationship with his mom and doesn’t use his undercover-taken status to hit on girls in front of his fiancee?
Maybe this is just Jane being realistic: the nice girl ends up with the guy who’s kind of a jerk without being actually THAT bad, and likes it. I guess that’s a thing that happens.
Aaaand then we waltz our way into the home stretch of romantic-comedy territory, and seriously, it’s so much fun. Emma loves Mr. Knightley, but oh no, maybe Harriet ALSO loves Mr. Knightley, and Emma’s really trying to stop screwing poor Harriet over, but maybe in this situation it would be worth it, and Harriet thinks MAYBE Emma might be wrong about something, but anyway it’s all okay because Mr. Knightley loves Emma too. And only since she was thirteen! So THAT’s a relief.
“…If he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he would have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.” IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT MR. KNIGHTLEY? (This is like that one time in Jane Eyre where there’s a joke, and it throws me off every time.) Not a natural comedian, and not really a graceful subject of humor, that George Knightley—he’s too busy being noble. But I guess in his moment of romantic bliss, Jane gets away with it.
What do you think, readers?
Congratulations, Team Emma Read-Along! You’ve made it halfway, and you haven’t even thrown your copy of the novel into the fire in disgust. (At least, I assume you haven’t, or at least that you bought a new copy and continued. We’re not quitters here.) In this section, things are starting to get REAL around Highbury, like so:
“Oh, Miss Woodhouse,” says Frank Churchill, “Why are you always so right?” Aaaaand here we are at the crux of the issue, man-wise. No wonder Emma likes him! And no wonder Mr. Knightley wants to throttle him 100% of the time! Seriously, though: Churchill, you are not helping. As much as I complain about Mr. Knightley, I think it’s refreshing that Emma’s choice is less about the manly attributes of her suitors and more about who she is around them. (I suppose this halfway answers my earlier question about whether Mr. Knightley changes at all over the course of the novel—maybe he doesn’t, but since the novel isn’t called Mr. Knightley, maybe he doesn’t need to. I find this slightly unsatisfying, but I get it.)
In other news, I hope that I am supposed to be enjoying Mrs. Elton, because she is the worst, and I love her. (I have a long history of liking detestable characters—Pete Campbell on Mad Men, I’m looking at you—but Mrs. Elton isn’t even bad for a reason. She’s just terrible for the sake of being terrible, and it is GREAT.) Just an endless stream of awful from Mrs. August Elton, and I never get tired of it, either.
So, do we think Maple Grove is next door to Rosings Park, or just around the block? (But also, oh gosh, Mrs. Elton and Lady Catherine! I would pay some body parts to see THAT dinner party.)
Sooo, here’s the part where Mrs. Elton & Jane Fairfax compare being a governess to being a slave—an actual, literal slave—which sounds tremendously tone-deaf (at best) to modern ears. However! Emma takes place right in the middle of the British abolitionist movement—and so this strikes me as a small but fascinating insight into the social environment of Jane’s time, and a rare glance outside the immediate situation of the novel.
I loved the part at the ball where Emma realizes how hot Knightley is. (Can I call him “Knightley,” or does that make me the worst?) His “tall, firm, upright figure”! His “gentlemanlike manner” and “natural grace”! Because here’s the thing: it takes something for a man to impress Emma Woodhouse, and here we see the once-over of realization, pretty much in real time and pretty much for the first time.
And then he dances with Harriet, and I die. This is what does it for me and Knightley: the kindness of his dancing with Harriet, who’s already in an awkward situation and probably steaming in her own embarrassment at being partnerless, well, FINE, JANE, THE JUDGMENTAL GUY IS AWESOME. (Never mind that it causes Harriet strife later. She gets her happy ending! IT’S A GESTURE.)
Readers? What do you think? Lay it on me.
This has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves dating terminally ill women, just to be clear.
- This is some amazing Austenian…is dollcraft a word? It is now. In context, they’re are actually kind of strange, in the sense that they’re for little kids AND skip approximately 63% of the novel (the MIDDLE 63%, so…good luck with that), but the visuals are fantastic. Action Jane weeps with envy; the only man she gets is Action Poe.
- Need some advice from a two-hundred-year old fictional character? Of course you do, and you’re in luck: Mrs. Elton Sez, everybody’s favorite Austenian Agony Aunt, has deep archives and plenty to say! I mean, of COURSE she does.
Enjoy, Austen Nation.
England is a lovely country. Everyone’s so polite and so friendly. Which I guess is why they need sarcastic outlets like Time Out London‘s Lies to Tell Tourists column. My personal favorite:
When on the tube it’s customary to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to and opposite you. (@magiczebras)
I never need a sarcastic outlet, which is why I immediately started thinking of Lies to Tell Jane Austen Tourists.
When at a party it’s customary to introduce yourself to all those present, particularly superior nephews of your noble patroness.
Respectable, marriageable gentlemen will flock instantly to your side should you fall down a hill. Important: It must be raining at the time.
When conversing with a new acquaintance, you should comment on their father’s ill health and be surprised they were raised by a lady.
Lockets of hair possessed by significant others always represent true love.
The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his ha-ha. OK, the quickest way to a man’s aunt is through her ha-ha.
If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your first duty is to suspect your host of nefarious activities and scour the place to find the truth.
One’s first impressions of people are invariably right.
And, the best way to get a girl to break up with your son/nephew is to insult her.
My efforts just scratch the surface. Come on, readers, show us your stuff! I’m sure you can lie to Jane Austen tourists like anything. Bring it on!
It sounds like another academic slapfight coming on, but no—Alison Owen, the producer of yet another Jane Eyre adaptation, explains:
As period costume dramas go, Jane [Eyre] is relatively cheap to make. It’s set in a house in the middle of a moor. Jane Austen can be quite expensive. You need horses, carriages, houses, gowns. But on the whole Jane Eyre is much more starkly peopled than most period movies. You don’t need swaths of costumes. And scenery costs nothing.
Is it just me that finds this hilarious? Lady Catherine and Mrs. Elton would be so pleased! And Marianne Dashwood, in estimating her income, certainly agreed that one needs a house, a carriage, some horses, and of course some gowns! (We are not making a porno here.) Surely a fire costs something, though I hear supernatural voices in the bushes come very cheap. Poor Jane Eyre! She never gets any fun.
Travel has been much on my mind lately. I need to get away. I need to see new places, have new experiences. I need to go and stay with my friend and her obnoxious husband for two months. Wait . . . back up. Can we try that again?
Take 2: I need to go to London to get my hair cut. And while I’m there I can stay with an annoying old woman, try to glimpse my not-fiancé, and avoid my evil sister-in-law . . . maybe not.
Take 3: OK, yes, let’s take a trip to Bath for someone’s gout (thank goodness not mine). Ooh, and I could meet a handsome young man and maybe he’ll ask me to stay at his family’s abbey, and I can get in some quality ghost time! This is getting better.
Take 4: I know! Let’s drive to the seaside. Someone can fall down and injure themselves, and then we can go to Bath, and . . . and I’ll meet an old schoolfriend and be saved by her from a disastrous marriage, and finally marry the man of my dreams. Under an umbrella. There. That’s a wrap!
I do love it when the characters travel in Jane Austen. You just know that dramatic things are going to happen. Characters and destinies will be revealed. Not like in real life, where they . . . probably won’t. And I have a feeling Austen herself loved travel in spite of her better judgment. She may make snobby comments about the Eltons’ “exploring,” but you get a breath of fresh air when her heroines are on the road, when they look at the sea.
Photo credit: ©Tardiskey. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
The book describes the dress as something that “stepped out of an [Jane] Austen movie,” meaning very Victorian; lots of lace, mounds of tulle and slightly overworked.
NO, IT BLOODY WELL DOES NOT MEAN THAT! Could you go learn some effing history, already? Jane Austen was NOT NOT NOT a Victorian! How many times do I have to tell you?! I may be slightly overworked at this time, but Austen’s clothes were not.
Whew. OK, calming down now. But clothes are important, my friends, really they are. Jane Austen and her beautifully warm and rational heroines wore simple, rational clothes. Victorian thought and Victorian clothes were lots more about emotion and repressions. It’s just a totally different world. Maybe we don’t think Regency clothes were simple and rational, but they did. We think a) They look good wet; and/or b) Boobs! but then so did they. No really. At least these days filmmakers can get the look of the clothes right, even if they miss on when those clothes would come off. (The pond scene . . . not so much. Sorry, everyone!)
Jane Austen said a lot about her characters through their clothes. Think of Lady Catherine, who “will not think less of you for being simply dressed. She likes to see the distinction of rank preserved.” Or think of Mrs. Elton, going on about her fancy new gown, but, oh, she has such a horror of being “fine!” (OK, maybe Bella will wear Mrs. Elton’s wedding dress. Poor girl.) We don’t think Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney are silly for talking about muslin, though maybe Henry talking about it is meant to show that Catherine and Mrs. Allen are silly. And I entirely sympathize with Catherine for thinking Henry looks so handsome in his greatcoat! But Isabella Thorpe reveals her scheming mind by plotting what she and Catherine will wear, and dear Mrs. Bennet shows her silliness when she’s crying to Mrs. Gardiner about all their troubles one minute and being cheered up by the news of “long sleeves” the next. And let’s not even get started about Miss Bingley’s rants about certain people’s muddy petticoats!
The moral of all these stories seems to be: you should look good, but not look like you thought about it much. Not like you tried too hard. And is that not the very essence of cool?
Image credit: Dolley Madison, c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart.
We open on three girls, a couch, and Laura Linney looking oddly solemn.
[Frank Churchill proposes a ball]
Miss Osborne: Oh, I do love a ball! (TM Lydia Bennet)
Miss Osborne: Does she not have a ballroom or a dining room in her house?
[Frank sweeps Emma up for an impromptu dance]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They would not have been doing that.
Miss Ball: “I would much better be married than right”: words to live by?
[Frank acts like he's going to propose and then doesn't]
Miss Osborne: Why can’t people tell the truth? This is annoying.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Like you tell the truth all the time?
Miss Osborne: Well, he’s acting like he loves her.
Miss Osborne: And he has a man-ring.
[Harriet bawls her eyes out]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Harriet’s such a modern teenage girl. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the internet or TV to distract her with a massive gallery of males.
[Mrs. Elton arrives]
Miss Osborne: Ohhhhh, it’s THAT girl. She plays the bitch in everything!
Miss Ball: Like?
Miss Osborne: Like What a Girl Wants, which I only saw because of Colin Firth. And, um, Amanda Bynes.
Miss Ball: No, I saw that, too! With the leather pants! Amanda Bynes is my hero(ine), and I don’t care who knows it.
[Mr. Knightley brought Emma a library book]
Miss Osborne: It’s Twilight.
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss crooked ears, including but not limited to Stephen Colbert and Victor Garber. Mrs. Fitzpatrick has perfect, delicate ears. She's the only one.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think I’ll start calling Mr. Fitzpatrick “Mr. F”, like Mrs. Elton does.
Miss Ball: Like he’s a substitute teacher with a difficult name?
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss the technical term for Emma's face-framing curls, which Mrs. Fitzpatrick calls "scare curls" but thinks she made that up. Google tells us this.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Now, this is weird, because in the book, Mrs. Elton suggests the whole Box Hill expedition, and Emma doesn’t seem particularly sad about being stuck in Highbury.
Miss Ball: It’s a modern take on the situation, certainly.
[Mrs. Elton has quite a horror of finery.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Too matchy-matchy?
Miss Ball: Bridesmaid quality, definitely.
Miss Osborne: The voice-over is worse than Superman.
Miss Ball: I do miss the choreographed group dancing.
[Frank disses Mrs. Elton's hairstyle]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He is a little…dickish.
Miss Ball: Catty.
Miss Osborne: A douchebag.
[Mr. Knightley asks Harriet to dance]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley! You’re the dreamiest man the world right now! Such a mensch!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Isn’t he?
Miss Osborne: I like the idea of wearing gloves. That way you don’t get sweaty hands.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Plus, it’s more sexy.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think they’re doing the Congress of Vienna waltz.
Miss Osborne: I can do the polka!
Miss Ball: Me, too!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I wonder how authentic the dancing in this really is?
Miss Ball: We’re totally ruining the mood of this very romantic dance.
[Harriet gushes about Frank's rescue of her from the scary scary gypsies]
Miss Osborne: Harriet’s so pale, she could be a vampire.
Miss Ball: Don’t say that out loud.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: There’s already going to be Emma and werewolves.
Miss Osborne: Um, did she just faint?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think Jane had a thing against fainting—it never really works out in her books.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: If this were a murder mystery, Harriet would be shot dead now.
[The camera cuts, inexplicably, behind Mr. Knightley's coat as he reminisces about Emma's hotness]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: SIGH.
[Mr. Knightley walks away from Emma and the too-hot fire]
Mrs. F: Well, I definitely liked this chapter better—now that she’s not so incredibly bouncy.
Miss Ball: And now that the story’s picking up, minus Exposition City.
Miss Osborne: Augh, when he yells at her, he’s so right, and it’s so horrible, because we’ve all been yelled at by somebody we care at like that. So terrible.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: And they’re…following the book. Such a concept!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s weird how little Mr. Woodhouse is in this version. Usually, he’s in the background of everything.
Miss Osborne: Maybe Michael Gambon’s pterodactyl arms wouldn’t fit in the picture.