Sunday, January 27


This is the thread where I'll be posting notes as I read Emma. Here's the permanent address of this post:

As before, you can either bookmark it or subscribe to the post's RSS feed. If you'd like to read along and join the discussion, you'll find the reading schedule I'll be following in the first comment of this thread.


Johnny said...

Starting tomorrow--Monday, January 28--we'll have to read two chapters a day, which should take about twenty minutes, if that. It will take about a month to finish the book, though if the two-a-day format seems too skimpy I may change the schedule to three chapters a day.

For now, here's our schedule:

January 28: Volume 1, Chapters 1-2
January 29: 3-4
January 30: 5-6
January 31: 7-8
February 1: 9-10
February 2: 11-12
February 3: 13-14
February 4: 15-16
February 5: 17-18
February 6: Volume 2, Chapters 1-2
February 7: 3-4
February 8: 5-6
February 9: 7-8
February 10: 9-10
February 11: 11-12
February 12: 13-14
February 13: 15-16
February 14: 17-18
February 15: Volume 3, Chapters 1-2
February 16: 3-4
February 17: 5-6
February 18: 7-8
February 19: 9-10
February 20: 11-12
February 21: 13-14
February 22: 15-16
February 23: 17-19

You can find a text at Project Gutenberg and at Wikisource:

Johnny said...

Going in, I sorta know a little bit about this one. I know that Emma is rich and a little spoiled, and she isn't interested in getting married. And I know she tries to set up one of her friends instead. And I'm guessing she ends up getting married in the end anyway. Otherwise, that's about it.

Oh, and didn't Gwyneth Paltrow have a bow and arrow in the trailer to the movie? Awesome, I expect there to be a SICK amount of violence in this book.

Johnny said...

As I've told people I'm reading these books, I've gotten one comment above all others, again and again: something along the lines of how Austen was basically a chick-lit novelist of her time, the Regency's Candace Bushnell.

I initially agreed with this (sorry) meme--which I think gathered full strength after the Austen film boom of the mid-90s--even mentioning it towards the beginning of my comments on Persuasion. I still think it's true to an extent--Austen was writing for young women, after all--but as I've read more of these books, I've begun to move away from it for a few reasons:

1. The Regency *did* have chick lit authors; they're just forgotten and no longer read because, well, they were chick lit authors.

2. What's the saying...effect does not equal causality? Just because modern romance and chick lit novelists were influenced by Austen doesn't mean that Austen herself was a chick lit author. In fact, during her life her early work was embraced by London's cultural elite...hipsters, basically.

3. Finally, and most importantly, there's so much more going on in Austen's work than just the concerns of getting married. I'm constantly blown away by her cynicism. As the quote from Auden went, nothing could shock her the way she shocks me. Check out this scorched earth description of education:

"Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School--not of any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems--and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity--but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies."


Times have changed: "She was a very pretty girl: short, plump, and fair."

Emma on the bourgeousie, and class differences of the early 19th century:

"A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other he is below it."

Da-yumn! Forget Bushnell, Austen was like the Sarah Silverman of her time or something.

Vanity Fair is famously a novel without a hero, but--keeping in mind I'm less than a tenth of the way through the book--I wonder if the unspoken conceit behind this novel is that it's told from the villain's point of view. Certainly nothing poor Mary Crawford did in Mansfield Park was close to what Emma's already done, and look at the abuse that was heaped upon her.

Johnny said...

I think we're supposed to be amused by how Emma is a total "b" (as my sister would say) and pretty much fucks up Harriet's life. Ha ha! That orphan makes terrible decisions based on faulty advice...hilarious!

I would be seriously interested in hearing how Emma Woodhouse is demonstrably a better person than Mary Crawford. And not from some academic, either...from Austen herself.

zacahry said...

Alright, I've dug out my copy of the Complete Novels and I'll get started on Emma tomorrow. I'm going to be a little behind though, because I'm still finishing up something else. Persuation next? Bonzai!

zachary said...

I've made it to Chapter 5, so far. I've been reading it mostly in the bano at work, so forgive my lack of progress.

Johnny, do all of these books introduce thirty similarily named characters in the first ten pages? Who the fuck are all of these people?

I think I've got Emma (obviously), and Harriet, and one of the Misters that Harriet is in love with. I'm putting all the rest of them away until they do something interesting.

I'll read some more, not on the deuce, before Super Tuesday starts up.

Johnny said...

Yeah, pretty much. The main characters featured in the last two chapters I've read are:

Mr. Knightley
Mr. John Knightley
Mrs. John Knightley

Also Mrs. Weston, who is referred to half the time as Miss Taylor.

Oh, and Emma, who is Emma's niece.

Anonymous said...

um... There are two Emmas? How many Benjys?

zachary said...

God Blogger sucks. The last post was me, obviously.

zachary said...

This book ends with the other characters killing and eating Emma, right? Harriet gets her eyeballs.

I'm sure Emma will be tamed by love in the end, but Christ almighty she starts off as a total asshole.

I'm still behind you Johnny, but I'm chugging along.

Johnny said...

Uh...anybody want to cross the lake with me next weekend!?

zachary said...

I'm having some motivation issues with reading Emma. I've got primary fever and I can't tear myself away from blogs and bios. I'm dedicating tomorrow night to Miss Austin, though. We'll see how far I get in an evening.

Johnny said...

Not a problem. Life's too short to get riled up over Internet book clubs.

I know we've discussed me waiting up for you, but I've been reading ahead...I didn't think, all things considered, you'd mind.

I know this sounds silly, but I'm scared to death that I won't finish this'd think that this fear would abate as I've gotten closer to the end, but the opposite is true. It really freaks me out that one day I'll be, like, "I've read all of Austen's works except for the second half of Sense & Sensibility because I got distracted by my Netflix backlog."

(But even if I *do* finish them, how often will I even be able to force this into conversations? Don't worry, reader, I'll find a way.)

Johnny said...

"Why Emma did not like Jane Fairfax might be a difficult question to answer; Mr. Knightley had once told her it was because she saw in her the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself..."

I guess Mr. Knightley and Emma hook up in the end (thanks for spoiling the book, Clueless!) which is sorta odd...on Emma's side, sure, there's the familiar "oh, he infuriates me!" rom-com antagonism, but Mr. Knightley seems to regard Emma with a combination of disappointed paternalism and withering contempt. He likes her, but he has a pretty clear-eyed view of her, too. His attacks on her are examples of genuine vitriol and not romantic foreplay. Which is as it should be...Emma's wrecking people's lives with her games, and needs to be stopped.

So that makes the eventual romance all the more puzzling...I can't imagine a scenario where he decides he loves Emma after spending the book treating her with contempt and condemnation. (And not witty Darcy-Elizabeth jousting, but wild-eyed "what the fuck is WRONG WITH YOU you little monster" raving.) I mean, does Knightley's story arc end with him chucking all that because a hot little piece of ass is interested in him? Hate sex will only take you so far, bro...


Once again I have to mention this:

We're told that Emma has brotherly feelings for Knightley. This isn't just literally true--her sister married his brother--but also from the way the two have been treated since the day Emma was born. So YET AGAIN Austen treats us readers to another charming romance between de facto siblings. How delightful!

Look, I know times have changed. But (to use the example of Mansfield Park) if you're sixteen and you have two eleven-year-old sisters and your nine-year-old cousin comes to live with you and becomes part of the family, and then ten years later you want to marry her and have babies, then let me put this in the simplest way I know how: there is something inside of your soul that is broken. Times haven't changed that much.

In fact, I'm starting to think that maybe this isn't a Regency issue at all, and is instead some sort of weird sexual hang-up Austen herself had. (Did she have any brothers? Were they hot?)

Johnny said...

[Frank Churchill is visiting his father, Mr. Weston, for two weeks.]

"I have made a most wretched discovery," said he, after a short pause.-- "I have been here a week to-morrow--half my time. I never knew days fly so fast. A week to-morrow!--And I have hardly begun to enjoy myself. I hate the recollection."

"Perhaps you may now begin to regret that you spent one whole day, out of so few, in having your hair cut."

"No," said he, smiling, "that is no subject of regret at all. I have no pleasure in seeing my friends, unless I can believe myself fit to be seen."

Johnny said...

Jane Austen...or Erma Bombeck?

"The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, 'Men never know when things are dirty or not;' and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, 'Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares.'"

Answer: Trick question! This passage comes from the work of Sinbad.

Johnny said...

Ugh. Emma to Mr. Knightley, on why they can dance together: "You know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper."

It's too long to quote here, but the bulk of this chapter is taken up with a fascinating account of one character's encounters with "gipsies." The whole thing is so's like they show up from a different novel.

Johnny said...

I'm not sure if this is post-modern or pre-modern: out of nowhere, the novel shifts it's point of view, and this chapter is seen through Mr. Knightley's eyes instead of Emma's.

Johnny said...

This chapter--in which Mr. Knightley is trying to tell Emma that he loves her, while Emma thinks that he's trying to tell her he loves Harriet--is one of the few truly realistic examples of two lovers talking at cross-purposes that the genre has ever produced.

A big part of what makes it realistic, of course, is that more than anything else, the Regency abhorred plain-speaking. No matter how important your message is, when relating your emotions to someone it seems to have been unspeakably vulgar to just say what you mean. Not expressing your emotions was considered better than expressing them artlessly. In a lot of aspects, and no more than this one, these books aren't historical romances so much as LeGuin-style anthropological science fiction.

Chapter 14
Frank Churchill's affections for Emma has just been revealed as a sham. Oh shit! The ultimate player...just got PLAYED!

(What I'm trying to say is, I'm pretty sure that Austen stole this plot twist from an episode of Girlfriends.)

Chapter 15
Here at the end of the novel, Austen makes the most curious decision: she spends pages and pages allowing Frank Churchill to defend his waggish behavior--even dropping an entire lengthy apologia written in his own hand--but more or less glosses over Mr. Knightley and Emma's declaration of love. In writer's workshop terms, she SHOWS us Frank's contrition, but TELLS us about Knightley and Emma.

Which is weird, right? The novel's titled EMMA, not FRANK. I know that some critics talk about Austen's distance from the story, and I guess this is what they mean. I just think it's a weird decision.

I want to chalk it up to either Austen's era or the fact that the novel form was in its infancy when this book was written, but that sounds really condescending.

Johnny said...

Mr. Knightley: "The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doating on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least."

DUDE!!! When she was thirteen, you were 29! Get ahold of yourself, bro.

It just occurred to me that with Mr. Knightley marrying Emma, two brothers will have married two sisters. I only mention this because the same thing happened in my family: Calvin, my grandfather, married Reba, whose sister Ima married Douglas, Calvin's brother. Though reasonably interesting, I almost never mention it, as this took place in West Virginia, and I don't want to hear a bunch of incest jokes. Even though this clearly has nothing to do with incest, and in fact there's more actual incest in these pervy Austen novels than ever happened in any hillbilly holler.


Holy shit. Harriet, a sorta-orphan, has her parenatage revealed at last, and Emma reflects on how she foolishly thought that Harriet must have been a secret aristocrat and tried to set her up with her rich friends:

"Harriet's parentage became known. She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment.--Such was the blood of gentility which Emma had formerly been so ready to vouch for!-- It was likely to be as untainted, perhaps, as the blood of many a gentleman: but what a connexion had she been preparing for Mr. Knightley--or for the Churchills--or even for Mr. Elton!-- The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed."

I'm just guessing, but: the paragraph that launched a thousand dissertations!

And, after 55 chapters, who is the character that finally clears the way for the Knightley-Woodhouse wedding? Uh, a turkey thief!


Done. This book turned out to be a little different than I thought it would be. Going in, I thought it was the story of a master manipulator whose plans go astray and who then learns to not to meddle in affairs of the heart.

Instead, though, Emma is portrayed as a slightly spoilt child who has little idea what she really doing, and her scheme don't work out, basically, because she's a goof.

(I have no proof of this, but I have a feeling most adaptations take the former track; I can't imagine Gwyneth Paltrow playing Emma as a clueless child. Or playing her as 21, for that matter. Puh-lease.)

All in all, I enjoyed this one. And, as usual, sorry that might not have come across in this thread. I rank it ahead of Persuasion, WAY ahead of Mansfield Park, and WAY behind Northanger Abbey. (Pride And Prejudice, as always, is the exception.) I never really connected with the book on any sort of emotional level, but I'm glad I read it.