Tuesday, January 26, 2010

tuesdays with emma: doing our part to keep austen weird

(Cartoon created by artist Gene Gill)

Greetings fellow Austenites! Life eclipsed my reading for fun last week so my thoughts on 11-20 of Emma are coming a bit late. Maybe it's Tuesday somewhere? :)

"The course of true love never did run smooth," Emma says to her friend/project Harriet.

She's quoting Shakespeare and she's fitting the quote to her explanation of why Mr. Elton is obviously, clearly, hello-can't-you-see-it-wildly-wonderfully-in-love-with-you. From that point in the novel, through most of the next ten chapters, I was in a constant stake of eeeeek. At first, the match-making was cute. Ish. But when it became obvious (very early on) that Elton the Jerkton liked Emma, not Harriet, then it was just awkward. And it was made more awkward because Emma was so blinded by her mission she didn't see that he was falling in love with her. Mr. Knightley hinted at it rather subtly, I think. And Emma's bro-in-law (also a Mr. Knightley? Did I mention Jane has me confused about who's who?) just says it flat out.

But still, Emma kept pushing. And by chapter 20, that Shakespeare quote has come to fit the situation in a way Emma did not see coming and definitely did not want.

Here are my observations and questions after making it through the chapters 11-20:

First: I don't get these people. Not a single person. They all confuse me. It's like I'm watching some weird romance reality show and everybody is secretly in love with someone they are not supposed to be with.

Exhibit A: Emma and Churchill. Emma doesn't want to marry, so we discovered in chapter 9 or 10. Unless I misunderstood, she thinks her life is already pretty fun and she thinks if she's a single woman, with some cash, she'll be just as well off as a married woman (kudos to her). And yet ... Emma has already thought about Mr. Churchill, whom she hasn't even met, as husband material. Not seriously, of course. But if she had to get married, absolutely had to, she thinks he might be a decent choice. Heh?

Exhibit B: Harriet and Martin vs. Harriet and Elton the Jerkton. You know I'm rooting for Martin. I never wanted her with Elton. But I wonder -- did Emma do such a good job convincing Harriet that Elton was in love with her she started believing it? Or did she really fall for him a little bit? Because when Harriet gets dumped, she seems a little bit listless. (How sad was it when Mr. Knightley told Emma about how crushed Mr. Martin was? :(

Exhibit C: Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon. Whoa Nelly that could get interesting! Unless I'm reading more scandal into this than I should (likely), Emma thinks maybe Jane (who was raised to be a governess or nanny or something) has seduced her bff's hubby, Mr. Dixon. Things are getting saucy! Looking forward to chapter 21.

Second: Why doesn't Jane Austen like dialogue? I don't mind the backstory she inserts. I don't even mind that in contemporary novels. I'm really weird that way - usually backstory (if it's well written and necessary) doesn't mess with pacing for me. I don't mind sparse dialogue either. But in some of these chapters, my word. I could use more chatter. There are like two quotes total. Or the quote is smashed in the middle of a really long paragraph. And it makes me wonder if a.) novels don't follow this pattern anymore because language has changed, as has the understanding of language, as has the concept of pacing. Or b.) if we all just have really short attention spans now and demand a story start here and end here and have Action! and Twists! and surprise elements! from the get go. Just thinking out loud here.

I do like that Jane never forces me to interpret a character any certain way. In some novels I read, I feel like the author is very intentionally making see who is good and who is bad. Or the twist will be so severe it's a little bit obvious. I think Ashley's comment about Jane Fairfax (from our last Emma convo) sums up what I'm trying to say:

"Every single time I go through this story I see Jane Fairfax in a completely different light. (You'll get to her soon.) Every time I think I have her pinned down, I read it again or watch it again and her personality comes completely out of left field. I'll talk more about her later, because I think of all the characters, she sparks the most intrigue. If you want her to. And if you want to barely notice her, you can do that too. It's so interesting."

So well put! My first impression about these people is almost never right. But my second and third impression might not be right either. I really like that. Jane Austen's novels are more twisty than I think they'll be - not because of plot so much, but because of character. Fun.

Third: I wonder how much of Emma's personality has derived from growing up without her mom and with a dad who is highly overprotective. As we discussed, her dad (Dumbledoor in the movie) likes to stay close to home. Emma's sister is also overprotective (according to chapter 11). While Emma is more outgoing than Elizabeth Bennett, Liz seemed a little bit tougher to me. A little more apt to want to break away, see the world, see what she was capable of. I don't really see that in Emma. But maybe it comes later.

Fourth: Do other people giggle at certain words that have come to mean very different things? I won't list any examples, but there were two times I snickered. I hope you are all more mature readers than I am.

Fifth: What is the deal with Mr. Churchhill? He's like this looming myth that never materializes, yet everybody is obsessed with him. (Note: is that why they're obsessed with him? Is he popular because he's sort of an enigma? Because people like him can essentially become whatever you want them to be?)
Emma has already considered whether or not he's marriage material. I don't know what to make if this guy, simply because I haven't seen much of him yet. I'm suspect even though I don't know why. I wonder if he'll be a smarmy Wickham-esc kind of guy. Is he a guy she'll fall for only to realize he's a loser? Or did Mr. Elton fulfill that role in this novel? Mr. Knightley does not seem to trust Churchie (I started calling him this when I made notes in the margins):

Exhibit A: Knightly's Opinion of Churchie Part 1
On p.106 of my version, Emma says (to Knightly), "How odd you are! What has Mr. Frank Churchill done to make you suppose him such an unnatural creature?"

Knightley reminds her Churhie is a grown man, and can do whatever he wants, and is maybe playing out this "oh look how busy I am" thing because he's up to no good. {Editorial Note: As I typed that, the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bell Air got stuck in my brain.}

Exhibit B: Knightly's Opinion of Churchie Part 2
Emma says: "My idea of [Churchie] is, that he can adapt his conversation to the taste of everybody, and has the power as well as the wish of being universally agreeable. To you, he will talk of farming; to me, of drawing or music, and so on to everybody, having that general information on all subjects which will enable him to follow the lead, or take the lead, just as propriety may require, and to speak extremely well on each ; that is my idea of him."

Knightley says: "[If that's true] he'll be the most insufferable fellow breathing. What! at three and twenty to be king of his company -- the great man -- the practiced politician, who is to read everybody's character, and make everybody's talents conduce to the display of his own superiority, to be dispensing his flatteries around that he may make all appear like fools compared with himself?"

I think Emma thinks of Churchie as a guy who can talk to anybody about anything. And she sees this as a good thing. But maybe Knightley views him as more of a user: a social chameleon who adapts not to learn about someone else, not to find commonalities, but because he wants to manipulate. Or because he doesn't stand for anything. Regardless, Knightley seems to think Churchie is shady.

Question the Sixth: What is the deal with Jane Fairfax? I'll hold off my observations until I read more about her. But she intrigues me for sure. Mrs. Bates speaks of her as though she is a pretty little saint. And Emma can't stand her (and Knightley thinks it's because Jane is more accomplished ... which is kind of funny :). And Emma thinks there's a little s'um s'um going on with Jane and Mr. Dixon. Hmmmm.

Seventh: An Analysis How Mr. Elton became Elton the Jerkton
Somehow, Elton weaseled his way into the Woodhouse's carriage to attend a big dinner party at the Weston's house. By this point, his attraction to Emma is out of control obvious. But she continues to ignore it until he proposes to her on the carriage (what the heck?!).

And she says (my paraphrase), "You moron! You like Harriet. Not me. Get your filthy paws off my silky drawers!"*

And Elton replies: "I think seriously of Miss Smith? Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I should be happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well; and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to --- everybody has their level; but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. {Editorial Note: Oh yes he did!} I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance to be addressing myself to Miss Smith! No, madam, my visits to Hartifled have been for yourself only; and the encouragement I received --" (p.97 my version)

Example 1 of a Modern Day Elton the Jerkton: He flirts with you but won't acknowledge your presence at school.

Example 2 of a Modern Day Elton the Jerkton: He gets to know you, maybe even flirts with you, only so he can get to know your best friend.

Can you think of other examples?

Take it, Elphaba.

However. I'll admit it. If I'm going to call Elton a jerk for saying he's too classy to date Harriet, maybe I have to argue that Mr. Knightley is a little bit of a jerk too? Or just accept that this is a different time? (Or is it so different?) Remember back when Knightley told Emma that Martin was perfect for Harrietl? I'm pretty sure class was his motivation. Yeah? I think Martin is perfect for Harriet because they seemed right together. She seemed so happy when she talked about him. He sweetly, and genuinely, tried to let her know how much he loved her. Elton sent Emma poetry that was a little bit too froo-froo. Emma convinced Harriet it was for her. But Martin wrote her this endearing, honest proposal about how much he loved her. I don't think real love needs to be epic. Just authentic. Maybe Emma and Harriet are so busy looking for fireworks! they're missing something very sweet. Very real. Just a thought.

Eighth. My favorite modernization take back from all this might be when Emma is misinterpreting all of Elton the Jerkton's advances. Remember when Emma was sketching Harriet's likeness? And Elton mentioned how pretty Harriet was? In his mind, he was flirting with Emma. In Emma's mind, he was gushing over Harriet. Then Emma kept detailing to Harriet all the things Elton was saying and what they really meant. So funny. And so timely, no? Sort of like when you call your friend to read her a text you get from a guy, or a snippet of an email, and you start to try and figure out whether or not it means something else? (Not that I've done this or anything ...)

Ninth: I like that Emma is asking questions. Sometimes she'll subtly weave them into a conversation. Sometimes she asks them right out. But she's often wondering why men do things one way and women do things another. Is it age that influences certain decisions? Gender? Their place in society? Emma might be flighty, but she's not stupid. She's not letting the flow of society carry her along without questioning it. I hope she never stops.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Emma! Have you been watching the movie on PBS? Thoughts on that? I really really like it so far! I'm holding off on the second part until I get a bit further in the novel but I think the characters are incredible. I love the pace. Honestly, the movie helps me understand the book just a smidge more easily. Don't tell. :)

* Apologies. Sometimes Grease slips into casual conversation. It cannot be helped.


  1. I really like reading your observations, because they're a lot like mine were the first time I read the book. =) The first time I read it, I thought it seemed like some sort of soap opera, LOL.

    I can sort of relate to Emma and even Mr. Woodhouse, in the way that they're homebodies. I am, too. I love my routine and being at home, instead of going somewhere all the time (I'm comparing myself to Mr. Woodhouse? Kinda scary).

    I love the scene in Chapter 12, when Emma's sister, brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews are visiting, and her sister and father are having that conversation where everything comes back to their doctors. I think it's hilarious, and I love the way Emma and Mr. Knightley deflect possibly harmful remarks and try to keep peace among their families. And then when Emma's dad and sister are freaking out at the Christmas party because they're having a snow flurry and worry they won't be able to get home? I love how overly dramatic they are, LOL.

    I love the "Emma" on PBS! I like it much better than the Gwyenth Paltrow version. I wrote more about it in my blog, but all of the cast is perfect-exactly like I imagined them. It's so funny and sweet, and the music (and the scenery) is pretty, too. I can't wait until it's released on DVD on Amazon! =)

    Also, this is totally Emma-unrelated, but I just wanted to let you know that I read "The Magician's Elephant" Saturday night, and I loved it. It was so sad, but hopeful, and magical. Perfect for reading on a snowy night. Now I really want to read more of Kate DiCamillo's books.


  2. I have not been reading Emma along with you this time around, but since watching Emma on PBS (which I absolutely adore!) I've really enjoyed reading your comments and perspectives on things.

  3. Jane Fairfax is a most interesting character. I've been watching "Emma" on PBS and Fairfax seems different then I remember her from the book. It makes me want to read it again! But...I do think that you can sort of read what you want to about a character in Jane Austen's novels. Your mind (at least mine can) can get carried away with thoughts of a character. Sometimes it is easy to picture them in a different way if the physical description is somewhat broad. You can also read between the lines and come up with a pretty crazy storyline that might not even be there but you think it is there for some strange reason. Haha. Well...that's sometimes how my reading goes, anyway.

    I've seen the Gywneth Paltrow version of "Emma" but I like the Romola Garai version better. It's more in depth and seems to stick to the book a lot better. It does help me picture things better. Though Emma isn't as prim and proper as I first imagined her to be. She kind of slouches (yes, I know it is just the actress...but I like to imagine that the actress tries to embody what she thinks the character should be like...I hope) and likes to laugh a lot and runs around with fishy-smelling men (Churchie, that is). She seems more easy-going then I remembered thinking when I read the book. But that part of her character in the movie makes me like her character in general more.

    I do wonder if Jane Austen could have written some more dialogue. But at the same time it lets me imagine what the dialogue would have been like. You know, when she describes a conversation but doesn't actually put the words it lets me imagine what the characters sounded like and looked like. :)

    Happy reading, it gets more interesting. Honestly I can't seem to remember what happens with the whole Jane Fairfax/Dixon ordeal. I can't wait for part three of the PBS version. I'm sure once I know what happens it'll all come back to me. But definitely DO NOT watch more of the movie until you've finished those parts. That is the easiest way to ruin your own opinion of a book. Trust me. :)

  4. I haven't been watching so I can't really comment on that. Would you believe that I as an English major has never read Austen? I managed to escape somehow. :0)

    Happy snow! I didn't get any where I was. I'm still hoping for sometime this month. :0)

  5. I actually love Jane Austen and have read Emma. I agree, at times I was confused and had to read a paragraph or two a few times, but I liked it. The matchmaking did get a little annoying, but I loved how Knightley waited for her to come around and see how much she loved him. He obviously loved her enough to wait. :)
    I also loved the part in the Gwenyth Paltrow movie when he said, "Perhaps it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for each other."
    I don't know...perhaps I'm such a hopeless romantic that I missed all the flaws. Oh well! ;)