I shall begin a post on Jane Austen’s Emma with a quote from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, for if Jane herself included it in Volume 1, it must be indicative of what is to come:
The course of true love never did run smooth.
Of course, how can it run smoothly at the hands of our well-meaning Emma? If I didn’t somehow trust her character, I would throw the book down in disgust at her interfering, meddlesome ways. She is convinced that her friend, Harriet Smith, should not become the wife of Mr. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm, but instead be engaged to the vicar, Mr. Elton. In her conviction, she does not see that Mr. Elton’s eyes are on Emma herself. Emma is “too eager and busy in her own previous conceptions and views to hear him impartially, or see him with clear vision…”
It isn’t until the carriage ride home from the Christmas party at Randalls, to which Harriet could not attend due to her cold and sore-throat, that Mr. Elton makes his interest in Emma known. She is horrified that he is enamored of her, rather than Harriet, after such promptings on her part to put the two together. The very contrition on Emma’s part makes me feel affection for her; at least she has the sense to realize she has made a terrible blunder in her match-making attempt.
The first error, and the worst, lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong, to take so active a part in bringing any two people together. It was adventuring too far, assuming too much, making light of what ought to be serious, a trick of what ought to be simple. She was quite concerned and ashamed, and resolved to do such things no more.
We shall see if she changes her ways in Volumes 2 and 3. But, before I leave Volume 1, I must admit to feeling vaguely sympathetic to Mr. John Knightley’s views on parties. I am the sort of person who much prefers the quiet intimacy of one or two guests, three or four at the most, and often live in dread of being invited to large gatherings during the Christmas season. The introvert in me loved this passage, while recognizing there is a certain uncharitable quality inherent to its expression:
‘A man,’ said he, ‘must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fire-side, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity- actually snowing at this moment! The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home – and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out on such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it; – and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can; – here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; – four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey fie idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home.
I suspect that Jane Austen may have struck a chord with many people who live in Chicago and find little better to do in the winter than complain about the weather. But, it isn’t the snowy evening that I object to, it is the tediousness of keeping up a steady stream of chatter when I’d rather be reading.
And now I will close with other quotes I adored from Volume 1:
I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to ‘Yes,’ she ought to say ‘No’ directly.
Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.
It was a delightful visit; – perfect in being much too short.
A sore throat! – I hope not infectious. I hope not of a putrid infectious sort.
This is quite the season, indeed, for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.
Before I go, here is the view walking into school on Monday morning, a most fetching scene for December, is it not? And, I want to ask, “What parts of Emma did you find most endearing? Or, interesting?” Please leave a link to your review so that I can visit you.