Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Exasperating Emma Binghamton Meeting

"EmmaTitlePage" by Jane Austen - Lilly Library, Indiana University.

It is such a happiness when good people get together--and they always do.Emma chapter 21. Spoken by one of the most exasperating characters in Emma.

Jane Austen’s Emma was published in 1816. As the title page attests, it was written by the author of Pride and Prejudice, but its main character, Emma Woodhouse, is not nearly as universally loved as the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. Indeed, Emma is often considered as Jane Austen’s literary masterpiece, yet many people would rather read Pride and Prejudice. So how does the technically superior novel give way? Perhaps it is because, as Marie Sprayberry puts it, “its heroine, and many of her relatives and neighbors, are often thoroughly exasperating people?”

From the very beginning Emma and Elizabeth are presented differently. We first hear about Elizabeth from her father as “Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 1). Later, after she is insulted by Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Lizzy reacts. “She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 3)

Lizzy is quick, spirited, lively, and playful.

"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance"
Spirited Lizzy Bennet deals with the proud Mr. Darcy. 
(C. E. Brock at

Then we read about Emma.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition,
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.” (Emma chapter 1.)

Handsome, clever , and rich to be sure, but also a tad arrogant and spoiled. It’s downhill from there.

"I planned the match from that hour"
Emma matchmaking 
(C. E. Brock at

Then there are Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Woodhouse, and Miss Bates, all of them exasperating in some way. Frank is off to London for a haircut, Mr. Woodhouse wants everyone to eat thin gruel, Jane hardly speaks, and Miss Bates speaks far too much. Only the farmers, Mr. Knightly and Robert Martin, seem to make sense.

In the little village of Highbury, Jane Austen layers relationships on relationships; emotions and status mingle in a complex brew that leaves us wondering, as Marie Sprayberry puts it, “how can it all end happily?”.

Hypothetical map of Highbury by Penny Gay 

A story of “three or four country families,” Emma challenges us to truly understand some of the basic truths about character and relationships that can leave us a little uncomfortable.

It’s all a great theme for discussion. Please join us in Binghamton as Marie Sprayberry leads a discussion of Emma: Exasperating Characters. Here are the details:

Event:   Emma: Exasperating Characters a meeting of the former JASNA Syracuse region
Where: RiverRead Books, 5 Court Street, Binghamton
When:  Saturday, November 7, at 2 pm

It will be a great warm up for next year’s AGM. Marie will also discuss our recent reorganization. Rest assured, you will only discuss and not meet any exasperating characters.

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