Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Speed of an Arrow - JASNA CWNY Discusses Emma

"She absolutely refused to allow me..."

“I met her walking home by herself, and wanted to walk with her, but she would not suffer it. She absolutely refused to allow me… While I, to blind the world to our engagement, was behaving one hour with objectionable particularity to another woman, was she to be consenting the next to a proposal which might have made every previous caution useless?” Emma chapter 50

Of course, this year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma. This is the last of Jane Austen’s novels to be published in her lifetime.

Emma is often described as Jane Austen’s best novel. It is also one of her most complex. Nothing is as it seems. However, we will have an opportunity to straighten it all out at our next JASNA CWNY meeting where Celia Easton will lead a discussion of Emma.

Event:   JASNA CWNY September Meeting.
Topic:   A rousing discussion of Emma
When:   September 17, 2016, 1 pm
Where: Pittsford Barnes and Noble Community Room

On the surface, Emma is a beautiful description of life in a small English country village. Underneath, of course, Emma is a story full of misrepresentations, misperceptions, and riddles. Emma completely misunderstands Harriet’s background. She totally misjudges Mr. Elton. Frank Churchill totally misrepresents his relationships with Jane Fairfax and with Emma. After blundering through several attempts to make a match for Harriet and totally misunderstanding Frank Churchill, Emma, in a moment of startling clarity, realizes the depth of her misunderstandings.

“It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been her conduct! What blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world.” Emma chapter  47

Jane Austen’s characters often experience moments of self-revelation as they move through the novels, although not always with the “speed of an arrow”. Consider Elizabeth’s Bennett’s reaction as she reads and re-reads Darcy’s letter.

"Will you do me the honor of reading that letter?"
“In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on nothing, she walked on; but it would not do; in half a minute the letter was unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as she could, she again began the mortifying perusal of all that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine the meaning of every sentence.” Pride and Prejudice chapter 36

She goes on to carefully analyze the letter, dissecting every sentence and comparing everything in it to her recollections of Wickham. It is a rather remarkable bit of analysis that leads her to a startling conclusion.

“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. -- Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
"How despicably have I acted!" she cried. -- "I, who have prided myself on my discernment! -- I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. -- How humiliating is this discovery! -- Yet, how just a humiliation! -- Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. -- Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself."” Pride and Prejudice chapter 36

Emma and Elizabeth both come to realize something very important about themselves, one with the speed of an arrow, the other after some very careful analysis.

Representation, misrepresentation, discernment, and self-awareness. Jane Austen’s novels are full of riddles and revelations, perhaps none more so than Emma.

Join us for a discussion of Emma lead by Celia Easton. The conversation is bound to be lively and enlightening. Anne Elliot would love it.

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