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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What is the certainty of caprice?

Emma by Jane Austen

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Emma is a tale of mistaken matchmaking and the love that surprises you by appearing mysteriously where only friendship existed before. It chronicles a few months in the life of Miss Emma Woodhouse, the (unmarried) younger of Mr. Woodhouse's two daughters, and her (mostly ill-fated and often mischief-causing) attempts at matchmaking. Emma makes a project out of a local girl, Harriet, whose parentage is unknown, and whose prospects are minimal at best. Emma tries to set her up with first Mr. Elton, an eligible bacheldore, and then Frank Churchill, who it turns out (DUN DUN DUN) is not as eligible as he seems (#secretengagement #JaneFairfaxcankeepasecret #secretssecretsarenofunsecretsarentforeveryone #iknowwhogaveyouthatpianoforte) If this is starting to sound familiar, it might be because you're a member of civilized society and you've seen the movie Clueless once or twice before. ;) Several men set their sights on Emma, and one, the semi-avuncular but eminently lovable Mr. Knightley (Mr. George Knightley, not to be confused with his brother, Mr. John Knightley, who is married to Emma's sister - I know, Really Really Tangled!) is successful. Harriet finds her way back to her initial love interest, a Mr. Robert Martin, who is very kind and sweet and after all not so very poor, and everybody lives Happily Ever After.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I'm fairly sure I read this book at least once before, and I've definitely seen both Clueless and the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma, so nothing was really a surprise. That said, Emma (the book and the titular character) really grew on me. I think P and P will always be my favorite Austen, but Emma has perhaps the greatest growth of all Austen's heroines (at least of P and P, S and S, and Persuasion, which I've read) and in a way, that makes her all the more worthy of affection and a happy ending. 

Forgive me if this blog runs long, as I've spent most of the day wanting to be exactly where I am now (#snuggled #withinpettingreachofmycat #warm #itwasfourdegreesthismorning) and am happily enjoying the experience of writing this entry. 

- Least lovable, and therefore most worth loving
As I mentioned earlier, Emma has many faults. She is vain, she fancies herself a gifted matchmaker, and she sees it as her right and duty to meddle in the business of others. Over the course of the novel, though, she learns (in an understated, not an overhanded sort of way) to modify her behavior, and grows into a truly lovely specimen of a woman and a human being. If Emma were an Austen character cocktail, she would be a drink that starts with the bitter haughtiness of Caroline Bingley/Mr. Darcy circa early P and P and finishes with the delicate sweetness of penitent, learned Elinor Dashwood and a citrus splash of Marianne Dashwood's adventurous tartness mixed in. 

- Tidy bow, but not unrealistically so
I must admit I appreciate that Austen's books end happily. I haven't read all of them, but the ones I have read (S and S, P and P, Persuasion, and Emma) have a way of tidily tying up loose ends, but without seeming to stretch the fabric of reality too intensely in doing so. There's a sense of things all coming out right in the end that I find deeply satisfying. Some people like a complex ending, but then again some people like a good unresolved chord at the end of a jazz riff, and I've never been much for either. I'll take happiness and harmony any day; we certainly have a shortage of happy stories in this world (and seem to derive a perverse pleasure in telling the sad ones), so I say let's take the happy where we can.

- Modern version of an 19th century woman
Whenever I read Austen, I am reminded of what an Excellent 19th century woman I would make. I love reading, and embroidery, and cards, and playing musical instruments, and singing, and lively conversation. What more could a girl ask for? #borninthewrongcentury #icanstillbeafeministandlikethosethings ;) #areyoulovingtheironicalhashtagsinthispost?

- Mr. Woodhouse = Puddleglum = Marvin the Robot
Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, was easily my favorite character. He reminded me a great deal of Puddleglum, the depressed Marsh-Wiggle of Narnian fame, and Marvin, the manically depressed robot from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Here are some comparison quotes for your enjoyment:

Mr. Woodhouse, on Emma's painting of Harriet: "It is very pretty. Just as your drawings always are, my dear. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seem to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders - and it makes one think she must catch cold."
  'But, my dear papa, it is supposed to be summer; a warm day in summer. Look at the tree.'
 'But it is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear."

Puddleglum, when the children first meet him and he tells them they can try to light a fire: "You could light it inside the wigwam, and then we'd all get the smoke in our eyes. Or you could light it inside, and then the rain would come and put it out. Here's my tinder box. You wouldn't know how to use it I expect?"

Mr. Woodhouse on venturing out to be with company in wintertime:
"Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; - four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home. 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!" I couldn't agree more! How Comfortable I am here snuggled in my warm apartment with my cat!

When Eustace comments on the weather, Puddleglum's reply:
"Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we'll hardly notice the weather. And if we don't get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry." That's the Spirit, Puddleglum! ;)

Mr Woodhouse, on the plan to move a potential ball from Randalls, their friends' home, to the Crown Inn: "No, he thought it very far from an improvement - a very bad plan - much worse than the other. A room at an inn was always damp and dangerous; never properly aired, or fit to be inhabited. If they must dance, they had better dance at Randalls. He had never been in the room at the Crown in his life - did not know the people who kept it by sight. Oh! no - a very bad plan. They would catch worse colds at the Crown than anywhere."

Marvin's exchange with Ford Prefect:
Ford: "How are you, metalman?"
Marvin: "Very depressed."
Ford: "What's up?"
Marvin: "I don't know. I've never been there." haghaghahgahghaghaghagh

On Emma's plan to go to a shindig at a neighbor's house:
"You will get very tired when tea is over.'
 'But you would not wish me to come away before I am tired, papa?'
'Oh! no, my love; but you will soon be tired. There will be a great many people talking at once. You will not like the noise.'
'But, my dear sir,' cried Mr. Weston, 'if Emma comes away early, it will be breaking up the party.'
' And no great harm if it does,' said Mr. Woodhouse. 'The sooner every party breaks up, the better." heh heh heh heh

Mr. Woodhouse on young ladies, aka delicate plants:
"I am very sorry to hear, Miss Fairfax, of your being out this morning in the rain. Young ladies should take care of themselves. -Young ladies are delicate plants. They should take care of their health and their complexion." hear that, young ladies? we are Delicate Plants. What delicate plant are you? I fancy I'm a cyclamen. Or perhaps a hyacinth. 

And my favorite, Mr. Woodhouse's insistence on the Windex cure to life: Gruel.
"You must go to bed early, my dear Isabella - and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go. - You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel." yes, suppose we all have a little gruel! gruel, anyone? 

- Look, let's just tawk when we've mellowed.
I suppose this is the feedback loop Jasper Fforde mentioned in One of Our Thursdays is Missing, but I greatly enjoyed imagining Ty in Harriet. Here are a few nuggets:
  • "Harriet was one of those, who, having once begun, would be always in love."
  • When Harriet brings over keepsakes from Mr. Elton to BURN after she finds her affection unrequited: "She held the parcel towards her, and Emma read the words Most precious treasures on the top. Her curiosity was greatly excited." The parcel contained a bit of old bandage and the end of a pencil that Mr. Elton had once used to write a memorandum with. I believe in Clueless there's a kitchen towel he used to mop her brow with after her Rollin' with the Homies incident. ;) haghahgahgagh Most Precious Treasures. #rotfl #wastheoneringintheretobindthem?
- Classic Austenisms
What is an Austen novel without a foppish man?
  • "Emma's very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut. A sudden freak seemed to have seized him at breakfast, and he had sent for a chaise and set off, intending to return to dinner, but with no more important view that appeared than having his hair cut."
Or a musical heroine who is capable, but not a True Proficient?
  • "Emma did unfeignedly and unequivocally regret the inferiority of her own playing and singing. She did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood - and sat down and practised vigorously an hour and a half."
  • Emma, after a compliment from Harriet:"Don't class us together, Harriet. My playing is no more like hers, than a lamp is like sunshine."
Or a quarrel between friends/lovers?
  • "She hoped they might now become friends again. She thought it was time to make up. She certainly had not been in the wrong, and he would never own that he had." oh, OK. great. glad we cleared that one up. so Nobody's to blame!
Or a high quality, character-building, teachable moment?
  • "Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of this representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel, to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued!"
  • -"A whole evening of back-gammon with her father was felicity to it."
  • "As a daughter, she hoped she was not without a heart." that's right, Emma, you backgammon your cares away! #gamenightwillsetyouright
Or a seriously misguided proposal?
  • Mr. Elton: "Miss Smith, indeed! -Oh! Miss Woodhouse! Who can think of Miss Smith, when Miss Woodhouse is near!"
  • Emma, deeply displeased: "It would be impossible to say what Emma felt, on hearing this - which of all her unpleasant sensations was uppermost." haghaghaghahgahg #allthefeels
  • And, the final blow from Emma: "I have no thoughts of matrimony at present." Burn!
I must admit to being quite delighted that this book differs from some other Austen novels, however, in that we get a solid forty pages after the heroine has secured her epic love. So nice to get to marinate in their joy! How I long for forty pages of happy Darcy and Elizabeth! We get one happy scene at Pemberley, and that is all we are to be satisfied with!

Words that maybe still exist (I don't know - you tell me! It's a quiz!):

valetudinarian - a person who is unduly anxious about their health (OH OK. so me! ;)

chilblain - a painful, itching swelling on the skin, typically on a hand or foot, caused by poor circulation in the skin when exposed to cold (oh, OK. so life in New Hampshire! again, like me!)

coxcomb - a vain and conceited main; a dandy (ooh ooh, I know! like Wickham!)

impute - represent (something, esp. something undesirable) as being done, caused, or possessed by someone; attribute (NO NO no no No No NO! imputing is a technique you use in data cleaning, and it is HEAVILY frowned upon by some members of the policy community. Dictionary got that one Wrong! [pats self on back]

Particularly pleasing passages:
  • On Mr. Elton and Emma after he proposes to her, unsuccessfully: "If there had not been so much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but their straightforward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment." no room for zigzags of embarassment! none at all!
  • "The youth and cheerfulness of morning are in happy analogy."
  • "I cannot make speeches, Emma! If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."
One of my favorite twists is that even though dear Mr. Knightley (George, not John) is kind and good enough to offer to move in with Emma and her father at Hartfield and quit his own property at Donwell, Mr. Woodhouse is too delicate to handle the prospect of their marriage. They try to persuade him: "Did he not love Mr. Knightley very much? Would not he like to have him always on the spot?"
"Yes. That was all very true. Mr. Knightley could not be there too often; he should be glad to see him every day; -but they did see him every day as it was. -Why could not they go on as they had done?" and in the end, the only reason he is happy to consent is... PILfered POUltry! Someone has been getting into the henhouses (Litrally) near the Woodhouses, and Mr. Woodhouse is so put out that he MUST have Mr. Knightley always nearby to protect them.  ahghaghagh #thanksforthechickensstupid

I'll leave you with some bits about Emma that resonated with me:
Emma's response to Harriet, on Emma being an old maid: "A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else."
- 'But you will be an old maid! and that's so dreadful!
  'I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public!" you tell her, Emma! I mean, I'm okay with solitude AND poverty, but as a semi-wealthy single lady, I am glad to hear Emma supports me ;)

Emma's governess: "Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through - and very good lists they were - very well chosen, and very neatly arranged - sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen - I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now." Oh don't WORRY, Emma. I've got a GOOD list for us to tackle. But we're nearing the end! Can we swapsies?

at one point, Knightley describes his future wife, and points out quite specifically that she must have "the hazle eye, the True hazle eye." guess what, Knightley? hazel eyes right here! on my driver's license and everything! come on DOWN!

When Emma finally realizes she loves Knightley and he loves her and all will be right with the world:
"She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational. She was really in danger of becoming too happy for security."

I hope you all may soon find yourselves in very real danger of becoming too happy for security. I wish you warmth, a cat to snuggle with, and a really good book. I'm on to Cherished. NO, that's not right. Adored? Adorned? Wait, that's a Miguel song. Well you know what I mean! Join me if you chuse! (see what I did there with the British spelling? #adorable #toomanyhashtags #nosuchthing)

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