Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Emma by Jane Austen — Oct 11, 2013

Title page of first volume of Emma, 1816

Jane Austen has fascinated readers all over the world and the occasion of reading Emma promised all sorts of delights. Readers come away with insights into the mind of women to whom marriage is a pre-eminent concern.

Talitha, Thommo, Priya, Esther

Austen’s prose became an ideal to imitate for its proper English words and phrases. It was not the spoken English of the period, but a high style.

Kavita & Zakia

As in all novelists you expect the characters to be drawn sharply and represent every sort of person that could be imagined to inhabit the situations, scenes and places in which the novel is set. Austen provides all the variety you might expect, with twists and turns that the strong-willed Emma could not foresee.

Mathew & Kavita

She discovers that some of the best things in life cannot be arranged.

Talitha & Priya

To read more click below.

Emma by Jane Austen — Oct 11, 2013

Jane Austen, from a family portrait

Present: Thommo, Matthew, Talitha, Kavita, Zakia, Esther and Priya. Joe participated by a mailed passage.
Absent: were Sunil (away to Thrissur), Bobby (No intimation), Gopa (away to UK), Joe and Kumkum (away to USA), Sivaram (Not enthused by Emma)

Before the reading we discussed Sivaram’s e-mail to KRG about his reason for absence - not being enthused by Emma. The general consensus was that being a part of a reading group meant discovering books and writers at other’s suggestions and finding a fresh perspective, even if the suggested book did not immediately inspire the others. 

Sterne's Tristram Shandy was mentioned as a case in point. A majority felt it was laborious, outlandish and yet they found the eighteenth century classic to be refreshingly maverick, ‘postmodern’, selection by Joe.

Talitha began by saying that after Zakia and she had zeroed in on Jane Austen, they took time to decide on Emma. They vacillated  between the better-known Pride and Prejudice and the more literary Persuasion. Emma was selected because it made for a “meatier” read that combined romance, period life and psychologically complex characters.

Thommo said that Emma became the template on which the contemporary Mills and Boons romances were fashioned. Talitha differed, saying that Emma was not a romantic work, but a satire. Matthew said that the story was a true representation of the age.

The group had a lively discussion on whether matchmaking continues to be actively pursued in current Indian society much as in Emma’s times. Talitha was of the opinion that it does and it is just as successful.

Priya pointed out the use of archaic words and the formal style of conversation, typical of the class and period.

The group digressed by talking about the translation of the New Testament and its dating. Sunil and Talitha had differing viewpoints, but Thommo had the last word by cracking a joke.

The joke
The Pope dies and, naturally, goes to heaven. He is met by St Peter and told that he can enjoy any of the myriad recreations available.

He decides that he wants to read all of the ancient original text of the Holy Scriptures and other writings of the period. The Pope spends the next eon or so learning the languages. After becoming a master linguist, he sits down in the library and begins to pore over every piece of text connected to the Holy Bible.

One day there is a scream from the library. The angels come running to him, only to find the Pope huddled in a chair, crying to himself, and muttering, "An 'R'! They left out the 'R'”.

St. Peter takes him aside, offering comfort and asks him what the problem is. After collecting his wits, the Pope sobs again, "It's the letter 'R' ... the word should have been CELEBRATE."

The group also discussed the riddles Emma and Harriet engage in, and its occurrence in other novels, and its relevance today. Talitha said it is there in Oedipus, in Tolkien and in Alice In Wonderland too.

Emma’s manipulative ways to negotiate a match were discussed but Talitha felt that she was not a match maker in the true sense of the word.

Kavita read the passage where Harriet declares her lover for Mr. Knightley. This is a turning point for Emma because for the first time she discovers her love for Knightley.

Mathew read the passage after the ball. Emma Woodhouse, in Jane Austen’s supposedly own words, is “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”. Set in the Regency years, the time of Jane Austen herself, the novels acquired readership during the Victorian era and, inevitably, led to comparison with works of the latter period. Nevertheless, it is inescapably to be associated with the ease and luxury that marked the reign of King George IV, as regent and as king. Emma, therefore, has the independence, inclination and the time to be ‘nosy’ about her contemporaries in their romances and relationships. The book gives us a perception of her environs through the eyes of Emma.

The passage chosen is an example of such. We can readily, through the picture description, visualise the scene, imagine the expression on the faces and eyes of the personae, and believe ourselves to be present there. Powerfully compact in the usage of words and phrases, it lends itself to attentiveness on the part of the hearers. There is no commentary or critique – only full and proper enjoyment of the  language and the situation. The engagement with the gypsies provides mirth and the calculating mind of Emma makes us think “here we go again”. Above all, the treatment of fainting young ladies provides cause for laughter. 

Esther read the passage where Elton proposes to Emma (Chapter 16, Collins Classic, Edition 2010) and Emma realizes that she had been “adventuring too far”, andthat she had been making light of what was serious.

Priya read the passage were Emma tells Harriet that a rich spinster is never a poor old maid and remains relevant in society. That she, Emma, would look after her nephew and nieces but never marry.

There was a discussion about the laws of inheritance for spinsters in British lawThommo spoke about a 660 year-old Act, which came up recently after the birth of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first baby, George.

Changes to the law in order to ensure the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first baby, be it boy or girl, can succeed to the throne are to be rushed through parliament:

MPs will meet to start rewriting 660 year-old laws to ensure that if the royal couple have a girl she will become Queen, even if she later has a younger brother.

Strange to say, in the British royal family women can succeed to the titles, but it is quite different for the aristocracy. The aristocracy's current rules are even harsher than those of the crown, as a title will die out rather than be passed onto a female heir.

Kavita spoke about the laws on inheritance among the Syrian Christians and about the high profile case of Ms. Mary Roy, where it was ruled that the property rights for sons and daughters are on par.


Zakia read the part when Kingsley objects to Emma's interference in Harriet's life, influencing her to refuse Robert Martin. Zakia felt that Emma was being decidedly manipulative, though well-intentioned. 

Joe’s passage, sent via mail, was read eloquently by Sunil. It was the passage where Harriet receives  a proposal from Robert Martin.

Joe’s comments on Emma were read by Priya:
Emma's major concern in life is to arrange marriages for women whom she knew. Jane Austen covers much the same ground in her famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, which begins:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

One must conclude that the author's imagination too was fired by the same overriding theme. If so, it casts the society of those times in a poor light in that women seem obsessed with making a match and landing a catch.

A Suitable Boy too deals with the search for a husband. But if Jane Austen's books go on and on and on a single subject, Vikram Seth covers an immense panorama of the country, and the mores of its people within the compass of his novel. Rupa Mehra, the mother in search of a bride for her daughter, occupies no pre-eminence in the novel. Half a dozen other characters occupy a much larger space. An author like VS can combine husband-searching with a far more rounded account of the life and times of the bride-to-be with a great deal of wit.

Jane Austen, on the other hand, makes her heroine boring by making her mind run in a single track. Austen's vaunted prose is stilted and stiff, and though she has wonderful events that almost tend to humour, she can never come right out and raise a laugh, for it would spoil the primness with which she writes.

The modern rebuttal to Jane Austen was delivered by a wag who said:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged in the 21st century that the last thing a single man in possession of a good fortune wants is a wife because she'd bleed him dry when she divorces him."

KumKum wrote that she was very sorry to miss the session. She read the book and enjoyed it, and wanted to thank Talitha and Zakia for selecting it. 

The reading was enjoyable and lively. Joe and Kumkum were missed for their usual contribution to our readings with references, analogies, etc.

The Readings




Having arranged all these matters, looked them through, and put them all to rights, she was just turning to the house with spirits freshened up for the demands of the two little boys, as well as of  their grandpapa, when the great iron sweep-gate opened, and two persons entered whom she had never less expected to see together—Frank Churchill, with Harriet leaning on his arm—actually Harriet!—A moment sufficed to convince her that something extraordinary had happened.  Harriet looked white and frightened, and he was trying to cheer her.— The iron gates and the  front-door were not twenty yards asunder;—they were all three soon in the hall, and Harriet immediately sinking into a chair fainted away.

A young lady who faints, must be recovered; questions must be answered, and surprises be explained. Such events are very interesting, but the suspense of them cannot last long. A few minutes made Emma acquainted with the whole. Miss Smith, and Miss Bickerton, another parlour boarder at Mrs. Goddard's, who had been also at the ball, had walked out together, and taken a road, the Richmond road, which, though apparently public enough for safety, had led them into alarm.—About half a mile beyond Highbury, making a sudden turn, and deeply shaded by elms on each side, it became for a considerable stretch very retired; and when the young ladies had advanced some way into it, they had suddenly perceived at a small distance before them, on a broader patch of greensward by the side, a party of gypsies. A child on the watch, came towards them to beg; and Miss Bickerton, excessively frightened, gave a great scream, and calling on Harriet to follow her, ran up a steep bank, cleared a slight hedge at the top, and made the best of her way by a short cut back to Highbury. But poor Harriet could not follow. She had suffered very much from cramp after dancing, and her first attempt to mount the bank brought on such a return of it as made her absolutely powerless— and in this state, and exceedingly terrified, she had been obliged to remain. How the trampers might have behaved, had the young ladies been more courageous, must be  doubtful; but such an invitation for attack could not be resisted; and Harriet was soon assailed by half a dozen children, headed by a stout woman and a great boy, all clamorous, and impertinent  in look, though not absolutely in word.—More and more frightened, she immediately promised  them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more,  or to use her ill.—She was then able to walk, though but slowly, and was moving away—but her  terror and her purse were too tempting, and she was followed, or rather surrounded, by the whole  gang, demanding more.

In this state Frank Churchill had found her, she trembling and conditioning, they loud and insolent. By a most fortunate chance his leaving Highbury had been delayed so as to bring him to her assistance at this critical moment. The pleasantness of the morning had induced him to walk forward, and leave his horses to meet him by another road, a mile or two beyond Highbury— and happening to have borrowed a pair of scissors the night before of Miss Bates, and to have  forgotten to restore them, he had been obliged to stop at her door, and go in for a few minutes:  he was therefore later than he had intended; and being on foot, was unseen by the whole party  till almost close to them. The terror which the woman and boy had been creating in Harriet was  then their own portion. He had left them completely frightened; and Harriet eagerly clinging to  him, and hardly able to speak, had just strength enough to reach Hartfield, before her spirits were  quite overcome. It was his idea to bring her to Hartfield: he had thought of no other place.

This was the amount of the whole story,—of his communication and of Harriet's as soon as she  had recovered her senses and speech.— He dared not stay longer than to see her well; these  several delays left him not another minute to lose; and Emma engaging to give assurance of  her safety to Mrs. Goddard, and notice of there being such a set of people in the neighbourhood  to Mr. Knightley, he set off, with all the grateful blessings that she could utter for her friend  and herself. Such an adventure as this,—a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown  together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the  steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even  a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard  their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly  interesting to each other?—How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with  speculation and foresight!—especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had  already made.

It was a very extraordinary thing! Nothing of the sort had ever occurred before to any young  ladies in the place, within her memory; no rencontre, no alarm of the kind;—and now it had  happened to the very person, and at the very hour, when the other very person was chancing  to pass by to rescue her!—It certainly was very extraordinary!—And knowing, as she did, the  favourable state of mind of each at this period, it struck her the more. He was wishing to get the better of his attachment to herself, she just recovering from her mania for Mr. Elton. It seemed as if every thing united to promise the most interesting consequences. It was not possible that the  occurrence should not be strongly recommending each to the other.




Harriet receives a proposal of marriage by letter, from Ch 7 of Emma (809 words)
This letter was from Mr. Martin, and contained a direct proposal of marriage. "Who could have thought it? She was so surprised she did not know what to do. Yes, quite a proposal of marriage; and a very good letter, at least she thought so. And he wrote as if he really loved her very much—but she did not know—and so, she was come as fast as she could to ask Miss Woodhouse what she should do.—" Emma was half-ashamed of her friend for seeming so pleased and so doubtful.

"Upon my word," she cried, "the young man is determined not to lose any thing for want of asking. He will connect himself well if he can."

"Will you read the letter?" cried Harriet. "Pray do. I'd rather you would."

Emma was not sorry to be pressed. She read, and was surprised. The style of the letter was much above her expectation. There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer. It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling. She paused over it, while Harriet stood anxiously watching for her opinion, with a "Well, well," and was at last forced to add, "Is it a good letter? or is it too short?"

"Yes, indeed, a very good letter," replied Emma rather slowly—"so good a letter, Harriet, that every thing considered, I think one of his sisters must have helped him. I can hardly imagine the young man whom I saw talking with you the other day could express himself so well, if left quite to his own powers, and yet it is not the style of a woman; no, certainly, it is too strong and concise; not diffuse enough for a woman. No doubt he is a sensible man, and I suppose may have a natural talent for—thinks strongly and clearly—and when he takes a pen in hand, his thoughts naturally find proper words. It is so with some men. Yes, I understand the sort of mind. Vigorous, decided, with sentiments to a certain point, not coarse. A better written letter, Harriet (returning it,) than I had expected."

"Well," said the still waiting Harriet;—"well—and—and what shall I do?"

"What shall you do! In what respect? Do you mean with regard to this letter?"


"But what are you in doubt of? You must answer it of course—and speedily."

"Yes. But what shall I say? Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me."

"Oh no, no! the letter had much better be all your own. You will express yourself very properly, I am sure. There is no danger of your not being intelligible, which is the first thing. Your meaning must be unequivocal; no doubts or demurs: and such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires, will present themselves unbidden to your mind, I am persuaded. You need not be prompted to write with the appearance of sorrow for his disappointment."

"You think I ought to refuse him then," said Harriet, looking down.

"Ought to refuse him! My dear Harriet, what do you mean? Are you in any doubt as to that? I thought—but I beg your pardon, perhaps I have been under a mistake. I certainly have been misunderstanding you, if you feel in doubt as to the purport of your answer. I had imagined you were consulting me only as to the wording of it."

Harriet was silent. With a little reserve of manner, Emma continued: "You mean to return a favourable answer, I collect."

"No, I do not; that is, I do not mean—What shall I do? What would you advise me to do? Pray, dear Miss Woodhouse, tell me what I ought to do."

"I shall not give you any advice, Harriet. I will have nothing to do with it. This is a point which you must settle with your feelings."

"I had no notion that he liked me so very much," said Harriet, contemplating the letter. For a little while Emma persevered in her silence; but beginning to apprehend the bewitching flattery of that letter might be too powerful, she thought it best to say, "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. It is not a state to be safely entered into with doubtful feelings, with half a heart. I thought it my duty as a friend, and older than yourself, to say thus much to you. But do not imagine that I want to influence you."


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