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Lionel Trilling’s essay on Emma begins with the starling observation that in the case of Jane Austen, “the opinions which are held of her work are almost as interesting and almost as important to think about, as the work itself” (47). The comment is especially surprising in view of the essay’s origin as an introduction to the Riverside edition of Emma: rather than take readers straight into the novel, Trilling ponders the impossibility of approaching it in simple literary innocence, because of the powerful feeling generated by the name Jane Austen.
Almost half a century later, opinions of Austen have multiplied as fresh issues have arisen to divert and divide subsequent generations of readers. Literature Review Austen’s skill in writing lies in her ability to describe the life of her characters and their surroundings in great detail – she is able to write of the world in microcosm. It is a feature of her style that there are few references to people or events outside the village in which her stories are set.
This reflects the lifestyle of the day when transport was difficult and communication limited.
Austen often writes about marriage and, in particular, the position of women in marriage. Genteel women did not work and they rarely acquired their own money through marriage or inheritance. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was expected that marriage was for life. Austen’s gentle and leisurely style reflects the society she often describes – a society in which walking out for a minor shopping excursion was a major highlight.
Austen skillfully uses these events to explore the values of society in a satirical way. There are a number of ways in which Austen communicates with her audience.
The majority of her work is written in third-person narrative, with the narrator seeing the story from all perspectives. This is also known as the omniscient narrator. She also reveals her views through the intrusive narrator, or through her characters’ dialogue. At other times her characters will unintentionally condemn themselves through their own dialogue. It is in these situations particularly that the reader experiences some of the best Austen’s satire. The majority of dialogue in Emma comes from the female characters of the text, in particular Emma.
This is an important feature of Jane Austen’s style as she is more comfortable with the speech of women than men. The women are the chatterers, full or small talk, while some of the men, especially the hero, Mr Knightley, are people of few words and discuss more serious matters. Modern readers may find many of the attitudes and customs of Emma surprising or, at times, unbelievable. The novel does, however, accurately reflect the nature of English society during the early nineteenth century. Although Austen reflects the values of nineteenth-century. England, she does not always agree with these values.
It is her depiction and evaluation of this society that presents us with the subtle satire that is part of her charm and success. The Irony of Emma The American critic Marvin Mudrick followed both Harding and Wilson in his views of Austen as a subversive writer. He argued that irony was her means of defense and discovery and, like Wilson; he found intimation of lesbian desire in Emma’s infatuation with Harriet. Mudrick suggests that Emma is an unpleasant heroine who is incapable of committing herself humanity. He contentiously argues that Emma’s supposed reformation is the ultimate irony of a novel that is steeped in irony (Mudrick 181).
The irony of Emma is multiple and ultimate aspect is that there is no happy ending. Emma observes Harriet’s beauty with far more warmth than anyone else, she was so busy in admiring chose soft blue eyes, in talking and listening, and forming all these schemes in the in-between that the evening flew away at a very unusual rate. The irony of Emma is multiple; and its ultimate aspect is that there is no happy ending, easy equilibrium, if we care to project confirmed exploiters like Emma and Churchill into the future of their marriages.
“The influential American critic Lionel Trilling gives a ‘liberal humanist’ reading of Emma which bears some resemblances to Leavis’s moral criticism, albeit in a more relaxed and urbane tone: ‘To prevent the possibility of controlling the personal life, of becoming acquainted with ourselves, of creating a community of “intelligent love” – this is indeed to make an extraordinary promise and to hold out a rare. ’ Trilling sees the novel as a pastoral ‘idyll’ to be considered apart from the real world, with Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates as ‘Holy fools’.
But paradoxically, he argues that this most English of novels is touched by national feeling’. Emma’s gravest error is to separate Harriet Smith from Robert Martin, ‘a mistake of nothing less of national import’. Some of Trinlling’s assumptions are distinctive of his age and class (liberal, well-to-do Manhattan intellectual life of the immediate post-war era) – the extract begins with an assumption that many later twentieth-century critics would regard as cringingly sexist – but his good judgment and intelligence as a reader, together with his unbending commitment to the serious importance of literature – shine through” ( 31).
The extraordinary thing about Emma is that she has a moral life as a man has a moral life. And she doesn’t have it as a special instance, as an example of a new kind of woman, which is the way George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke has her moral life, but quite as a matter of course, as a given quality of her nature. Inevitably we are drawn to Emma. But inevitably we hold her to be deeply at fault. Her self-love leads her to be a self-deceiver. She can be unkind. She is a dreadful snob. “Mark Schorer considers the novel by closely analyzing its verbal and linguistic patterns.
He argues that Austen’s language is steeped in metaphors drawn from ‘commerce and property’, and that she depicts a world of ‘peculiarly material values’, which is ironically juxtaposed with her depiction of ‘moral propriety’. Austen’s ‘moral realism’ is concerned with the adjustments made between material and moral values. Emma must drop in the social scale to rise in the moral scale. Schorer’s contention that Emma must be punished and humiliated has been condemned by later feminist critics as representative of the ‘Girl being taught a lesson’ mode of Austenian criticism.”(98) Jane Austen’s Emma, 1816, stands at the head of her achievements, and, even though she herself spoke of Emma as ‘a heroine whom no one but me will much like’, discriminating readers have thought the novel her greatest. Her powers here are at their fullest, her control at its most certain. As with most of her novels, it has a double theme, but in no other has the structure been raised so skillfully upon it. No novel shows more clearly Jane Austen’s power to take the moral measurement of the society with which she was concerned through the range of her characters.
The author must, then, choose whether to purchase mystery at the expense of irony. The reliable narrator and the norms of Emma If mere intellectual clarity about Emma were the goal in this work, we should be forced to say that the manipulation of inside views and the extensive commentary of the reliable Knightley are more than is necessary. But for maximum intensity of the comedy and romance, even these are not enough. The ‘author herself’ – not necessarily the real Jane Austen but an implied author, represented in this book by a reliable narrator – heightens the effects by directing our intellectual, moral, and emotional progress.
But her most important role is to reinforce both aspects of the double vision that operates throughout the book: our inside view of Emma’s worth and our objective view of her great faults. The real evils 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. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived; that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her. ’ “Duckworth’s influential book sets Austen in her historical context.
In his chapter ‘Emma and the Dangers of Individualism’, he aligns Emma with that other dangerous innovator Frank Churchill. Duckworth employs binary oppositions of define Austen’s social values: conservative stability (represented by Mr Knightley) is contrasted with radical innovation (represented by Frank Churchill). The ‘open syntax of manners and morals’ is set against the ‘concealment and opacity’ of games” (79). With Churchill’s entrance, Emma is no longer the puppet-mistress of Highbury but instead becomes a marionette in Churchill’s more subtle show. Churchill’s game-playing is not to be dismissed as venial.
It is symptomatic of a world in which once given certitudes of conduct is giving way to shifting standards and subjective orderings. “Marilyn Butler presents Austen as an anti-Jacobin novelist, a propagandist of conservative ideology. Butler’s study showed how the highly politicized decade of the 1790s saw a flood of novels (often by women) that were engaged in the post-revolutionary ‘war of ideas’. Butler sets Austen’s novels firmly in the camp of the anti-feminist, traditionalist ‘domestic’ novels of Mary Brunton and Jane West as opposed to those associated with reformist writers such as Mary Hays and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Accordingly to this argument, in Emma Austen shows her preference for rationality and inherited moral systems over imagination and individual choice. Emma is brought to recognition of her social duty” (74). The plot to which the language harmoniously relates is the classic plot of the conservative novel. Essentially, a young protagonist is poised at the outset of life, with two missions to perform: to survey society, distinguishing the true values from the false; and, in the light of this new knowledge of ‘reality’, to school what is selfish, immature, or fallible in her.
Where a heroine is concerned rather than a hero, the social range is inevitably narrower, though often the personal moral lessons appear compensatingly more acute. Nevertheless the heroine’s classic task, of choosing a husband, takes her out of any unduly narrow or solipsistic concern with her own happiness. What she is about includes a criticism of what values her class is to live by, the men as well as the women. The novel with a fallible heroine by its nature places more emphasis on the action than the novel with an exemplary heroine. But Emma is an exceptionally active novel.
The point is established first of all in the character of the heroine: Emma is healthy, vigorous, and almost aggressive. She is the real ruler of the household at Harfield – in her domestic ascendancy she is unique among Jane Austen’s heroines. She is also the only one who is the natural feminine leader of her whole community. The final irony is that this most verbal of novels at last pronounces words themselves to be suspect. It has been called the first and one of the greatest of psychological novels. If so, it resembles no other, for its attitude to the workings of Emma’s consciousness is steadily critical.
Although so much of the action takes place in the inner life, the theme of the novel is skepticism about the qualities that make it up – intuition, imagination, and original insight. Emma matures by submitting her imaginings to common sense, and to the evidence. Her intelligence is certainly not seen as a fault, but her failure to question it is… Easily the most brilliant novel of the period, and one of the most brilliant of all English novels, it masters the subjective insights which help to make the nineteenth-century novel what it is, and denies them validity.
Julia Prewitt Brown presents a compelling view of Highbury: far from being static and hierarchical, it more closely resembles a road-map of people, ‘a system of interdependence, a community of people all talking to one another; affecting and changing one another: a collection of relationships’. Brown takes issue with the Marxist critic Arnold Kettle. For Brown, the novel is seen not from the perspective of ‘frozen class division but from a perspective of living change’. Miss Bates is singled out as a crucial member of society in that she links together all the disparate ranks.
Social co-operations and community are vital for protecting vulnerable single women. To ensure the harmony of the community of Highbury, ‘the life of the individual must be coordinated internally before it can function externally’ (88). Just as the structure of Emma is not causal, it is also not hierarchical. Were we to draw a picture of the novel, it would not, I believe, bring before the reader the ladder of social and moral being that Graham Hough assigns. It would look more like a road map in which the cites and towns, joined together by countless highways and byroads, stood for people.
As the image of a road map suggests, Highbury is a system of interdependence, a community of people all talking to one another, affecting, and changing one another: a collection of relationships. Emma is seen as daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, companion, intimate friend, new acquaintance, patroness, and bride. And each connection lets us see something new in her. Jane Nardin exmines the plight of the genteel, well-educated and accomplished heroine, whose major problem is that she has too much time on her hands.
Emma interferes in the lives of others because she is bored, and has no outlet for her imagination. In contrast to Mr Knightley, who involves himself with those around him, Emma leads a life of isolation and even idleness. Marriage is Emma’s salvation because ‘as Knightley’s wife, she will enter his life of activity and involvement’ (22). Emma Woodhouse sees herself as the typical eighteenth-century heroine who uses her leisure to become an admirable, accomplished, exemplary woman, and who never suffers a moment’s ennui for lack of something to do.
She plays, she sings, she draws in a variety of styles, she is vain of her literary attainments and general information, she does not the honours of her father’s house with style, and confers charitable favours on a variety of recipients – in her own eyes, in fact, she is a veritable Clarissa. But Emma’s claims to Clarissahood are hollow. Blessed – or cursed – with money, status, a foolish father and a pliant, though intelligent, governess, Emma has earned admiration too easily.
A harsh view of Austen’s politics emerges from David Aers, who applies a Marxist analysis to Emma. Austen’s idealization of the agrarian, capitalist Mr Knightley nad her dismissive treatment of the disenfranchised, such as ‘the poor’, the gypsies, and even Jane Fairfax, typify her bourgeois ideology. Emma’s visit to ‘the poor’ in particular is viewed as an indication of Austen’s own capitalist values, though it should be remembered that Emma’s views are not necessarily Jane Austen’s especially as her irony is so often directed against her heroine (36).
Yet while Mr Knightley is certainly Jane Austen’s standard of male excellence (without being infallible), she does present him as an agrarian capitalist, not as some kind of pseudo-feudal magnate. He is prospering well, like his capitalist tenant, Robert Martin, and yet despite his relatively modest lifestyle we are told that he has ‘little spare money’.. As a Marxist, James Thompson believes that Ausen’s novels are time-bound and historical and enact the bourgeois ideology of the period.
He analyses the complexities and contradictions between the language of (public) social obligation and the ‘feeling’ of (private) individual interiority in Emma. The individual’s sense of ‘alienation’ in capitalist society turns within for ‘true authenticity’. Thompson focuses on Austen’s treatment of marriage in Emma, as a union promising ‘true intimacy’ against the threat of loneliness and solipsism (159). In contrast to Gilbert and Gubar, Claudia Johnson shows how Austen corroborates her faith in the fitness of Emma’s rule.
By inviting us to consider the contrast between the rule of Emma and that of Mrs Elton. Austen is able to ‘explore positive versions of female power’: ‘Considering the contrast between Emma and Mrs Elton can enable us to distinguish the use of social position from the abuse of it’. The novel concludes not with an endorsement of patriarchy, but with a marriage between equals. Furthermore, this is shown in the ‘extraordinary’ ending which sees Knightley giving up his own home to share Emma’s and thus giving his ‘blessing to her rule’(43).
In stunning contrast with Mansfield Park, where husbands dominate their households with as little judiciousness as decency, in Emma woman does reign alone. Indeed, with the exception of Knightley, all of the people in control are women. In moving to Hartfield, Knightley is sharing her home, and in placing himself within her domain, Knightley gives his blessing to her rule. “Jane Austen has been seen as a novelist who avoids the physical. John Wiltshire shows the importance of bodies in her text, and Austen’s emphasis on health and illness in Emma.
Wiltshire draws upon medical and feminist theories of the body” (54-56). Through its comfortable concern with its denizens’ well-being, the novel poses series of important questions, I suggest, about the nature of health, which are put more insistently through its gallery of sufferers from so-called ‘nervous’ disorders, Not only does Isabella Knightley, as might be expected, complain of ‘those little nervous head-aches and palpitations which I am never entirely free from any where’, but even placid Harrier, even Mrs Weston, let alone Jane Fairfax, suffer from, or complain of these symptoms called ‘nerves’.
But the two grand embodiments of the nervous constitution in Emma are Mr Woodhouse and Mrs Churchill and they preside, one way or another, over the novel’s action.
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