Final Austen in August Giveaway (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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Hello, friends! I hope this week has gone well for you all thus far. As the last couple guest giveaways wrap up on their blogs, it is a truth universally acknowledged that I promised you all one final giveaway before Austen in August ends.

I have a few goodies to give away. First, I have a copy of the three books I ended up reading for Austen in August. Okay, I’m still working on one of them, but it will be read by the end of August. Up for grabs are Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe (autographed), Longbourn by Jo Baker, and Old Friends & New Fancies by Sybil Brinton.

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Second, I am giving away two $15 gift certificates to Amazon. Gift certificates can technically be used on any Amazon purchase, but I’d prefer it be Austen-related since it’s for an Austen event. This makes a total of five winners between the books and gift certificates.

To enter, you must be an Austen in August participant. Please leave a comment on this post that includes your name, email address, and book of choice. Feel free to list the books in the order you’d want to receive them if more than one book interests you. Everyone who comments will be entered for the Amazon gift cards.

I’ll run the giveaway through Tuesday, September 2nd (11:59 pm EST) so everyone has enough time to enter. Winners will be selected using Random.org and will be contacted Wednesday, September 3rd. You must respond to my email within 48 hours in order to officially win.

That’s it! I’m heading out of town for the weekend, but I hope to get another post or two up before the month ends. I’ll still post my book reviews as promised, but it might be the first week of September before I’m all caught up with those.

Happy weekend to all!

The Watsons & Emma Watson Giveaway (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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A very happy Tuesday to you all! I’m here to send out word of another fabulous giveaway. Janet of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing is hosting a giveaway of The Watsons & Emma Watson, so make sure to visit her post by Friday to enter.

This is the last of the guest posts and giveaways from other bloggers. Please stay tuned for a giveaway and post from me as well as reviews if I can pull the time together for them. If not, the reviews will carry over into early September. Either way, the big giveaway will be happening. Let’s make these last six days count!

A Very Mr. Darcy Giveaway (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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A very happy Monday to you all! I hope things are still going well as we enter our final week of Austen in August. Dry your tears, friends, because it’s not over yet!

I owe you all two review posts for Among the Janeites and Longbourn, and I’m currently reading Old Friends & New Fancies. I hope to also get through A Jane Austen Education and, if I’m lucky, a re-read of Persuasion. More to come from me near the end of the week, and I hope to have a post of my own up in regard to the woman who brought us all together, because you bet I have a tale of my own to tell.

Now, let’s roll out another giveaway. No better way to start a week, in my opinion. Melissa of The Book Binder’s Daughter has graciously offered to give away what sounds like a promising tale from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. Please visit her review and giveaway post to sign up. She will be drawing a winner on August 28th, so don’t delay!

Please let me know how things are going! Comments/discussion are always welcome.

Guest Post: Mansfield Park & the Art of Self-Deception (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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I bet you were starting to see a trend with my posts by now, but alas, I’m here to throw you off just a little bit. I needed to send you into the weekend with another fabulous guest post, dear readers. Sara is taking over today’s post to talk about Mansfield Park and self-knowledge/self-deception. Sara is currently finishing a degree in English literature. When she’s not reading, studying, or drinking unhealthily large quantities of Earl Grey tea, she’s blogging at Majoring in Literature. Welcome, Sara!


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​If there’s one Austen novel that divides readers more than any other, it would have to be Mansfield Park. For some, the novel is the work of a skilled and mature writer at the height of her powers. For others, an evening spent watching paint dry may be preferable to spending even one second with the insufferable Fanny Price and her dreadfully dull husband-to-be, Edmund. No matter what you think about Mansfield Park, however, it’s clear that the novel differs markedly from Austen’s earlier work. Even the author herself acknowledged that it was more ‘serious’ than her other novels; in a letter to her brother, Francis Austen, she wrote that “I have something in hand – which I hope on the credit of P[ride] & P[rejudice] will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining” (Letter dated Chawton, July 3rd 1813).

Mansfield Park certainly seems like quite a departure from Austen’s first two novels; Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are both crammed with lovable heroines, hilarious hypochondriacs, and as many balls and parties as a reader could wish for. Mansfield Park is a fairly quiet novel in comparison, with fewer balls, parties, and wonderfully weird characters. It seems to be the kind of novel that grows on people slowly, one which yields more the longer you scratch away at its groundwork. And since it happens to be celebrating its two hundredth birthday this year, this August seems like a good opportunity to ask what it is about this novel that makes it, like all of Austen’s fiction, so loved, so debated, and so enduring.

Because the novel’s heroine, Fanny, is so different to some of Austen’s other early heroines – the naïve Catherine of Northanger Abbey, witty Elizabeth Bennet, and the always-dramatic Marianne Dashwood – there is a tendency to lump Mansfield Park with another of Austen’s later, more ‘serious’ novels, Persuasion. But it is also worth remembering that in terms of publication, Mansfield Park is sandwiched between two of Austen’s most high-spirited and humorous novels: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Incidentally, it is in these two novels that self-knowledge, a key issue in all of Austen’s novels, plays an important part in the overall plot. Pride and Prejudice pivots on Elizabeth Bennet’s acknowledgement of her own prejudicial attitudes; and in Emma, it is the heroine’s inability to understand both the motivations of others and her own desires that drives the story forward.

In contrast, Mansfield Park‘s heroine appears to change very little during the course of the novel; unlike Elizabeth and Emma, Fanny does not go through the painful yet enlightening process of developing greater self-awareness. Yet Mansfield Park is just as concerned with the issue of self-knowledge as Austen’s other novels. Instead of the heroine undergoing a transformation, however, in Mansfield Park Austen inverts the plot of her best-known stories and considers what it is like to possess both self-awareness and sound judgement in a world full of hypocrisy and lies.

At Mansfield Park, self-deception rules the day. The neighbourhood surrounding the great house is peopled by an unpleasant cast of characters who are idlers (Tom Bertram), gluttons (Dr Grant), flirts (Henry Crawford), or just plain bossy (Mrs Norris). People with an inflated sense of self-worth are in charge (namely, the dreadful Mrs Norris), and the patriarch of the family, Sir Bertram is – perhaps willingly – blind to his own failures as a father and an educator.

Young, rich people form attachments to individuals profoundly unsuited to their own temperaments; Maria Bertram marries the unalterably stupid Mr Rushworth, and Edmund Bertram pursues Mary Crawford against his own better judgement. There is scarcely a character who is not deceiving themselves on some level. Whether it be Henry Crawford, convinced he can seduce Fanny, or Mr Rushworth, thinking Maria is in love with him, or Edmund, foolishly thinking Miss Crawford might make a good clergyman’s wife.

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Then, of course, there is Fanny herself. At once involved in the society at Mansfield and simultaneously removed from it, Fanny is the only person who seems to see things as they really are. Unlike the heroines of Austen’s other novels, for whom self-knowledge and sound judgement are achieved only through a long process of trial and error, by the time Mansfield Park begins, Fanny has already developed these qualities. Whether they are inherent in her character, or the result of her upbringing, is never made explicit. But from the moment Fanny is brought to Mansfield as a child, her ‘outsider’ status is asserted; her Aunt Norris declares that, “it is not at all necessary that she should be as accomplished as you [Maria and Julia Bertram] are; – on the contrary, it is much more desirable that there should be a difference” (Chapter II). And while alienating Fanny may have contributed to the development of her introverted personality, it is clear that her status as something of an outsider also allows Fanny to judge both her own feelings and the characters of others with much more insight and intelligence than, for example, Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet do.

A quality which goes hand-in-hand with self-knowledge is the ability to make sound judgements; the ability to ‘make up your own mind’. Fanny’s excellent awareness of both her own disposition (including her love for Edmund) and the character of her friends and family allow her to make difficult decisions independently. Despite her family’s displeasure, and despite the tactics they employ to try and change her mind, Fanny refuses to marry Henry Crawford, rightly judging him to be an unscrupulous flirt. Fanny has not overheard the conversation which takes place between Henry and his sister, Mary, where the bored young man asserts that he plans to “make Fanny Price in love with [him]“, and that he “cannot be satisfied […] without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart” (Chapter XXIV), yet she nevertheless judges his character correctly. The reader, aware of this conversation, sees at once how accurate her judgements are.

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Fanny makes decisions with both “a sound intellect and an honest heart” (Chapter XXVII). Her desire to be “rational” (Chapter XXVII) in her decisions reveals an awareness of how easy it is to judge oneself and others from a position of blindness and self-deception. Fanny’s heightened self-awareness allows her to make decisions independent of those around her; and this independence of thought is another thing which singles Fanny out from the other people at Mansfield. But while Mrs Norris argues that Fanny has “a little spirit of secrecy, and independence, and nonsense, about her, which I would advise her to get the better of” (Chapter XXXII), Austen’s readers understand that it is precisely this “independence” of thought that makes Fanny heroine material.

Mansfield Park is a novel hugely concerned with ‘intellect’, ‘rationality’, and ‘the mind’. People speculate on the ‘minds’ of others; Edmund, discussing Mary Crawford with Fanny, laments, “that uncle and aunt! They have injured the finest mind; for sometimes, Fanny, I own to you […] it appears as if [her] mind itself was tainted” (Chapter XXVII), and when Mr Crawford bemoans the failure of the theatricals at Mansfield, Fanny reflects on what she considers to be his “corrupted mind” (Chapter XXIII). In order to make sound judgements, it seems, one must possess both a good mind (“intellect”) and an “honest heart”, an awareness of one’s own feelings and how they might, potentially, interfere with sound judgement. It is for this reason that Edmund, the novel’s hero, is another of Mansfield’s great self-deceivers, for although he is aware of Mary Crawford’s failures, including her attitude towards his future occupation, the church, he cannot help but be blinded by his infatuation with her. Despite his insight into her character he persists in believing that she may yet change her mind, and make a good clergyman’s wife. Though he sees her character with a certain clarity of mind, he is not so “honest” that he can admit to being blinded by affection.

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Honesty – both with the self and others – is important in Austen’s fiction. In Mansfield Park Austen surrounds her heroine with a cast of self-deceivers, and positions her as the only person with the clarity and the honesty to perceive the truth in her surroundings. And while Fanny’s insight may make her seem a little less human than Austen’s other, flawed heroines, the novel also emphasizes the difficulty that comes with clarity of mind and judgement. Positioned as an outsider to the wealth and idleness of Mansfield, Fanny’s character demonstrates that occupying the moral high ground can at times be a difficult and lonely task, particularly when even the people you trust try to force you to do otherwise – as Edmund eventually does when he tries to talk Fanny into marrying Henry Crawford. Clarity of judgement is an ideal which few characters achieve without overcoming many obstacles; but as Fanny notes, “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be” (Chapter XLII). This ideal resounds through all of Austen’s novels, but in Mansfield Park Austen demonstrates an awareness of the difficulties inherent in achieving it. Despite these setbacks, however, Austen’s emphasis on self-knowledge may be one of the reasons why she is such an enduring and popular author; no matter which period of history you inhabit, the propensity of human beings to blindness – whether it be moral, political, or personal – endures.

Book of Choice Giveaway (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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You guys! It’s August 21st. We’ve been up to Austen shenanigans for three weeks now. Where does the time go!? I’m still only two books in, but I intend on getting through two more before the event concludes. How is everyone else doing?

There’s a lot yet to look forward to with Austen in August. I’ve enjoyed the posts I’ve been reading these past few weeks, and I’m excited for what’s to come. In the meantime, please make sure you’re linking your Austen posts to the Master Post Linky.

Now, the title of this post promises a giveaway, so let’s get to the important stuff. Kristen of Terminal Bibliophilia is giving away a book of choice to one lucky winner. The book will need to be Austen related, of course. The giveaway will run from August 21-24, so make sure to sign up on Kristen’s blog by Sunday night!

Bout of Books Challenge: Book Spine Poetry

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My Little Pocketbooks is hosting a book spine poetry contest as part of Bout of Books. The rules state that we are to create a poem using various book titles. We can technically use one extra word per book to make the poem flow better, but I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do this without using any extra words. Did I succeed? You decide.

book spine poetry

One night,
Inside out and back again.
The longest journey.
The beginning of everything.
Child of God,
Tell the wolves I’m home.


Feel free to judge my work and/or link up your own poem in the comments.

Guest Post: There Is Nothing Like Austen for Real Comfort (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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Happy Tuesday to you all! I hope everyone is making progress on their Austen in August goals. I’ve made it through two books thus far, so you can expect reviews very soon. Giveaways will return this week as well, but for now let’s welcome Lauren to the Austen stage for a little chat on the comforts of Jane Austen. You can visit her book blog at Esther’s Narrative and her writing blog at The Renegade Word.


I’m pretty sure 2013 was my most Austenian year ever: I read 3 Austen novels, joined my local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), attended a series of lectures on Austen, saw Austen’s portrait and writing desk in the flesh, and even traveled to Chawton. This year has paled in comparison on the front of Doing Big Austen Things, but it’s given me time to process that information and parse out what kind of Janeite I am.

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At Chawton (Photo Credit: Kylie Byrd)

I know that “Janeite” can be a divisive term among Austen adherents, but I consider it a badge of honor and proudly self-identify as such. In February of this year I read Among the Janeites, where author Debora Yaffe poses a question that’s stuck with me about Janeites: “Were all of us just seeing what we wanted to see, finding ourselves reflected in an Austen-shaped mirror?” Karen Joy Fowler seems to think so; the prologue to her novel The Jane Austen Book Club begins with “Each of us has a private Austen.” This isn’t exactly a bold statement: after all, the strictest Austen purists coexist with fans that have never picked up one of the original novels.

For our local chapter’s meeting this month, we held a discussion on Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Janeites.” I’d been hoping to use our discussion as a jumping off point for a post on something like “Janeites Through the Ages.” Maybe I’d talk about how Alfred, Lord Tennyson went to Lyme and demanded to be taken to the spot where Louisa Musgrove falls in Persuasion. Or how philosopher Gilbert Ryle, when asked if he read novels, replied, “Oh yes. All six, every year.” But reading “The Janeites” didn’t really fit into that paradigm the way I’d expected.

“The Janeites,” first published in 1924 and then in the collection Debits and Credits in 1926, is a story of a group of Great War veterans meeting at their local Freemason Lodge to swap war stories (full text here). Humberstall, one of the veterans, describes what he believed to be a sort of secret society on the front. In fact, a common love of Jane Austen among the men broke down their class distinctions. In fact, Humberstall’s offhand reference to Emma to a nurse ends up saving his life. It brings him comfort in the present day:

“‘[It’s] a very select Society, an’ you’ve got to be a Janeite in your ’eart, or you won’t have any success. An’ yet he made me a Janeite! I read all her six books now for pleasure ’tween times in the shop; an’ it brings it all back—down to the smell of the glue-paint on the screens. You take it from me, Brethren, there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place. Gawd bless ’er, whoever she was.’”

Many of my fellow JASNA members agreed this story was not at all what we’d expected. For one thing, I was under the mistaken impression that Kipling had coined the term “Janeite,” which isn’t the case. (It was critic George Saintsbury in 1894.) For another thing, Austen really could be replaced by any other author who depicted English country life. The reverence is deep but not unique; the in-jokes don’t provide as big a payoff for contemporary Austen adherents as modern re-tellings do. And it’s very jargon-y, both in terms of written dialect and slang of the period. (There are excellent notes provided by the Kipling Society, but it’s not very smooth reading.)

The men in Kipling’s story aren’t the kind of Janeites we picture today—especially because today we don’t picture many men reading Austen. Humberstall is ill-educated and has suffered head trauma. Of course, Austen’s prose is smooth and showcases that discerning Austenian narrator—not a word out of place. Humberstall’s story feels chaotic. His voice is equally strong, but in a way that grounds him in reality rather than lifting him above it. I first found it jarring, but then poignant.

The reason behind our JASNA chapter discussing “The Janeites” was to mark the centennial anniversary of the beginning of World War I. But it was the perfect foundation to continue our discussion on the comforts of Austen. From the notes published by the Kipling Society, Kipling read Austen’s novels aloud to his wife and daughter to get through the grief of losing his son in the war. Austen novels were given to soldiers suffering from shell-shock after the war.

Connecting Austen with the Great War really kind of drove home what any Austen fan already knows. My fellow JASNA members and I talked about the comfort we take in Austen: how we re-read and re-watch. Why we do it must have to do with our own private Austens. Some people talk about the comfort of simpler times, but I wouldn’t trade places with any of Austen’s heroines. I think instead of simplicity it’s the feeling we enjoy of all narrative: the deserving are rewarded, the ridiculous are mocked incessantly, and all the plot points pay off. And it’s all done flawlessly.

And, like Humberstall says, each re-reading is visiting an older version of yourself. Seeing my college version of Mansfield Park transported me to the nineteenth century, but also back to my senior year. There’s kind of a feeling when you re-read, that even though you won’t be dealing with mortar fire and mustard gas, Austen will see you through.

Bout of Books Scavenger Hunt

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The Book Monsters are hosting a scavenger hunt as part of Bout of Books. I’ve decided to make things simple and put all of my responses in one blog post. C’est simple, n’est pas?

My responses are as follows…

1. A Book that begins with “B”  (for Bout of Books!)
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Note: “The” doesn’t count this time. Also, if you haven’t read this yet, you MUST. Any hype you’ve heard is completely justified.
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2. A book that has been made into a movie/tv show

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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3. A series you love

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Note: This one is very new to me, but I love it all the same.
outlander-series

4. An anthology of poems or short stories

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Flappers and Philosophers

5. A book on your TBR shelf, or your full TBR shelves

A Girl Is A Half-Formed thing by Eimear McBride
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Feel free to share your responses in the comments or link up your own posts.

Bout of Books Readathon Goals

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Bout of Books starts on Monday, and I couldn’t be more excited! I didn’t do so well last time due to being in Texas for the first half of the readathon, but I have no trips this time around to distract me. That being said, I hope everyone is geared up for the event! I’ve included some of my goals below along with my reading list.

My Bout of Books Goals
1. Read at least 5 books.
2. Catch up on my 20 Books of Summer list.
3. Follow 10+ new bloggers on social media.
4. Comment on 10+ blogger pages during the event.
5. Participate in 3+ challenges and/or Twitter chats.

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My Reading List
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Astray
by Emma Donoghue
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
Old Friends & New Fancies
by Sybil Brinton
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Bout of Books participants: What are some of your goals, and what books are you looking forward to reading?

Guest Post: Speculation and Conjecture in Jane Austen’s Emma (#AustenInAugustLGR)

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Happy Thursday, Janeites! I’m here to welcome another fabulous guest blogger to the Lost Generation Reader stage. Ellen Mandeville blogs at Ellen Exploring: Seeking Truth One Post at a – SQUIRREL! She holds a degree in English Literature and is currently writing Hartfield, a sequel to Emma. Welcome, Ellen!


emmacoverOne aspect of Jane Austen’s work that I absolutely love is that each novel differs from the others. In Northanger Abbey, Austen rebuts the Gothic Romance novel. Sense and Sensibility contains Austen’s response to the Romanticism of her age. Pride and Prejudice depicts love triumphant overcoming pride, prejudice, the social cast system, and embarrassing family members. In Mansfield Park — Austen’s most theological work — she contrasts many things, one being the mere learning of Maria and Julia versus Fanny’s learning to develop true character. In Persuasion, we enjoy an ode to the Navy, the portrayal of meritocracy, and a second chance at a love thought dead. Emma, the subject of this post, has been called Austen’s agrarian novel. Certainly an agrarian theme is present, however, a stronger theme is found within Emma: speculation and conjecture of neighbors’ motives. In spite of all the speculation and conjecture throughout, Austen shows that guessing correctly at another’s motives is a near-impossible task.

The reality of wagging tongues discussing others’ motives and expected behavior is introduced by Emma herself in chapter one. On the evening of Mr. Weston re-marrying, she speaks of peoples’ opinions that Mr. Weston would never marry again:

“‘Every body said that Mr. Weston would never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Weston, who had been a widower so long, and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a wife, so constantly occupied either in his business in town or among his friends here, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful — Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did not like it. Oh, no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise to his [first] wife on her death-bed, and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none of it.’”

The theme of neighborhood speculation continues in chapter two. While introducing a few more characters, Austen depicts them making the social rounds, discussing news, and making pronouncements of What Ought to Happen.

“Now, upon his father’s marriage, it was very generally proposed, as a most proper attention, that the visit should take place. There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, either when Mrs. Perry drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Bates, or when Mrs. and Miss Bates returned the visit. Now was the time for Mr. Frank Churchill to come among them; and the hope strengthened when it was understood that he had written to his new mother on the occasion. For a few days every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. ‘I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill had written to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life.’”

We are social and meaning-making creatures. It is reasonable that we seek to understand our friends and acquaintance. However, throughout Emma Austen displays that behavior can have more than one explanation, and that assumptions on other persons’ motives can be dreadfully wrong.

Emma_CE_Brock_1898_Vol_II_Chapter_VIIIIn chapter twenty-six, a major source of conjecture is Who Gave Jane Fairfax the Pianoforté? The news of its anonymous arrival is made known by Mrs. Cole over dinner at her party. Jane Fairfax and her aunt, Miss Bates, while having been astonished at the unexpected arrival, put forth that the Campbells — the family that raised Jane — must have bestowed the gift. Emma, with no evidence whatsoever to support her notion, already believes Miss Fairfax to be in love with Mr. Dixon, the new husband of Miss Fairfax’s childhood friend. It’s obvious to Emma that Mr. Dixon somehow had the instrument delivered.

Later during the music portion of the same party, Mrs. Weston, Emma’s childhood governess and intimate friend, makes her own conjectures, “‘My dear Emma, I am longing to talk to you. I have been making discoveries and forming plans, just like yourself, and I must tell them while the idea is fresh.’” After discussing Mr. Knightley’s attentions to Miss Fairfax and Miss Bates, Mrs. Weston announces, “‘… a suspicion darted into my head, and I have never been able to get it out again. The more I think of it, the more probable it appears. In short, I have made a match between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax. See the consequence of keeping you company! What do you say to it?’” Mrs. Weston goes on to claim “‘the idea has been given me by circumstances…’” and later she says “ ‘…this pianoforté that has been sent her by somebody — though we have all been so well satisfied to consider it a present from the Campbells, may it not be from Mr. Knightley?’” Thus, “rational unaffected” Mrs. Weston, as Mr. Knightley himself described her in chapter one, also enters into the speculation.

There are many more instances of reading wrong motives into another person’s behavior in Emma. However, in the interest of not giving away major spoilers, I must exclude mention of them. I hope to merely whet your appetite to pay attention to this theme if you pick up Emma to read for the first time, or if you choose to read it again. But I will touch on the fact that there is a mystery woven throughout Emma.

In the midst of all the conjecturing, two characters in the book are keeping a secret from all the others, and Jane Austen keeps it secret from the reader for most of the novel. I confess that I was completely snowed during my first reading of Emma and did not catch on until all was completely revealed. In my defense I cite the facts that (1) Emma was the first of Austen’s books I read, and (2) early 1800’s English culture is far removed from late 1900’s United States’ culture. So, I missed it! Entirely! Having since become more familiar with Austen’s cultural norms and having re-read Emma a few times, I see that there are hints an astute reader can pick up. Assuming that she pulled the wool over most of her contemporary readers’ eyes, Austen proved her point that people are hard pressed to accurately work out the motives of others. Not only do the other characters not figure out the secret in their midst, most of the readers likely do not either. Most of the comments I’ve encountered from re-readers is, “Oh! It’s right there all along, but so easily missed!”

The theme that our hearts are opaque to one another occupies a primary place in Emma. Proof of its primacy is demonstrated by its early introduction, its continuance throughout the novel to the end — which shall be shown, and especially by Austen’s summary statement made during the climactic moment when mutual love between two principal characters is being revealed:

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.” (ch. 49)

Even in the midst of this pinnacle moment, some of “the conduct is mistaken,” though it is only the smallest bit.

Just as news is spread at the beginning of the novel, in the same manner is the news of this betrothal spread throughout Highbury:

“‘It is to be a secret, I conclude,’ said [Mr. Weston]. ‘These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out. I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion.’

“He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, his eldest daughter? he must tell her; and Miss Bates being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Perry, and Mrs. Elton immediately afterwards. It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls [Mr. And Mrs. Weston’s home], how soon it would be over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity.” (Ch. 53)

The mistaken motives and opaque hearts continue to the end of the novel. I often mistake Jane Austen’s “Seldom, very seldom…” statement of chapter forty-nine as being written in chapter fifty-four, the next to last chapter. In this chapter, Emma hides her face in her sewing basket when she hears some unexpected news.

“‘Good God!’ she cried. ‘Well!’ Then having recourse to her workbasket, in excuse for leaning down her face, and concealing all the exquisite feelings of delight and entertainment which she knew she must be expressing, she added, ‘Well, now tell me every thing; make this intelligible to me. How, where, when? Let me know it all. I never was more surprised — but it does not make me unhappy, I assure you. How — how has it been possible?’”

emmawestonNear the beginning of the book, the news would have vexed her. But due to intervening action she is now receives this news with joy. She feels compelled to not make known this material change in order to protect another person’s privacy. The other party explains the particulars and is waiting to see Emma’s reaction, but she still fears revealing too much. “He stopped. Emma dared not attempt any immediate reply. To speak, she was sure would be to betray a most unreasonable degree of happiness. She must wait a moment, or he would think her mad.” Finally, she is able to display an appropriate degree of emotion. “He wanted her to look up and smile; and having now brought herself not to smile too broadly, she did, cheerfully answering …”

I believe I mistake Austen’s proclamation from chapter forty-nine as being in this scene from chapter fifty-four because the action in this scene so well depicts its truth. It is a dialog which wraps up a few loose ends and gives the true reasons for some misinterpreted behavior. While explaining misunderstood behavior, Austen continues to display, in Emma’s actions, the truth that “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken…”

Novel quotes obtained from Pemberley.com: http://www.pemberley.com/etext/Emma/

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