Sunday, March 09, 2008


"...Jane Austen can in fact get more drama out of morality than most other writers can get from shipwreck, battle, murder or mayhem--there is balance, there is a serenity which leaves a contentment at the core of the heart similar to that perfect rightness which one experiences when listening to Mozart, there is an epigrammatic style which is mainly joyful though occasionally lethal, and there is a sense of richness and profusion--although the prose is always sternly prose and never remotely poetry--sufficient to last one a lifetime of Austen addiction."

~Robert Blythe in his introduction to Emma

For some reason I thought Emma was one I didn't like quite as much. I just reread it, and I don't know why I ever liked it less than Pride or Prejudice or Persuasion. And actually, this is the fourth time I've read it, so I couldn't have disliked it too terribly. It is the longest of Austen's novels and is said to have a perfect structure. It contains a subtle mystery. Who is Jane Fairfax's lover? Did Mr. Dixon really send her that piano? And who does Emma love, for that matter?

Not long ago someone asked me why I like Jane Austen so much. My first response was, "She makes me laugh!" Her wit is peerless. I love her obnoxious characters like Mrs. Elton in Emma, though I think my all-time favorite Austen ninny is Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. I love those occasional lethal sentences that Austen delivers like no one else can. As Virginia Woolf said of Austen, "Of all the great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness."

I love Austen's tone and I want it for myself. I want to go through life amused at human foibles, but not in an aloof, contemptuous way--I don't want the satirist's sneer. Austen knows all and reveals all of our faults and inconsistencies, but she always forgives (if you want to consider her for a moment as the merciful goddess of the world she creates in her novels).

Would I want to actually live in Jane Austen's Regency world for a month or even a day? No. I would probably act like Lydia and Kitty at the dance. My conversation would be as scintillating as Harriet Smith's. Instead of marrying Captain Wentworth I surely would have ended up with that cad of a cousin. How embarrassing! And really, who wants to limit life to taking turns 'round the garden, doing needlework, paying and receiving visits, and buying the occasional ribbon?

But I will keep escaping there for little trips as I reread the books.


Fauna said...

What a great post! Couldn't you just talk about Jane Austin all day?

That's great that you love Emma now! I too love it - and for all the reasons you pointed out. Your comment about Austin's "lethal sentences" is something that is absolutely amazing about her. She's so subtle that sometimes you don't even notice until all of a sudden it hits you and you realize that - wow - she just delivered a killer line! I wish I had her wit, even just for a day.

Well, thanks for giving me my Jane Austin fix for today. You know, there should be a "Jane Austin Appreciation Website" where people like us could submit posts and read other peoples posts about Jane, her books, her charachters, and everythign to do with her. It would be like the theme from the Jane Austin Bookclub movie - "All Jane Austin - All the Time!" Wouldn't that be fun? :-)

athena said...

i haven't read emma, maybe because i saw the movie with gwyneth paltrow portraying her. but i don't like the satirist's sneer either. i never could under sarcasm. if anything it only makes me grumpy.

Karen ~ said...

how about ...


or this, a collection of people who blog about her ...

it's out there!!!