Skip to main content

View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Jane Austen's 'Emma' (271 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  A discussion of where Twain was coming from (9+ / 0-)

    with that opinion would be interesting, for sure.

    •  That IS interesting!!! (13+ / 0-)

      Especially where there is in many ways a real similarity of wit. If I had to guess, though, I would wager that his beef with Austen was that her wit was employed in service or defence of the status quo -- in other words, while she never hesitated to highlight and quietly mock personal hypocrisy and follies, her stabs at the wider hypocrisies and follies of the society she wrote of are generally so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. By and large she embraces (or at least her characters embrace) the status quo whole-heartedly, and act within its confines. I can certainly see why Twain would find that maddening! "Such a talent," I can almost hear him thinking, "such a talent for mockery, and to let so many targets pass by without a single shot!"

      •  I think you might be right. (12+ / 0-)

        He was impatient with so much in his own society, and reveled in pointing out the ridiculous wherever he found it. Perhaps it was her subtlety that annoyed him so.

      •  Funny you should mention it. I got stuck on this, (16+ / 0-)

        and was trying to figure out just how conventional Austen's morality is. At the heart of it, I find Austen's morality very sound: she handles fine distinctions, complexities of competing claims; and she can reliably discern what's good, what's reasonable, and what's forgivable.

        But how far does her morality extend, and how much is it trapped in a comfortable middle-class provincial English early 19th century worldview? Which would lean towards chauvinism, racism, materialism and snobbery. How blinkered is Austen herself? If she does fall short on these axes, we can't condemn her for being human - she was a product of her time and place. But it does affect the scope and timelessness of her work.

        It's hard to figure this out, just from Emma. I'll have a better sense when I've read more of her, bearing this question in mind. In Emma, Austen presents Emma Woodhouse as blinkered, and it's hard to get past Emma's world to see Austen's own clearest view.

        I was quite relieved when Emma mocked a poor friend, and Knightley rebuked her for it - there we see that Austen does have a morality that is at least the highest her society can attain:

        "Oh!" cried Emma, "I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her."

        "They are blended," said he, "I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. . . . Were she your equal in situation-- but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed! . . . and before her niece, too--and before others, many of whom (certainly some) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her. . ."

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 11:32:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's been a long time since I read Emma (13+ / 0-)

          but yes, there are numerous instances in Austen's work where she certainly seems to suggest a critique of her society without ever actually making it. Perhaps the most overt example is in Sense and Sensibility, when Elinor is (or perhaps the narrator is -- I can't remember rght now) commenting on her inability to even earn her living, let alone inherit it. Another very vague one can be discerned in the character of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice -- a clergyman who has nothing of the "Christian" graces about him whatever and is utterly entranced with and impressed by the most crass evidences of material wealth and success, rhapsodizing constantly about the cost of items in his noble patroness's mansion -- a mantle of material "greatness" that he appropriates for himself by association. These are extremely quiet, extremely subtle moments at which I, at least, see a rather more critical figure lurking behind the gently mocking figure of the narrator (who, much as she appears to be the author herself, is of course merealy another fictional construct).

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

  • Recommended (170)
  • Baltimore (86)
  • Community (84)
  • Bernie Sanders (66)
  • Freddie Gray (59)
  • Civil Rights (54)
  • Elections (41)
  • Culture (38)
  • Hillary Clinton (36)
  • Media (35)
  • Racism (32)
  • Law (31)
  • 2016 (31)
  • Labor (26)
  • Education (26)
  • Environment (25)
  • Republicans (23)
  • Politics (23)
  • Barack Obama (22)
  • Police (20)
  • Click here for the mobile view of the site