Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mean girl?

Just in case anyone needs to reach me, I'm having my mail forwarded to the sixth circle of heck.
As I tighten the chin strap on my hard hat in preemptive defense against the incoming rocks, I have to say, I'm not sure I'm liken' me some Miss Woodhouse. Austen's book, yes, very much, but for Austen's "heroine", the best I can do is "meh".
I was more than a little put out when "handsome, clever and rich" Emma Woodhouse used emotional blackmail to manipulate her "own sweet little friend", Miss Harriet Smith regarding one Mr. Martin of Abbey-Mill Farm. I gave Miss Woodhouse a time-out. She spent several days in the corner thinking about what she'd done. Okay, well, I'm actually the one who's been thinking about what she's done, and what I've been thinking is, "Shame on you, Miss Woodhouse."
I know I know. Emma wants to help. Emma likes Harriet. Emma's scheming seems motivated by a desire to better Harriet's standing in society during a period in time where that sort of thing is very very important to a connectionless woman. Emma is hemmed in by her own standing in society, prettily hemmed, but hemmed none the less. I get all that. I'm just not happy about it, but I am surprised. Aren't all these Austen heroines dear, angelic creatures?
Emma is the protagonist, and so, like all Austen's protagonist, she should be likable. Right? I now suspect she could just as well be the antagonist and the book becomes much more engaging when Emma isn't the girl with the "happy disposition".
According to her nephew and biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh, Miss Jane Austen was said to have written Emma intending that we NOT like its main character. Austen-Leigh quotes his aunt before she began Emma as having said, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." Well done, Jane. I'm not all together sure Miss Woodhouse is to my liking, but I'm reading again.

Wait a minute! I might have found the first person I intend to throw off with due decorum!


  1. Tracy, Tracy, Tracy. Have a little faith, all works out in the end.

    And keep in mind that there was not a whole lot going on for wealthy women during the time, especially unmarried ones.

    Afterwards, you need to rent "Clueless" with Alicia Silverstone and "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow.

    Upon my word, please refrain from speaking ill of Jane Austen.

  2. Dearest Mrs. Salva,
    I am most distressed that you have mistook my meaning. I take no umbrage with dear Miss Austen as I am all too aware that she is a lady rightfully held in such high regard that one would not be able to refrain from being so overly fond of her as to fawn, were it not so very indecorous.
    It is Miss Woodhouse alone which has given me pause, but I dare say I shall do as you so graciously encouraged and thus good relations between Miss Woodhouse and myself might warm.

    Best regards. Your faithful servant,
    Mrs. Cartmell

  3. My Dear Mrs. Cartmell,

    I can assuredly understand your feelings regarding Miss Woodhouse.
    Upon my word, she can be a most trialsome creature.

    She is not, perhaps, the best example of our fairer sex.
    I may say, yes, I am quite certain, that you shall be infinitely pleased with the delightful ending.

    Regards and Salutations,
    Mrs. Salva
    Hous Town

  4. Hahah-- you two are a hoot and I now know who Mrs. BG's next recruit will be. ;o)

    It has been so long since I read this book or watched the movie that the particulars escaped me--- So I didn't remember exactly how snobbish and selfcentered Emma can be. that scene really irked me too-- especially when Emma said they couldn't be friends if Harriet married the farmer. I'd think if Emma's standing in society is so established her reputation wouldn't be tarnished by an occasional tea and chat with Harriet the farmer's wife. Did you read the part where Mr. Knightly explains his totally opposing view of the 'gentleman farmer'?

  5. Leslie: E at Shredded Cheddar posted 12 Things about Clueless recently-- Emma was mentioned in the comments but I don't remember the movie well enough to know the connection-- is it just a modern version?

    you might enjoy the Clueless post-- E's posts are always fun, clever and interesting-- here is the url:

  6. I fear I must refrain from writing like Miss Austen as I really cannot continue forsooth and tally ho...wait, what?
    Nope, don't have the brain power currently.
    @Lesa, yes, Clueless is a modern adaption. Cher is a rich clueless matchmaker in high school. She has good intentions, but like Emma, ends up hurting people.
    I will check out that blog! Thanks!

  7. I'm workin' on it.. that's all I've got at the moment. That girl's a caution. Emma, that is.

  8. Lesa, the part where Emma says something to the effect of I don't want to influence you but... then influences H. and then tells her afterwards that H, would never have been allowed to come back was exactly what I was talking about. I've not yet read Mr. K.s response, but I will. I didn't care much for his opinion of Emma at first, but I'm warming to him. I wonder why?!

  9. Actually PBS aired a fantastic movie of Emma. I think it was one of the better versions. Maybe you could check that one out instead of the Gwyneth Paltrow one.

    I do remember reading this the first time and not liking it. Actually a few of Austen's novels have been that way. But in recent years, I have reread them and really enjoy them.

    Slowly reading it and savoring the language, the humor of Austen, is the only way to truly enjoy the story. And yes, the characters do grow on you.

  10. The BBC version in my Netflix queue. I'd seen the Gwyneth Paltrow version and Clueless and liked them a lot which is probably one of the reasons I was surprised I didn't like Emma's character much, but yes, she is growing on me. I almost feel sorry for her at this point because you know she just keeps stepping in it, uh.. cluelessly..

  11. I agree, Tracy. Miss Woodhouse made me cranky and I have let her languish in a corner for a while. Since you have inspired me I will again pick up the banner and forge on.

  12. Don't hate me, but I can relate to Emma. :) So misunderstood. It's hard when you really, truly do know what's best for everyone else.

  13. hahaha! Kim, I know who to ask next time I need advice!


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