Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Blushing Furiously

Emma ... produced the portfolio containing her various attempts at portraits, for not one of them had ever been finished … Her many beginnings were displayed. Miniatures, half-lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-colours had been all tried in turn. She had always wanted to do everything ... She played and sang;--and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. She was not much deceived as to her own skill either as an artist or a musician, but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.

Reading Jane Austen’s Emma, propped up in my bed at home, the summer before college, is one of my most intense reading memories. It was not a pleasure: to want to be Elizabeth Bennett and find that one is, after all, Emma Woodhouse, is not a welcome realization; it is, however, a useful one.

Twenty years later, I read it with different eyes. I’m more patient with her; her faults are clearer and more charming. But, alas, they are also still mine.

Amardeep Singh at the Valve, links to a great story about how one woman tracked down one footnote in another Austen novel: her story is a really riveting and fun story of academic detective work. I will say, too, that the Valve is moving in a more promising, rich, direction these days: more correspondents and merrier, too.

4 comments:

Jessica said...

Nice post. I adore Jane Austen.

the Happy Booker said...

From one Emma to another, I enjoyed the post! Wendi

Jenny D said...

Yes, very nice post. You know, it's funny, I was just teaching Emma and admitted to my students that my readings of Austen have gone through a series of emotional identifications: from having P&P/Elizabeth Bennet as a favorite when I was a child, to S&S/Elinor Dashwood as a teenager suffering the pains of romantic love, to Mansfield Park in graduate school (it peculiarly sums up the quality of being a PhD student in the humanities, that poor-relationness) to Emma now, because of course being an assistant professor--which licenses a fair amount of bossiness--has revealed to me that that's who I really was all along....

genevieve said...

Let's face it, who really wants to be either of them? Considering that the special terrors their age held for them are not going to be ours, or are they?
I was never quite sure why people wanted to be Elizabeth - I'm an oldest sister of six, it's a rotten gig actually. What people ignore about her, I think, and about Jane, is the real pain they feel at watching their family steer dangerously close to losing its way. I don't just mean the narkiness of telling her father that Lydia 'will bring ruin upon us all' - also the pain of having parents who look to you to rescue them from their failures in some way or other. Ouch.