Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes
Material Realities and Contexts
Oct 24 Class 10
DUE Post #8
Critical Reading: Liz Ricketts' and Urshela Atkins' annotations
Digital Project: What Jane Saw
Discuss portraiture in the eighteenth century
Analyze digital project What Jane Saw
Analyze two critical articles on Emma
Evaluate the position of Emma in Austen's ouevre. What do you expect in terms of narrative? In terms of story? Are there any
Sir Walter Scott famously said in a review of Austen's works that plot is the least important element in her novels, and "Emma
has even less story than either of the preceding novels." To what extent do you agree? Is this a problem?
Published in 1816, the novel took the author fourteen months to write, about the same amount of time covered in the novel. It is
worthwhile noting that in 1815 the Battle of Waterloo ended Napoleon's reign, wars abroad ended and instituted the first major economic
depression, leading to major economic unrest and civil strife in England. Comment?
"I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like," Jane Austen confided in one of her letters about Emma. Evaluate
the character of Emma from the beginning of the novel. How does the narrator feel about the heroine? Why does Austen fear nobody will
much like her?
Portraiture becomes in the first part of the novel an important motif (see chapter VI). How does the portrait reveal the character of the sitter?
Of the painter? Of the prospective viewers? What does Emma's portraiture tell us about her character?
Compare portraiture in Emma to the "portrait-taking" done by Elizabeth Bennet and her revelation of Darcy in front
of his portrait at Pemberley.
Critics early on saw a parallel between Austen's art of narrative and portraiture: Sir Walter Scott, again: "The author's knowledge
of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to
recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not
often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader."
George Henry Lewes (remember he is referenced in Moe's article): "Strong lights are unnecessary, true light being at command.
The incidents, the characters, the dialogue -- all are of every day life, and so truthfully presented,
that to appreciate the art we must try to imitate it, or carefully compare it with that of others."
To learn more about art and Austen's appreciation of art, see the digital project: What Jane Saw.
As Samuel Johnson says, all judgment is comparative, and Austen facilitates the judgment of the reader by providing specific points
of comparison between characters. Likewise, the characters in the novel frequently learn to appreciate the other characters
through comparison -- for example, Emma learns to understand Mr. Elton better by comparison with Mr. John Knightley in the
carriage ride to the Weston's Christmas party (Chapter XIV).
Evaluate the character of Emma against the two main foils that Austen offers us. First half of the novel: Emma's foil is Harriet.
Sir Walter Scott writes: "Amongst all these personages, Miss Woodhouse walks forth, the princess paramount,
superior to all her companions in wit, beauty, fortune, and accomplishments, doated upon by her father
and the Westons, admired, and almost worshipped by the more humble companions of the whist table."
In the second half of the novel, Emma's foil is Mrs. Elton. Into this complacent village where Emma is the uncontested superior,
comes the "vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance." What characteristics does Mrs. Elton exhibit?
Walton Litz writes: "The basic movement of Emma is from delusion to self-recognition, from illusion to reality.
The three major stages in the drama, corresponding roughly to the novel's three volumes, concern Emma's 'blindness' to the real
natures of Mr. Elton, Frank Churchill, and finally Mr. Knightley." Discuss how the "movement" of the novel also constructs an ideal
of masculinity through these successive revelations of character. What do each of the male characters contribute
to Emma's understanding (our understanding?) of proper male behavior?
What is the role of gallantry in the relations between men and women? If we understand gallantry as a mode of civil communication that
is notoriously ambiguous, and as such can be abused, how does the novel illustrate the dangers and complexities of gallantry? Compare
the two main figures of gallantry in the novel: Mr. Elton and Frank Churchill. How are we to understand the lack of gallantry in
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