Thursday, February 20, 2014

'Jane Fairfax was an orphan'

I dunno if it's the lingering flu or the cold medicine or sleep deprivation (cough cough cough all night, earthmovers and jackhammers all day) or just Jane herself or what, but I really fell in love withVol II of Emma. A dear friend said Emma's totally unjustified snarkiness of Jane Fairfax made her (the friend) start liking her (Emma) much more, and I had exactly the same reaction -- it's so unjustified! so funny! just so much like gossip itself, in short. I even like Mr Knightley better, and Emma's father and Mrs Bates -- altho I still want to lock them in an elevator together until they run out of breath. And of course Miss Fairfax herself has entered -- Margaret Drabble, in the intro, amusingly sees her as on the road out of Highbury heading towards Thornfield -- and Frank Churchill.

Frank is not quite a rogue, but no morally upright character either -- he's enough of a fop to rush off for the famous haircut (which Emma, hilariously, more or less forgives because he's not ashamed of it) and he joins in with Emma's Romantic imaginings about the supposed love triangle between Jane, her (basically) adoptive sister and that sister's husband. Right now he just looks like a jerk, but in light of his true intentions he's terribly manipulative and dishonest. I do wonder what this book would seem like to someone who hasn't been spoiled for it since, it seems, the cradle (I don't remember a time when I didn't know "but Emma really loves Mr Knightley!"). If I remember rightly this is the last appearance in Austen's work of the charming, unprincipled, handsome young not-quite-suitor who has far too much in common with the heroine for her own good. Emma's late reconciliation with him (yes I went ahead and peeked, sue me) is very moving, and even more Chekhovian than ever (if Mansfield Park is, what, Jane's Three Sisters, this is sort of like....The Cherry Orchard? except they don't leave the house. Which is nonsense. I blame the cold medicine).

It's a summing-up, a conscious farewell, a forgiving look back at the feverishly creative girl who drafted First Impressions, who thought she knew of, but had never even tasted, disappointment, regret, resignation, heartbreak.

And people say Jane Austen has no range! or it's all happy romcom! BLOCKHEADS.