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Consider the Possibilities of Life in Jane Austen’s Emma

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Essay title: Consider the Possibilities of Life in Jane Austen’s Emma

Consider the possibilities of life in Jane Austen’s Emma

In this Essay I will explore some of the concepts of this novel from a modern perspective. The novel is nearly two hundred years old and undoubtedly times have changed. Moreover the novel is also part of the institution of the upper classes. It portrait’s certain values that may not be shared by modern society and therefore present a different world with equally different rules. I will endeavour to highlight and explore some of these ideas and explore what possibilities are created by Austen of life for her characters and how she presents and forms.

Due to the patriarchal society at the time women were not always able to support themselves economically. Women needed to think carefully about whom they married so as not to loose out financially or marry below them socially and thereby affect their social standing . The security of the society the novel is set in doesn’t reflect this. There is no great upheaval except possibly Harriet’s rescue from gypsies. None of the characters are ever in danger real or social. The problems of marriage for women at this period in history seem not to apply to the characters in a desperate and life effecting way, where as a poorly matched marriage may destroy a characters life and reputation both financially and socially in other Austen fantasies, notably the eloping of Lydia and Wickam in Pride and Prejudice. It seems of little consequence in Emma as everything works itself out in the end with little disruption to ordinary life. Harriet gets over Mr Elton and has a backup suitor and even the tragic story of Jane Fairfax and the death of her parents is all sorted out by Mr Campbell as if there was no point in creating the problem in the first place. It is here that the possibilities of life created by Austen fall short of any kind of life at all. I appreciate that the novel is not a thriller or a horror and that its setting is not only a very limited one but also completely irrelevant, which I will cover later in this essay, but more often than not in reading essays on the novel I find a quote similar to as follows.

‘However, the novel will appear leisurely written only on one's first reading. Once the reader knows the outcome of events and repeats the novel, he will find that it is one of the most tightly knit works ever done’

Moreover it appears the reader must trawl through the novel a first time to understand the over extended plot and persevere with the few events that would seem of any consequence to a modern reader. Then can the reader re-read the novel for enjoyment of the ironic comedy which is the subject of the entire book. I found myself being only able to read the book in one of two ways either taking every word written to be of the highest and most relentless comedy or of the tabloid gossip of a modern Hello magazine concerned only with the doings and saying of others. Although indeed this is a possibility of life it is of a life which offers nothing in the escapism and fantasy that intrigue me as a reader or even involve me. It is unfortunate that the English departments of the world cling onto this book. Although I understand the wealth of critical work surrounding the novel must make it very easy to teach without having to force invention upon anyone. It would seem that the values and morals portrayed in this piece of classic literature have either never been repeated or no one has bothered to read anything since which may offer an accessible, relevant and modern equivalent. If this novel is a representation of the possibilities of life in the 18th century then it is representative of a world which we should be ashamed of and remember only as one of the low points in out history. Not only the patriarchal nature of society at the time but also polarisation of the classes served to create a class of pomposity and unrealistic social discord. One where its people have become so used to being waited on and are so sheltered from the realities of life like the weather or lack of money that characters like Mr Woodhouse have been allowed to survive. I find the lives of the characters to be to droll and uninteresting as to grasp my attention to what they say or to care about or how they live. They are the possibilities of the society of the time not the possibilities of the individual. Therefore the reader already knows that there are certain and different rules for men and women and Austen has no intention to upset the balance. Mr Woodhouse is a one dimensional utterly predictable selfish, nervous old woman. He frets about an inch of snow stopping them getting home from the Weston’s. He worries that eight at a dinner party is just too much and in general resides in his own world not listening to anything around him. When Miss bates comes to tell them of Mr Elton’s marriage

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