Emma

Unlike with Pride and Prejudice, I cannot remember the exact time I first read Emma. I remember that my initial dislike of the titular character was tempered by Clueless and exacerbated by Gwyneth Paltrow. On the surface, Emma is not a loveable character. Jane said herself that only she could like her. The problem, as I see it, it that Emma is an awful lot like most of Austen’s male villains. She is young, rich, spoiled and bored. She manipulates a young girl right out of her own better feelings and into behaving as Emma wishes. She is Willoughby and Crawford in female form! How can anyone love her?

I remember clearly the circumstances surrounding my second reading of the once loathed tome. I was thirty years old living eight hours away from all my family and close friends with my husband and one-year-old son. Soon after little man’s first birthday, I found out I was pregnant again via a home pregnancy test. He was not yet walking, and we were having another one! Surprise soon turned to elation, and we started planning the next seven months, beginning with a trip to the OB.

For those who have experienced it, you know the words ‘unviable pregnancy’ cut right through you. That’s what happened at the OB when the ultrasound showed a mass of cells but no heartbeat. The next days were spent in and out of the doctor’s office as they drew blood and tested hormone levels. Some mix up occurred and a few days went by before I was called in and told those words again. The Monday before Thanksgiving, I was treated for a miscarriage and sent home to heal.

We had plans to visit fellow Mississippi transplants in Chattanooga for the holiday. Not wanting to sit in our apartment and dwell on the sadness of our loss, we decided to go and then to drive down to Atlanta to visit another couple we knew from college. While there, I became fatigued and experienced severe pain in my shoulder. Believing it to be some sort of tendonitis, which would not have been unusual, I took some Tylenol and slept through pretty much the entire visit.

The following Monday I was called into the doctor’s office again for more blood work. By this time the sight of a needle had me in tears. I was so tired and just wanted it to all be over. My tiredness and grief were pierced later that day when the boy finally took those first wobbly steps. He had been teasing us for weeks, but when he decided to finally do it, there was no holding back. The next day he wore me out just watching him master the new skill while staying close making sure he did not hurt himself. By mid-morning, I was exhausted and counting the minutes before I could put him down for a nap and take one myself. Before that could happen, though, I got another call from the doctor’s office, this time from the doctor himself. It was imperative that I get to the hospital right away. He looked at my blood work from the previous day, and my hormone levels were rising. I was still pregnant.

My shoulder pain and extreme fatigue over the weekend had been the results of a burst fallopian tube. The pregnancy was ectopic, and they missed it. While I was watching my son take his first steps, I was unknowingly bleeding to death. If I had taken that nap, I would not have woken up.

So, what does all this have to do with Emma? While I recovered from the surgery (which, of course, included more needles and a blood transfusion) and a stomach virus I picked up while in the hospital, my dear husband was doing his best to care for both our son and me on his own. Being so far away from family, we had no one to help us with the day to day life that continued in spite of our loss.

Before going to Mother Goose story time at the local library, he asked me if he could pick up a few books while he was there.

I will never know what influenced my still fogged mind to ask for Jane Eyre and Emma, two books I had not read or really thought about in years. But, days after my son had nearly lost his mother, I began reading these stories about motherless children. Realizing that made me see Emma (and Jane Eyre, too, but that’s a story for another time) in a much more forgiving light. I will go into more detail about my feelings for Emma, but first I’d like to share what struck me most in that second reading.

If I ever desire proof that God knows what he’s doing, I need only remember that he delivered what I needed most at that time, through book form—a family. In Emma, the disconnected individuals of Highbury are a necessary part of each other’s lives. It seems such a modern concept, forming a family from the people around you, but that is what I see when the characters support Emma in her care for her father and how so many are eager to forgive Frank for his deceptions. They know and largely accept each others’ faults and oddities and the absence of one is felt by the whole. They need each other.

I have read Emma several times since then with a much different attitude than the first. Now, I adore Emma and Knightly is second only to Darcy in my ranking of Austen heroes. When I read about her snobbery and interference, I believe I do so much the same was as Knightly—seeing the potential but getting frustrated with the current behaviors. Emma, to put it simply, is bloody brilliant. If she had been born a man in her time, or as either gender in our time, she would be quite the force. Her self-confidence and debating skills are enviable, and when she recognizes her faults, she matures into the kind of person you want to be.

This seemingly light comedy has much more depth that you may realize upon a first reading. We could easily delve into how Austen portrays female relationships, how being born to an ailing parent can create similar paranoia (Isabella) or a type of survivor’s guilt (Emma), or how wonderful it is to be loved by a man who both loves you for who you are and for who you could be.

If you find yourself far away from the people you’ve known forever, reading Emma can be a great cure for loneliness. Celebrate the 200th anniversary of its publication by picking it up again and cheering on Emma as grows from villain to one of Austen’s best heroines.

 

Mansfield Park

When my children have big projects or a great deal of homework to finish, I encourage them to tackle the hardest job first. That was my thinking when I chose Mansfield Park as my first Janeite at Forty re-read. It is my least favorite Austen novel and I have heard many other Janeites say the same. I believe the problem is that it is very difficult for a modern woman to relate to the book’s main character, Fanny Price. MP

I had hoped that a second read would provide a greater understanding of Fanny and her relationship with her cousin Edmund, and I suppose I did reach that goal. The problem is I dislike them even more this time around. I recently mentioned to a friend that in spite having left behind my preference for bad boys years ago, I still prefer Henry Crawford to Edmund Bertram. I might even prefer George Wickham to Edmund Bertram.

Edmund has his good qualities. He was always Fanny’s champion even when his attentions were diverted to Mary Crawford. His care for his brother Tom during his illness is commendable as is his genuine grief over his fallen sister. However, his self-righteousness is hard to swallow as is his willingness to set aside decorum if it means he can be closer to Mary.

I know several out there will disagree with me, but I do believe he genuinely loved Mary Crawford. He was willfully blind to her faults and even her preferences. If Darcy could see that Wickham would make a poor clergyman, Edmund should have seen that Mary would have been miserable as a clergyman’s wife. There was nothing just in her preference for town and society though she was raised among such. She had been poorly influenced. Of course, she should have preferred a quiet family party and if given enough time, surely he could make her see where she was wrong. Why shouldn’t he think he could change her mind, after all, he had formed Fanny’s to his liking.

Yes, he loved Mary and she broke his heart. So what else could he do but turn to her exact opposite? I believe he decided to marry Fanny simply because Fanny was there and would never disagree with him. Perhaps I am too harsh, but I just really do not like him!

I can happily say that two things stood out for me in this re-reading that were not there the first time. The first is the feeling of sincere sympathy for the little girl Fanny who was taken away from everything she knew and loved and plopped down in front of strangers who were primarily inconsiderate and often cruel. As a mother, my heart ached for that little girl and wanted very much to comfort her. My affection lasted only until the second or third time she praised Edmund as the best being in creation. In all seriousness, Austen does a beautiful job in showing us how words can affect a child, especially one as timid and out of place as Fanny. It is no wonder she gave her heart to Edmund as he was the only one who showed any kindness to her in those early years.

I think about what Fanny could have been had she been loved. Henry fell in love with her (as much as he could) when her entire countenance was changed in her brother’s company. Fanny was a woman meant to love and I wish I could see her as a mother. I can believe that she would find courage and strength in that role and give her children all the familial comforts that she was denied.

The second material change, or perhaps greater awareness, was the development of a true and genuine hatred of Mrs. Norris. I believe she talked Sir Thomas into taking Fanny in so that she would be above at least one person at Mansfield. Her cruelty to Fanny as well has her constant interference at Mansfield was hard to witness. How annoying is it to see a woman so concerned with the workings of another woman’s house? How many women do we know like her in real life?

One thing I enjoyed a great deal was the humor displayed throughout the book. While I believe the main characters lacked depth and likability, the narration was full of witty and thoughtful observance. If I ever read this again, I believe I will do so with an air of biting sarcasm. I will choose to believe that Austen wrote Mansfield Park as a parody of the weak, pliable female that was the expectation of so many at the time. I will go against the grain and determine Mary, Henry and even Rushworth as the more likeable characters.

Go on, despise me if you dare. I would love to hear your opinions on my observations as well as your own. Next month, I believe we will tackle Emma. I promise I will like the protagonists next time around. See you then!

A Janite Looks at Forty

It is a truth universally acknowledged that as one approaches a milestone age, she becomes prone to reflection. This typically occurs with birthdays ending in five and zero and, dear readers, I am barreling toward a big zero. Forty. Forty. While I am not particularly afraid of that number, I am perplexed by its occurrence. Are we not twenty forever?

The answer to that, thankfully, is no. With age comes wisdom and while I would love to have the elasticity and energy of my younger self, I have never been happier to be me. I am sure even Fanny Price learned new things about herself and the world surrounding her as she passed through the decades. This leads me to the material point of this exercise.

I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a high school senior in my AP English class. It was 1994. We were somewhere post grunge, just coming out of our Aqua Net fog before embracing the Rachel Green shag and losing ourselves on the world wide web. I do not know how the historians view the early 1990s, but in my own reflections, I see that time as the beginning of me. How wonderful that when I was starting my journey, I discovered Jane Austen.

I did not delve too deeply into Pride and Prejudice then. We did not have lectures on Austen or the times in which she lived, she was merely a choice on a long list of appropriate titles for research papers. I cannot remember what theme I focused on, but I do remember feeling a deep connection to Elizabeth Bennet. I was one of five children with a disinterested father, embarrassing mother and a determination to control my own life.

Over the next few years I read all of Austen’s completed novels and enjoyed the Austen Renaissance that seemed to take over the world after the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries aired. I saw her heroines through the lenses of a teenager and young adult, my age no doubt playing a large part in my interpretations. How have my views on Austen and her characters changed as I have grown in years and experience? That is what we are going to find out.

This year, as I count down the months before my birthday, I am going to re-read all of Austen’s masterpieces and examine my feelings about them now, as a grown woman, versus the girl I was when I first read them. I am an Austen fan, not a scholar, and will approach this as such. It will be fun, poignant and honest and I hope you will share your thoughts as we go along. Beginning in February, we will have monthly giveaways for US subscribers and in August I will offer a birthday celebration prize for which all followers will be eligible.

I am not sure if it is brilliance or madness that has inspired this project, but whichever it is, I hope you will join me. I will post at least monthly, with some months seeing multiple posts. We will begin with the novel that will likely be the hardest—Mansfield Park. My musings might surprise you. They certainly surprised me! See you soon.

Pamela Lynne’s Jane Austen Inspired Novels

Dearest Friends Cover SMALL AVATAR

The historical romance Dearest Friends retells Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a sensual adventure that will delight a modern audience. Fitzwilliam Darcy left Hertfordshire following a friend’s betrayal, but his heart remained with Elizabeth Bennet, the impertinent beauty who captured his attention in ways no woman ever had before. When he encounters her unexpectedly in London, he realizes he can no longer live without her and begins his pursuit for her hand. When he finds that Elizabeth is not free to marry, will he again walk away or will he fight for the lady he loves?

While Darcy and Elizabeth pursue their own happiness, around them friendships progress to love and infatuation leads to disappointment. Join a group of unlikely friends as they support our dear couple on their journey, each treading unique paths along the way.

Sketching Character Cover SMALL AVATAR

What if a tragic event involving a beloved sister shatters Elizabeth Bennet’s confidence in her ability to accurately judge a person’s character? When she leaves Longbourn for Kent, Elizabeth’s heart is full of worry for those she left behind. She carries a secret that would ruin her family if exposed and she must deceive the ones closest to her to conceal the truth.

She unexpectedly encounters Mr. Darcy on her journey and his gentlemanly behavior confuses, yet comforts her. Their daily encounters in the woods surrounding Rosings soothes Elizabeth’s weathered conscience and she soon falls in love. Her doubts, along with the well-placed words of another, threaten to destroy the peace she finds in Darcy’s company and she wonders if she has again failed to correctly sketch his character.

When the truth behind her deception is uncovered, will Darcy shun her as Elizabeth fears, or will his actions prove that he is the very best of men?