I’m reading Emma: A Novel in Three Volumes by Jane Austen for a readalong hosted by Dolce Bellezza. Having finished Volume Two, I started to race on into Volume Three before remembering the plan to post regular updates, but have to laugh to be calling Emma a page-turner when you consider what has actually happened in the story (i.e. not a whole lot).
Readers who like their fiction to have action and an eventful plot will probably be throwing the book against the wall along about now – with every new conversation about the character of the characters and discussion of their carefully concealed thoughts and emotions. (Who knew the well-bred indulged so much in harmless gossip?) Even the small, hoped-for dance party that promised to liven up a dreary winter evening for the young people of Emma Woodhouse’s neighborhood falls through.
In Volume 2, Emma is trying her best to undo all her contrivances in Volume 1 and convince Harriet not to be in love with Mr. Elton anymore, while consoling her for the loss of him to Miss Hawkins. Here’s the beginning of Chapter 1, when Emma, desperate for a distraction for Harriet and hoping to quell her guilty conscience for not calling on Mrs. and Miss Bates often enough, decides now is the time.
Emma and Harriet had been walking together one morning, and, in Emma’s opinion, been talking enough of Mr. Elton for that day. She could not think that Harriet’s solace or her own sins required more; and she was therefore industriously getting rid of the subject as they returned; –but it burst out again when she thought she had succeeded, and after speaking some time of what the poor must suffer in winter, and receiving no other answer than a very plaintive “Mr. Elton is so good to the poor!” she found something else must be done.
The author’s sense of humor sparkles so much in Emma, with here the idea of industrious conversation and Emma’s vexation over Harriet’s fixation with Mr. Elton. I marked far too many passages to quote here, but just one more….
People mentioned in Volume 1 arrive in Volume 2, including Miss Jane Fairfax (Emma’s despised neighborhood counterpart in age and intellect) and Mr. Frank Churchill (Emma’s dear friend’s husband’s son from a previous marriage).
Here, just about everyone of consequence in the story happens to be paying a duty call on the talkative Miss Bates, her mother Mrs. Bates, and the newly arrived Jane Fairfax, when Mr. Knightley rides up outside and is called to from the window in the next room by Miss Bates. The group gathered can hear the whole, long drawn-out conversation clearly, adding to the reader’s amusement.
Mr. Knightley seems about to accept Miss Bates’ invitation to come in when he hears Emma and Jane are there, but when Miss Bates adds that Mr. Frank Churchill is also there, he suddenly realizes he doesn’t really have the time to stop in after all.
“Oh! do come in. They will be so very happy to see you.”
“No, no, your room is full enough. I will call another day and hear the pianoforte.”
“Well, I am so sorry! – Oh! Mr. Knightley, what a delightful party last night; how extremely pleasant – Did you ever see such dancing? – Was it not delightful? – Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Frank Churchill; I never saw anything equal to it.”
– “Oh! very delightful indeed; I can say nothing less, for I suppose Miss Woodhouse and Mr. Frank Churchill are hearing everything that passes. And (raising his voice still more) I do not see why Miss Fairfax should not be mentioned too. I think Miss Fairfax dances very well; and Mrs. Weston is the very best country-dance player, without exception, in England. Now, if your friends have any gratitude, they will say something pretty loud about you and me in return; but I cannot stay to hear it.”
Visit Dolce Bellezza for her thoughts on Volume 1 and Volume 2. I don’t see how Emma would be considered a mystery story, as she suggests some do! Every story must have some elements left unknown to the reader until the end or the resolution of that part of the plot; that can’t possibly be enough to make a story a mystery, in my opinion.