Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza hosted a December Read-Along of Emma by Jane Austen, and it was the perfect book for me this month. Christmas Day comes about midway through the novel and it was a very quiet, family affair. No frantic hubbub of preparation or month-long socializing and overindulgence as it has become in modern times!
Even though I knew what was going to happen (having read the book before), I still enjoyed reading more about Emma’s misguided matchmaking, her misplaced pride in her own powers of observation, and her willingness to try to set the things right that she had gotten wrong in Books One and Two.
Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, is a great character who plays a larger role in Book 3, in a way. He’s a beloved, anxious hypochondriac/homebody who worries as much or more about everyone else’s health, happiness, and safety as much or more than his own.
The new Mrs. Elton, introduced in Book 3 and a newcomer to the neighborhood is rude, spiteful, and snobby – a society-matron bully – and in Book 3, she provides a foil to set off the good manners of the truly well mannered in Emma’s social set: Mr. Knightley, Mrs. Weston, and Miss Jane Fairfax.
In Book 3, Mr. Knightley is pressed by Mrs. Elton to host the whole group at Donwell Abbey, his home, for a summer outing to tour the estate’s strawberry beds:
“Mr. Knightley was fortunate in everybody’s most ready concurrence. The invitation was everywhere so well received, that it seemed as if, like Mrs. Elton, they were all taking the scheme as a particular compliment to themselves. – Emma and Harriet professed very high expectations of pleasure from it; and Mr. Weston, unasked, promised to get Frank over to join them, if possible; a proof of approbation and gratitude which could have been dispensed with. – Mr. Knightley was then obliged* to say that he should be glad to see him; and Mr. Weston engaged to lose no time in writing, and spare no arguments to induce him to come.
In the meanwhile the lame horse recovered so fast, that the party to Box Hill was again under happy consideration; and at last Donwell was settled for one day, and Box Hill for the next – the weather appearing exactly right.
Under a bright mid-day sun, at almost Midsummer, Mr. Woodhouse was safely conveyed in his carriage, with one window down, to partake of this al-fresco party; and in one of the most comfortable rooms in the abbey, especially prepared for his by a fire all the morning, he was happily placd, quite at his ease, ready to talk with pleasure of what had been achieved, and advise every body to come and sit down, and not to heat themselves. – Mrs. Weston, who seemed to have walked there on purpose to be tired, and sit all the time with him, remained, when all the others were invited or persuaded out, his patient listener and sympathizer.”
*Those good manners of his are in evidence here, with his rival for Emma’s affections being invited to the party.