So you think you know all the right answers to all the right questions about Jane Austen’s Emma?
By Arnie Perlstein, independent scholar from
Presentation on THURSDAY, June 7, 2007, at 5 pm, at the English Faculty which is in the St. Cross Building on Manor Road (a massive 60s building-hard to miss). Follw this map:
The English Faculty is Number 20 on it.
For more details on the Romantic Realignments
“Nothing could now be clearer than the absurdity of her recent fancies. To suppose that a manuscript of many generations back could have remained undiscovered in a room such as that, so modern, so habitable! — Or that she should be the first to possess the skill of unlocking a cabinet, the key of which was open to all! . . . . .Why the locks should have been so difficult to open, however, was still something remarkable, for she could now manage them with perfect ease. In this there was surely something mysterious…”—Catherine Morland, in Northanger Abbey, Vol. 2, Ch. 7
Emma has famously been called the detective story without a murder. Why was Rex Stout rereading Emma as he died? Why does Miss Marple remind us of Miss Bates? Why did James Joyce, the King of Literary Subtext, call his children Sense and Sensibility?
The aura of mystery in Emma has never been adequately explained. Have the “locks” of Emma been so difficult to “open”, because everyone has assumed, like Emma herself, that questions always have only one right answer? because the connections between all those answers have been opaque? because only during the past two decades has light been provided by the seemingly unrelated discoveries of numerous Austen scholars, and by resources on the Internet, that can illuminate the “tumblers”? I am happy to answer---yes, yes, and YES!
In my presentation, first I’ll summarize, and put in context, several basic discoveries regarding the puzzles of Emma, particularly those in Chapter 9. Then I’ll apply those answers to the primary purpose I believe Jane Austen intended for them, i.e., to demystify all aspects of the novel’s central riddle: the vexed relationship of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. By the end of the novel, Emma believes no mystery remains—but I beg to differ. ;)
If you wish, take a peek beforehand at the questions listed below, and see if any alternative answers occur to you. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t, and also don’t mind the number of questions, the answers are all “joined at the hip”. If you do puzzle over these questions, you’ll be walking in the estimable footsteps of Mr. Knightley, who himself was perplexed by the mystery of Jane and Frank. Recalling Cowper, he sought to avoid imaginary observations, but I claim that Knightley transcended Cowper, and followed the deeper advice of Madam Fauques de Vaucluse, not to “so far despise the flights of imagination, as wholly to seclude them from the exercise of reason; since these two faculties are so nearly allied, that fancy without judgment is capricious and irregular, and judgment without fancy is confined to very narrow bounds.”
Like a Regency Era combination of Nero Wolfe and Will Shortz, Knightley united fancy and judgment, solved the puzzles confronting him, and then (like Superman) covertly acted to set things right. Please be my guest to come and find out what Knightley only told Emma after their (satin-deprived) wedding! ;)
I) PUZZLES, CHARADES, RIDDLES & THE INTERPRETATION OF EMMA’S SECRET SUBTEXT
1. What is the answer to the first charade that Mr. Elton recites to Emma and Harriet in Chapter 9? Who wrote it?
2. What is the answer to the second charade given to Emma by Mr. Elton in Chapter 9?
Who wrote it?
3. What is the answer to the Riddle partially recalled by Mr. Woodhouse in Chapter 9?
Who wrote it?
4. What is the acrostic that the “abominable puppy” makes on Miss Hawkins’s name?
Who wrote it?
5. Are there any anagrams in Emma? Who wrote them?
6. Did anyone from the Regency Era ever detect any secret subtext in Emma?
7. What does the Rosetta Stone and the Trojan Horse have to do with Jane Austen?
8. Did Jane Austen allude to the Royal Family in Emma?
9. Did Jane Austen allude to Shakespeare in Emma?
10. Is there any connection between the Shakespeare and the Royal Family allusions?
II) FRANK CHURCHILL AND JANE FAIRFAX IN THE STORY OF EMMA
1. Why does Frank delay coming to Highbury?
2. What does Frank do in London when he goes and comes the same day?
3. Who buys the piano for Jane?
4. Why can Emma not forgive Jane?
5. Where does Frank go generally when he leaves Highbury?
6. What is Frank busy doing at Miss Bates’s home before Emma & Co. arrive?
7. Why do apples bloom in June in Highbury?
8. What is the nature of Jane Fairfax’s illness?
9. What role does Frank play during Harriet’s encounter with the Gypsies?
10. Why does Mrs. Elton take such a strong and particular interest in Jane?
11. What is the cause of Mrs. Churchill’s sudden death?
12. What was the nature of Jane and Frank’s secret relationship?
13. Who writes the letter to Mrs. Weston that explains everything about Frank and Jane?
14. Why does Jane write to Frank about Mr. Perry’s carriage?
15. What happens to the Churchill family jewels?
16. Who attends Frank and Jane’s wedding?
17. Why does Frank speak of his dream again at the end?
© Arnold L. Perlstein 2007