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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Emma Watson and Emma Woodhouse the "little" heroines of Jane Austen

In honor of the auctioning off of 2/3 of the existing manuscript pages (showing Jane Austen's own editing interlineations and deletions) of her novel fragment, The Watsons, at Sotheby's for nearly a million pounds, here are a couple of Watsonian tidbits about the heroine of The Watsons, Emma Watson, who of course shares her first name with Jane Austen's second most famous heroine (with Elizabeth Bennet her most famous heroine, of course), Emma Woodhouse.

First, I bet you did not know that Sir Francis Darwin, Charles’s son and editor of his father’s letters, in 1917, in a book entitled _Rustic Sounds and Other Studies in Literature and Natural History_, wrote at P. 74, in his essay about Jane Austen, the following comments about Emma Watson, the heroine of The Watsons:

“The heroine, Emma Watson, has no resemblance to Emma Woodhouse…in character she seems to me to have none of the charm which has given Fanny Price …various admirers. It is perhaps characteristic of her creator’s truth, that her heroine who is made known to us just as she arrives at her new home in uncomfortable surroundings and among unknown sisters, should be reserved and a little prim, and that we should be made to feel that this was not her complete character….”

Second, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in his 1870 Memoir of his famous aunt, expressed the following opinion about Emma Watson, and why Jane Austen discontinued writing The Watsons:

“My own idea is, but it is only a guess, that the author became aware of the evil of having placed her heroine too low, in such a position of poverty and obscurity as, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it; and therefore, like a singer who has begun on too low a note, she discontinued the strain.”

And third and last, JEAL's comments are highly ironic when read alongside the comments of the Victorian novelist (and huge Janeite) Anthony Trollope about that other Austenian Emma, Miss Woodhouse:

"Emma, the heroine, is treated almost mercilessly. In every passage of the book, she is in fault for some folly, some vanity, some ignorance—or indeed for some meanness …Nowadays we dare not make our heroines so little.”

So raise a million-pound toast to the forgotten _and_ the famous Emma, who were both too "little", in ways that were perhaps not so different after all!

Cheers, ARNIE

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