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

Friday, January 13, 2012

R.I.P. Reginald Hill (author of "Poor Emma")

An alert Janeite friend just brought to my attention the death of Reginald Hill:

The above linked obituary/article at the Telegraph failed to note that Reginald Hill, a lifelong ardent Janeite, had two other strong connections to Jane Austen beyond the following comment in the obituary:

"Sometimes Hill chose one writer or one oeuvre to use as a central organising element of a given novel, so that one book was a pastiche of Jane Austen, while another featured elements of classical Greek myth."

In addition to the above, he wrote a short Foreword to Susannah Fullerton's excellent little book Jane Austen And Crime, and he also wrote a "postquel" to _Emma_ , a short story that has been mentioned in previous discussions, entitled "Poor Emma", in which Hill shows real insight into the shadows of _Emma_ in his (not very positive, to put it mildly) portrayal of Mr. Knightley post-wedding to Emma.

However, from my perspective, beyond his grasp of the darker side of Mr. Knightley, Hill never really "got" what was going on in the shadows of _Emma_, which explains how he could write the following about _Emma_ in his Foreword to Fullerton's book:

"To suggest as some historians of the crime novel have done that _Emma_ belongs to their party without knowing it is a piece of special pleading I cannot subscribe to. But I would acknowledge that it does contain many of the elements of the classic Golden Age detective story..."

As successful and creative a crime story writer as Hill was, he apparently could not wrap his brain around the idea that Jane Austen had actually and intentionally written, in _Emma_ a better detective story than any written since 1816--better because the deepest mystery is _not_ debriefed at the end of the novel, but is left for the reader to first identify and then gradually discover the solution to---which is exactly what Agatha Christie understood when she wrote _her_ final Miss Marple novel, _Nemesis_, and her most difficult case, in which "Aunt Jane" Marple first has to figure out what the mystery before she can set about solving it!

Cheers, ARNIE

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