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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, April 16, 2010

Certainly some

I never before noticed a small but sly touch that JA inserted in Mr. Knightley's speech in which he upbraids Emma for having insulted Miss Bates:

"You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her -- and before her niece, too -- and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her. --"

Here we have Knightley reading Emma the Riot Act but good, laying it on extra thick, so as to REALLY reduce her to emotional rubble--almost as if the calendar had been turned back a decade, and Knightley was once again 27 and Emma was 11--an adult pretending to be more upset than he really is, because he is trying to teach the child a lesson she will never forget.

But then, what keeps even this speech in the realm of comedy, is that, in the midst of this eloquent dressing-down, even Knightley cannot keep his stern countenance the whole way through--I can almost see him wink his eye (solely for Mrs. Weston's consumption, of course) when he realizes, even as he is speaking, the utter absurdity (to anyone other than the delusionally narcissistic Emma herself) of suggesting that "many" of the witnesses to Emma's insulting of Miss Bates at Box Hill would be "entirely guided" by Emma in ANY way, shape or form! In fact, it is clear that Knightley is actually thinking at that moment of the ONLY person present who comes close to that description, i.e., Harriet---and, as we discussed a few weeks ago, there is reason to doubt whether even Harriet resembles that "portrait".

And so, Knightley breaks countenance from being Mr. Stern-Face for a second, interjects "certainly some", and then reverts to stern form and quickly lands the plane. And of course it all works, Emma is on the first step to being herself leveled, a job which will require two more jolts--the news of Jane and Frank's engagement, and then the news of Harriet's aspirations to marry Knightley--to come to fruition---at least, long enough for Knightley to secure her "yes" to his proposal.

Those words "certainly some" in parenthesis, are evidence of the workmanship of Emma down to the individual word. Upon every rereading of any passage anywhere in JA's fiction, but most of all Emma, there is always the possibility of seeing for the first time such a wormhole leading to a micro-world of meaning. And that passage will thereafter never be the same again. And there are hundreds of such touches in Emma alone. A gift that keeps on giving forever.

Just a miracle.



Anonymous said...

How wonderfully put. That's exactly how I feel when I read a Jane Austen novel. I am constantly struck by a new word or phrase that I had missed before, but that is now fraught with meaning. I am running to my copy of Emma to read the scene again. - Vic

Arnie Perlstein said...


Thanks for your wonderful comment! The very definition of a "sharp elf" is the recognition of these hidden gems, and also the motivation to attempt to set that recognition in as full a context as possible. At every level of analysis, Austen challenges us to read closely, and to root out assumptions which obscure full understanding.