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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Emma Watson Tells It Like It Was

For anyone who thinks that JA was content with, or in any way resigned to, the way women were treated in her world, I give you the following exchange between Emma Watson (who is a prototype, I and many other Janeites think, for Jane Fairfax) and Emma's brother Robert (who is a prototype, I think, for John Dashwood, and also a Mr. Elton in training). I had never really slowed myself down and read this passage carefully before, and it surprised me.

I had realized already that Emma Watson was not afraid to speak her mind, but I am hard pressed to think of another passage in all of JA's fiction in which JA's bitter anger at the sexism of her world is not in any way concealed--think in contrast, about the presentation of John and Fanny Dashwood in S&S--Elinor never challenges John's fantasy of his own great generosity toward, and love for, herself and her sisters--the moral critique is only implied.

This is the same voice as that in which JA allowed Princess Caroline mitigation for her sexual indiscretions, but frankly spoke her hatred for the Prince. And it also tells me that, as with her never resubmitting Northanger Abbey for publication after her editing of same, the principal reason JA stopped writing The Watsons was because its feminism was too open and unconcealed, and she knew there'd be hell to pay on multiple levels if she even tried to finish and publish it:

Emma was the first of the females in the parlour again; on entering it she found her brother alone.' So Emma,' said he, ' you are quite a stranger at home. It must seem odd enough for you to be here. A pretty piece of work your Aunt Turner has made of it! By heaven! A woman should never be trusted with money. I always said she ought to have settled something on you, as soon as her husband died.'

' But that would have been trusting /me /with money,' replied Emma,' and I am a woman too.'

'It might have been secured to your future use, without your having any power over it now. What a blow it must have been upon you ! To find yourself, instead of heiress of 8,000/. or 9,000/., sent back a weight upon your family, without a sixpence. I hope the old woman will smart for it'

' Do not speak disrespectfully of her; she was very good to me, and if she has made an imprudent choice, she will suffer more from it herself than I can possibly do.'

'I do not mean to distress you, but you know everybody must think her an old fool. I thought Turner had been reckoned an extraordinarily sensible, clever man. How the devil came he to make such a will?'

'My uncle's sense is not at all impeached in my opinion by his attachment to my aunt. She had been an excellent wife to him. The most liberal and enlightened minds are always the most confiding. The event has been unfortunate, but my uncle's memory is, if possible, endeared to me by such a proof of tender respect for my aunt' /

'/That's odd sort of talking. He might have provided decently for his widow, without leaving everything that he had to dispose of, or any part of it, at her mercy.'

'My aunt may have erred,' said Emma, warmly; ' she /has /erred, but my uncle's conduct was faultless; I was her own niece, and he left to her the power of providing for me.'

'But unluckily she has left the pleasure of providing for you to your father, and without the power. That's the long and short of the business. After keeping you at a distance from your family for such a length of time as must do away all natural affection among us, and breeding you up (I suppose) in a superior style, you are returned upon their hands without a sixpence.'

'You know,' replied Emma, struggling with her tears, ' my uncle's melancholy state of health. He was a greater invalid than my father. He could not leave home.'

'I do not mean to make you cry,' said Robert, rather softened—and after a short silence, by way of changing the subject, he added:' I am just come from my father's room; he seems very indifferent It will be a sad break up when he dies. Pity you can none of you get married! You must come to Croydon as well as the rest, and see what you can do there. I believe if Margaret had had a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds, there was a young man who would have thought of her.'

Emma was glad when they were joined by the others; it was better to look at her sister in law's finery than to listen to Robert, who had equally irritated and grieved her.

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