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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mrs. Weston's Pregnancy PART TWO

This post follows the one I just posted entitled (shockingly) PART ONE! ;)

Kathy Elder responded to my questions as follows:

"There is no timeline for Mrs Weston's pregnancy in the novel, as you well know. I would say that the reason there is no timeline is partly because Mrs Weston is not the heroine & her baby is not very relevant to the plot. I cannot answer your questions about when Mr Weston and Mr Knightley and Emma, et. al., actually learned of the pregnancy -- I will only say that Mrs Weston would have given the news to people when she saw fit to do so. And I do not believe that Mrs Weston concealed her pregnancy until the 7th month, so I have no answer to your final question."

To which I responded as follows.

Thank you for your answers, Kathy.

You sound like the narrator of _Emma_ and I suspect that is not an accidental resemblance, some might even imagine that you have discreetly avoided giving full answers to those followup questions. ;)

Just as you have done in the past when posing skeptical questions to me about my claims, I will pursue mine a bit further with you.

Even though you seem to wish to leave indeterminate the stage of her pregnancy at which Mrs. Weston told other people about her pregnancy, my point is that there are only two possible answers--either Mrs. Weston _did_ reveal her pregnancy to others before Ch. 42, or she did
_not_--and each of those two possibilities carries its own very different consequences for our understanding of the characters and of the action of the novel.

If Mrs. Weston did _not_ reveal the pregnancy at all till it eventually became known to all after Ch. 42, that raises serious questions about how it was possible for her to conceal it even into the seventh month, and even from Emma who was in so frequent and intimate contact with her. It also raises the question of how Mr. Weston could keep such a secret. These are all serious objections, in my opinion. And if someone concludes that it could have been concealed (as, actually I do think was the case), that means exactly the same was true as to any other pregnancy, including the one I claim for Jane Fairfax.

But you do seem to be implying that Mrs. Weston _did_ reveal the pregnancy prior to Chapter 42 to at least some people. If she did do that, then it seems likely that soon thereafter everybody would have known about it.

And that would include Emma. That continues to raise the question of why JA would so obliquely address the pregnancy of a major character, and I do not find satisfactory the response that this was tangential to the story. Mrs. Weston's pregnancy, if known to Emma, would have been of
_enormous_ interest to Emma, our focal character, whose mind we inhabit during practically the entire novel. I find it very implausible, given all we know about Emma (the character), that she would have no thoughts, and say no words to others, on this very interesting subject about Mrs. Weston's very interesting condition. You say it's not important to the story, but I say that Emma is the focal consciousness, and Mrs. Weston's pregnancy would have been a subject of consuming interest to Emma if she knew. I find it much more plausible that Emma simply has no idea until late in the pregnancy.

The most dramatic example of the inconsistency of such a non-addressing of Mrs. Weston's pregnancy occurs in that scene at the Crown Inn ball in Ch. 38. If everybody knew by the time of the Crown ball, then it really does mean first that Mr. Elton is a much darker character than most Janeites think--it would not just be "littleness" if he asked Mrs. Weston to dance, it would be unbelievably horrible of him--either he is actually willing to risk the pregnancy of a 37 year old woman who is 6 months pregnant, or he knows she will refuse before he asks, and he is just enjoying a very nasty put-on at Mrs. Weston's expense.

Either way, we know that Emma and Knightley watched this scene unfold, and yet it never enters Emma's or Knightley's mind to say something right then and there, or afterwards, during their debriefing of that scene. How is it possible that neither of them mentions this very very
salient point, much more significant than Harriet's wounded feelings at being left a wallflower during a dance? Here, read it all, and please tell me if it is plausible that either Emma or Knightley knows Mrs. Weston is 7 months pregnant!

Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ball-room again, her eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked. He was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Elton's conduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness;
and Mrs. Elton's looks also received the due share of censure.

"They aimed at wounding more than Harriet," said he. "Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?"

He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, "_She_ ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. To that surmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Harriet."

"I did," replied Emma, "and they cannot forgive me."

He shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he only said,

"I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections."

"Can you trust me with such flatterers? Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?"

"Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit. If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it."

"I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!"

"And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself. Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl -- infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected."

And now go to PART THREE of this series for the exciting third installment of this riveting Internet fracas!

Cheers, ARNIE

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