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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, January 13, 2012

As Mr. Woodhouse might have said at the end of _Emma_, Emma is IN FOR IT NOW!

As a quick followup to my post a few hours ago about Edward Bridges as a prospective Bluebeard….

…I would like to add a speculative followup, suggesting that Jane Austen remembered the Foote-Bridges pattern of marriage of multiple siblings between families in _Emma_. Here are the key elements of that allusion as I preliminarily imagine it:

ONE: Just as there were two Bridges brothers married to two Foote sisters, so too, there are two Knightley brothers (eventually) married to two Woodhouse sisters.

TWO: Just as the elder Bridges brother was the owner of the family country estate, Goodnestone, so too the elder brother George Knightley is the owner of the family country estate, Donwell Abbey.

THREE: In both the real life and fictional stories, the earlier of the two marriages results in a litter of young children during the first 6 years of marriage, all prior to the marriage of the other siblings taking place.

FOUR:Recalling that Jane Austen acidly predicts that Harriet Foote will be as “amiable” as her deceased elder sister Eleanor was, in her docile willingness to bear many children in a short time period, and also recalling JA’s repeated references to Harrriet Foote’s hypochondria, Isabella Knightley is referred to in the following passage which points to _both_ of those themes:

“Mrs. John Knightley was a pretty, elegant little woman, of gentle, quiet manners, and a disposition remarkably AMIABLE and affectionate; wrapt up in her family; a devoted wife, a doating mother, and so tenderly attached to her father and sister that, but for these higher ties, a warmer love might have seemed impossible. She could never see a fault in any of them. She was not a woman of strong understanding or any quickness; and with this resemblance of her father, she inherited also much of his constitution; was delicate in her own health, over-careful of that of her children*/, /*had many FEARS and many NERVES, and was as fond of her own Mr. Wingfield in town as her father could be of Mr. Perry.“

FIVE: In JA’s Letter 90 dated9/25/1813, we read: "…this morning we had Edwd Bridges unexpectedly to breakfast with us, in his way from Ramsgate where is his wife, to Lenham where is his Church…” Edward Bridges was the vicar of Lenham, and I think that this is one of the reasons why we read the reference to Langham in the following passage in _Emma_:

"True, true," cried Mr. Knightley, with most ready interposition—"very true. That's a consideration indeed.—But John, as to what I was telling you of my idea of moving the path to LANGHAM, of turning it more to the right that it may not cut through the home meadows, I cannot conceive any difficulty. I should not attempt it, if it were to be the means of inconvenience to the Highbury people, but if you call to mind exactly the present line of the path.... The only way of proving it, however, will be to turn to our maps. I shall see you at the Abbey to-morrow morning I hope, and then we will look them over, and you shall give me your opinion."

And of course the path that Mr. Knightley refers to is a “foot” (or Foote) path!

SIX: I am sure that the irony was not lost on JA, in writing that Foote Bridges passage in Letter 61, that Edward Bridges was a brother of Edward Austen Knight's wife, and therefore, had JA, and not Harriet Foote, married Edward Bridges, there’d have been a _different_ double sibling marital connection, but this one between the Austens and the Bridgeses, instead of the one that actually occurred between the Bridgeses and the Footes!

SEVEN Given that I claim that, in _Emma_, Jane Fairfax and John Knightley have had an affair, and that Isabella Knightley has become aware of same and is (not surprisingly) extremely jealous, it is interesting to transpose that shadowy matrix over into real life, and to speculate that Harriet Foote Bridges may well have been extremely jealous of her husband Edward Bridges, in particular jealous of his evident longstanding fondness for Jane Austen!

But, attuned to irony as JA was, even I don’t claim that she foresaw the totally serendipitous irony of Olivia Williams playing Jane Fairfax in Davies’s _Emma_, and then a decade later playing Jane Austen in _Miss Austen Regrets_!

EIGHT: Last but not least, my Subject Line derives from what I believe JA was leading her readers to imagine Emma _Knightley’s_ life would be like _after marrying Mr. Knightley. Given that Eleanor Foote was overwhelmed with serial pregnancies for the entire six year duration of her marriage to Brook Bridges, before she died at age 28, and given that JA, in Letter 61, fatalistically predicted that Harriet Foote’s being “amiable” once married to Edward Bridges was likely to earn for her the same outcome as sister Eleanor achieved, I believe JA modeled Emma Woodhouse in some ways on Harriet Foote (and what rich irony in the character of Emma Woodhouse being based in any way on a real life person named “Harriet”!). And so, when I speculate as to what Mr. Woodhouse’s reaction would have been after Emma married Knightley, I imagine that this great enemy of matrimony would have echoed Coulson Wallop and would have moaned piteously, saying something like “Poor Emma is IN FOR IT NOW!”

Cheers, ARNIE


Anonymous said...

Jane Fairfax and John Knightley? SO intrigued, please share more?!!

Arnie Perlstein said...


For starters, just read Chapter 34 of Emma....

...and it will leap out at you!

Then come back here and post your reactions (and don't be anonymous),

Cheers, ARNIE