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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

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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