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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jane is taking them in....about her (g)loves!

Earlier this week, I noticed, for the first time, one of the many clues to Jane and Frank's secret relationship in _Emma_ that Miss Bates reveals to those readers who (unlike Emma) are listening carefully to her torrent of words. Since then, I've done some diligent checking, and I am pretty sure that I _am_ the first person to take note of this clue--at least, I can't find any reference to it in any print publication or webpage findable via the Internet.

I think it is a particularly interesting one, which is why I am bringing it forward now. If you love _Emma_, you will love this discovery! And actually, it's very simple to explain, so bear with me....

Numerous commentators have taken note of the scene in Chapter 24 of _Emma_ when Frank Churchill buys a pair of gloves at Ford's, apparently in a desperate attempt to buy a few minutes to collect his thoughts so as to be able to "casually" deflect the intense cross examination he is being subjected to by Emma with respect to his dealings with Jane Fairfax at Weymouth. Here is the relevant text:

"At this moment they [Frank and Emma] were approaching Ford's, and he hastily exclaimed, "Ha! this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of their lives, as my father informs me. He comes to Highbury himself, he says, six days out of the seven, and has always business at Ford's. If it be not inconvenient to you, pray let us go in, that I may prove myself to belong to the place, to be a true citizen of Highbury. I must buy something at Ford's. It will be taking out my freedom. I dare say they sell GLOVES."

"Oh! yes, GLOVES and every thing. I do admire your patriotism. You will be adored in Highbury. You were very popular before you came, because you were Mr. Weston's son; but lay out half-a-guinea at Ford's, and your popularity will stand upon your own virtues."

They went in; and while the sleek, well-tied parcels of "Men's Beavers" and "York Tan" were bringing down and displaying on the counter, he said -- "But I beg your pardon, Miss Woodhouse, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of this burst of my _amor patriae_. Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life."

So far so good, but a few commentators have also noticed that these are not the only gloves purchased at Ford's, and that's where Miss Bates comes in. In Chapter 27, as she and Mrs. Weston lead Emma to Mrs. Ford's prior to escorting her over to the Bates residence, where Jane and Frank are engaged in "riveting" business while the spectacle-less Mrs. Bates dozes, Miss Bates greets Mrs. Ford thusly:

"How do you do, Mrs. Ford? I beg your pardon. I did not see you before. I hear you have a charming collection of new RIBBONS from town. Jane came back delighted yesterday. Thank ye, the GLOVES do very well -- only a little too large about the wrist, but Jane is TAKING THEM IN."  "What was I talking of?" said she, beginning again when they were all in the street."

However, it apparently has never occurred to anyone prior to myself that the pair of gloves which Frank buys in Chapter 24 are the _same_ gloves which Miss Bates is talking about in Chapter 27!!!

There is a great deal of corroborative evidence and interpretation that I could muster in support of this reading, which I gathered during the past several days, and I also see this discovery as supporting several threads of the shadow story of _Emma_ that I have sleuthed out over the past eight years. But for now, for this post, in order not to overwhelm you with details, I will rest my prima facie case with the following few salient points:

1.  Only three chapters (and therefore less than one week of fictional time) have elapsed in between the purchase of the glove's by Frank and the description by Miss Bates of the alterations on the gloves being done by Jane, a natural, short interval during which alterations would be performed. Yes, it could have been the result of two independent purchases of gloves at Ford's, but then, wouldn't Miss Bates have mentioned Frank's purchase as having prompted her own? That's exactly the sort of extraneous detail that Miss Bates seems to relish repeating over and over. And...if you think about it, Miss Bates can't afford to buy bread or apples, she depends on her rich friends to keep her, her mother and her sick niece on an adequate diet--was she really going to buy a pair of gloves? No way!

2. While it is completely ambiguous as to whether the gloves Miss Bates refers to were meant to be worn by Miss Bates herself, or by Jane, in either case, the key point is that they are both _women_, and, as we all know, men's wrists are much larger than women's wrists. And this explains why the gloves were "a little too large about the wrist", because they are _men's_ gloves!  So this interpretation fits perfectly with the inference made by countless Austen scholars and readers that Frank actually had no need for a new pair gloves, but only bought a pair at Ford's while stalling to answer Emma's probing questions. This inference tells us the _rest_ of that little story, which is that, after Frank leaves Emma and breathes a sigh of relief having dodged her suspicious questions, he finds himself with a pair of gloves as to which he has no need himself, and so he gives them to Jane--not terribly romantic if he failed to tell Jane about the circumstances of his recent purchase, but's a more than plausible chain of events.

3.  The best touch is the line spoken by Miss Bates which I use as my Subject Line:  "Jane is taking them in."  Of course the superficial meaning of that statement in context is that Jane Fairfax is altering the gloves to make them fit smaller hands. However, on a deeper level, it can also be read as Miss Bates communicating to someone present at Ford's (whether Mrs. Ford, or Mrs. Weston, or someone else) who understands her coded manner of speaking while around Emma, the following secret information: i.e., that Jane Fairfax is putting on an act in order to deceive (i.e.,"take in") Emma (and perhaps others) about Jane's secret loves!---Just take away the letter "g" from "glove" and you have "love"!

4. But there is more than one Jane involved here---there is also Jane _Austen_, and if we read Miss Bates as an alter ego of Jane Austen, as I do, then this is Jane Austen herself winking a very broad metafictional wink at her knowing readers, and telling us that Jane Austen is "taking in" her more gullible readers, the ones who read Miss Bates's words they way Emma listens to them--which is to say, not at all!

5.  There is a deeply Chekhovian beauty  in having two elements in a given novel be connected in this covert but clever way, which I believe Cornel West, the great lover of both Austen and Chekhov, would love. And that is the sort of novel _Emma_ is, in numerous ways. Most of all, as I have been saying for several years, the acrostic which Mrs. Elton mentions to Emma is one and the same as the charade which Mr. Elton gives to Harriet and Emma. Here is my most recent summary on that point:

 So whether it's a charade/acrostic, or a pair of gloves, we have _Emma_ creating covert connections which she leaves for alert readers to discern and sleuth out, as I have done in these two instances.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: In case anyone familiar with the scholarly literature about _Emma_ is wondering, two Austen scholars who specifically pored over _Emma_ to find the many clues to Jane and Frank's secret relationship strewn across the first 48 chapters of the novel, i.e., the great detective author PD James, and also JASNA lecturer Prof. David Bell, did _not_ detect the identity of the two pairs of gloves, even though both of those scholars take note of the two scenes at Ford's.  Talk about hiding something in plain sight, Jane Austen hid this one in plain sight of the writer who is famous for pointing out that Jane Austen hid things in plain sight!

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