Diane Reynolds wrote the following wonderful observation in Janeites and Austen L this morning:
"Once again I am troubled by the nagging comment from Miss
Bates, before she walks off with Jane, leaving Emma alone with Mr. and
Mrs. Weston and Frank. Miss Bates mistakes someone in the "Irish car
party" for Mrs. Elton. What is that about? It's too odd a comment to be
random. Miss Bates repeats that Mrs. Elton looks nothing like the woman
in the Irish car party after all--or so I remember--which means what?
That Mrs. Elton really does have a double? That there's some connection
between Mrs. Elton and the Irish or someone Irish? It is through Emma's
consciousness that we get the idea that Frank is engaged in high-pitched
flattery after Jane leaves, but given that it is Emma, it is just as
likely that he is insulting her or in other ways being cruel without her
understanding--certainly Mr. and Mrs. Weston would say nothing to let on
that she was being mocked. "
I responded as follows, with gratitude, as Diane thereby led me to a significant new discovery about the shadow story of Emma.
You are very right to be troubled by that nagging bit of text. I noticed
it in 2005, and inquired in Janeites at the time, but when no one else
had any bright ideas, I forgot about it...till now.
I have an answer in two parts, which I think you're gonna like a lot:
First, any time we see the word "Irish" in Emma, we must think of the
Dixons--every Janeite knows that Emma uses "Irish" as a code for Jane's
supposed affair with Mr. Dixon. So perhaps on one level, Miss Bates is
making a little joke of her own---a joke Emma does not get, of
course---by also teasingly referring to the Dixons. I.e., they spot a
woman whom they cannot at first identify, and so Miss Bates, actually
being aware of Emma's stupid inside joke about Jane and the Dixons,
enjoys a joke on Emma--as if to say, in so many words, "Is that a
strange lady? Oh, then it must be Mrs. Dixon...."
But...while Miss Bates may have enjoyed a private joke of her own in
that regard, what she's actually doing, in her usual double-function
way, is deadly serious---the identity of the lady in that Irish car is
actually something very important, something that Miss Bates especially
does not want Emma to become aware of, so Miss Bates, clever elf that
she is, is acting preemptively and audaciously by actually pointing out
the mysterious lady, but then immediately giving it a totally
innocuous spin, knowing full well that Emma will just zone out on what
Miss Bates says, assuming that Miss Bates is just saying blah, blah,
blah, and so this assures that Emma will just ignore the ladies in that
Now the next part of this beautiful coded message from JA is to realize
what an "Irish car" is. Here, follow this link...
...to an 1808 book by Thomas Hartwell Horne entitled The Complete
Grazier, etc. and go to page 220, you'll see a drawing of what was
apparently called an "Irish car" in those days, and here is the relevant
"...Where, however, dispatch and celerity are required, as in housing
hay, &c. it is obvious, that such ponderous machines are unfit for the
purpose. A good horse, it may be observed, can draw upwards of a ton, or
2000 weight; in drawing which a great portion of the animal's strength
is exhausted in pulling the waggon, rather than the load it contains, to
which his strength ought to be applied. Hence several judicious farmers
have availed themselves of lighter carriages, for conveying different
articles to and from land, so as in a great measure (and in Ireland, and
in a few other places entirely,) to supersede the use of waggons. For
this purpose the IMPROVED IRISH CAR, of which the subjoined figure will
convey an outline, is superior to any other vehicle that can be
employed. Nothing? indeed, Mr. Young remarks, can surpass the amazing
speed, with which corn and hay fields are cleared in Ireland, by means
of this useful but inelegant carriage. With regard to form, the Irish
car is almost square, the bed being only a few inches longer than it is
in breadth; and the wheels, which should be at least six inches broad,
arc made low and broad, hare a flat bearing, and are placed beneath the
cart. The benefits to be derived from this machine, which was preferred
to any other by the late eminent farmer and breeder, Bakewell, (by whom
an interesting account of it is given in the "Communications to the
Board of Agriculture,") are as follow; on acount of its lowness it may
be easily filled; when narrow or confined gateways and roads occur, much
room is gained by the wheels being placed below the body of the car; and
it may be drawn with great facility on soft meadow or ploughed lands,
with less injury to the latter than is practicable with any other cart.
Another advantage is, that the rims of the wheels being cylindrical, the
draught is much inclined; consequently there is more facility and less
resistance, and heavier weights can bo drawn. [Very technical discussion
of superiority of cylindrical rimmed wheels, then] ... But with all the
advantages which the IMPROVED IRISH CAR above described possess, (and
they are confessedly very great), there are some eminent agriculturists,
who, after careful consideration and comparison of their merits,
conceive single-horse carts to be preferable to the Irish cars. This
difference of opinion is not for us to reconcile: it is, however,
certain, that as horses have more power in drawing singly than in a
team, these carts are superior to large carriages, by the increased
proportion of labour which those animals can perform..."
So Miss Bates, in our world, might've been saying: "There she is—no,
that's somebody else. That's one of the ladies in the party riding in
that Ford pickup truck, not at all like her.—Well, I declare—"
But the most important words are "Well, I declare---"--and that dash is
most important, because it indicates one of Miss Bates's characteristic
half-sentences--i.e., when she starts to blurt something out, but then
stops herself just before she says something she ought not to say aloud.
Just as Jane Austen the author constantly gives the reader textual
hints and clues which are the equivalent of those half-sentences--they
tell you something is going on, but they don't tell you what it is, you
have to figure it out!
So, I say, what is clearly going on is that Miss Bates (who is as I said
putting on a performance at this moment, for Emma's benefit), as she is
walking with Jane, says that she thinks she sees Mrs. Elton up
ahead--but then, when Miss Bates gets close enough, she supposedly
sees...that it's not Mrs. Elton at all. Now, of course, it could be a
complete stranger to the storyline, and completely meaningless, and
safely ignored----but...why would seeing a complete stranger elicit that
"I declare-" from Miss Bates?
What is happening here, surely, is that Miss Bates already knew exactly
who the lady in the Irish car was---and, what's more, this tells us that we the reader would also recognize the lady, if we were there,
because that lady must be one of the major characters of the novel! By
Chekhov's rule, you don't introduce a lady in an Irish car, without that
being significant at some point--even if the significance is only in the
But who from the cast of female characters in Emma is missing from the
Box Hill party, whose presence would be surprising to Miss Bates at that
I believe I know the "culprit", and what her "motive" is for being there
under cover of an assumed identity as a strange lady:
Mrs. Weston, who, we are told at the beginning of the chapter, stayed
with Mr. Woodhouse. Now, she's supposed to be extremely pregnant at this
point, and that's why she is not out on the outing, in addition to
having someone attend to Mr. Woodhouse.
So, how could it be that she could sneak away and come to Box Hill? I
suggest that since she is actually not pregnant at all, and can get
around quite easily on her own, she has come to Box Hill in that
extremely mobile Irish car which can generate, as Horne tells us,
"amazing speed". But the Irish car, which would ordinarily be used to
transport hay at a rapid speed, this time will carry "cargo" in the
form of Jane Fairfax herself, if Jane (as is what actually occurs) goes
into labor during the excursion! Because it's a long way back to the
Bates apartment, and Jane, if she is having contractions, is not going
to walk back--and if she is in labor, she's damned well not going back
in the Elton's carriage! Ergo, Mrs. Weston is there to take Jane back!
This really is something straight out of Agatha Christie, and I have,
like you, long believed that Miss Marple is a representation of both
Miss Bates and Jane Austen herself.
In my Jane Fairfax talk, I always include the following tidbit that
shows how much of a closet Janeite Christie really was. Do you know the
name of the fishing trawler which finds the message in a bottle in And
Then There Were None?
It's the "Emma Jane"!!!!!!!
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