Reading Austen’s esteemed Emma for the second time around is a vastly different experience than the first.
Jane uses the art of narrative-misdirection so incredibly well that the reader follows Jane’s twisting paths in complete naivety.
I need to read Emma just one more time before the year is through, but in a more “Where’s Waldo” mindset. It’ll be good for my ego as the world is full of vanity today and identifying more of Austen’s missed clues, will keep me humble.
Hints, all along the way; in broad daylight; warnings as plain as the nose on my face for all to see and somehow…I managed to miss them. “How could I be so stupid,” said the voice inside my head.
For instance, a piano-forte is delivered to Jane Fairfax shortly after Frank Churchill visits London for “a haircut.” My first reading reaction? Good for him. He found a reputable stylist/colorist in London. My second reading reaction: Oh, puh-leeze.
Mr. Elton fancies Harriet Smith as he patiently reads to Emma and Harriet during the portrait process. My first reading reaction? Boy, Harriet must be pretty. My second reading reaction: Helloo0o, Earth-to-Emma, it’s you he likes!
Frank insists that Mrs. Weston promised to pay a visit to the Bates home. My first reading reaction? Mrs. Weston probably had a few glasses of wine when she made the promise at the party and she simply doesn’t remember. My second reading reaction: Frank wants to hear the da** piano-forte that he just dropped a bucket-load of money on and watch his girl, Jane Fairfax, give it a go.
In Chapter 41 of Emma we read:
By the bye,” said Frank Churchill to Mrs. Weston presently, “what became of Mr. Perry’s plan of setting up his carriage?”
Mrs. Weston looked surprised, and said, “I did not know that he ever had any such plan.”
“Nay, I had it from you. You wrote me word of it three months ago.”
Okay, so someone told Frank this bit of information, and we can presume that that person is Jane Fairfax (this is my hindsight voice talking of course). Because, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my first time reading reaction was : Oh no, Mrs. Weston is drinking again.
Oh, Jane Austen, you are so very clever and I can just imagine you writing down these little subtle hints wondering who will be wise enough to spot the tracks that I’ve laid so perfectly? Who will recognize the elusive, delicate hints along the way?
Not me! Not me, Jane. That is, at least not the first time around.
It’s only after the second time around that I – in hindsight – see things clearly.
It’s with clarity I now appreciate Mr. Knightley, as the ever-so-wise, and Austen, as the ever-so-brilliant, and me, as the ever- so-gullible.
*Photo: clock by skalas2, obtained through Flickr.