Saturday, July 22, 2006

Jane Austen Lecture Notes


Beth Ritter-Guth:
Hi, my name is Beth Ritter-Guth. I teach English 211, British Literature II, for Lehigh Carbon Community College. This is Lecture 1, Jane Austen's Emma. What I would like to do is just give you an overview of some things that I would like you to think about as you're reading the texts. You will see in the Wiki that I've supplied you with links to a lot of different resources. You are responsible to read all of those texts and to take notes on them and to understand them. So I am not going to go into each reading in great detail. I am just going to highlight a few things that I think are important, but anything within those readings is fair game for the midterm exam, so please take careful notes.

Jane Austen is an English novelist, obviously; we are studying her in British literature. She is part of the Western canon. The Western canon is a collection of art and literature and poetry that is believed to shape Western thought. One of the questions that I always ask in my literature courses, especially women's literature, is how did these people get into the canon? Who decides who gets in the canon, why are they in the canon, and more importantly, who is not in the canon? How do people get excluded from the canon? So the big question that we're going to think about in relationship to Jane Austen is why is she in the canon? What part of Western thought does she influence? So you want to keep that question always on the top of your notebook page and it will be something that I will ask you on a test that happens halfway through the semester.

So let's move on from there. Jane Austen is known for her use of irony, her use of psychological time, which is different than chronological or real time, and for her use of form. She was only moderately successful in her own lifetime because she published anonymously. Because of that, she only celebrated a little bit of success in her lifetime. Emma, the novel we're reading, is the fourth of her novels and was published right before her death at the age of 41. She was 39 when she published Emma, and it is the first of her novels that actually uses the concept of seasons to determine time. So that's an important concept.

Jane was the daughter of an Anglican minister and his wife, Cassandra, and she's one of eight children. She had mostly brothers, I don't know, like six brothers and a sister, and her sister's name was Cassandra, and Jane. She never married; that's a very interesting concept when you think about her works because her works always focus on the concept of marriage, the economic marriage versus the marriage of love. So that's an interesting tidbit about her. She never did marry even though she was offered a marriage proposal, a very attractive marriage proposal that would have set her in society, which, of course, at the time was very important for women. And she declined. This placed upon her family the burden of her spinsterhood because a woman could not be self-sufficient and had to be cared for via a male member of the family. So after her father passed, then her brother was responsible for her care, and he did that, and took care of his mother as well, and his sisters.

But it's interesting that she chose not to marry for money because she believed that marriage should be for love. The idea that marriage is an economic institution and not one necessarily based on love surfaces in all of her novels. It's interesting because in Emma, Emma is one of her only heroines that is actually financially dependent. And so the concepts of marriage, while still important in the novel, don't carry the same sort of weight as they do in some of her other novels. So that's an interesting twist.

I'm going to pause here because my son just walked in the room.

Another important concept to remember, and this is key, and again will be something that you will see again on a mid-term exam: even though Jane Austen is publishing within the dates of the British Romantic period, it is important to realize that she is not, in fact, a romantic. She is not considered a romantic. Her contemporaries, Byron and Wordsworth are considered great romantics, but she is not, because that carpe diem approach that romantic writers are known for is not found in her novels because the women who act on impulse in her novels are often scarred or something bad happens to them. Whereas women who operate in moderation and rely on temperance, they are often the ones who are rewarded. So it's very important that even though she is included in the dates of the Romantic period, and you'll see we're starting off with her, she is not considered a romantic. Her writing has very little to do with the Romantic period, so keep that in mind as you're reading.

Emma is one of the most widely acclaimed of her novels, because of it's perfection of form and because it is a comedy of manners. She did have several critics, Charlotte Bronte among them, because Charlotte Bronte said that her novels merely scratched the surface of characterization and the form of relationships and so my question to you is, in reading Emma, do you agree with that concept? Do you think that it's just a shallow surface portrayal of women and relationships between women and men and an illustration of marriage, or do you believe that it offers an in-depth study of the differences between economic and love based marriage? So I'd like you to think about that.

It's interesting because critics today will argue that Jane Austen was not, in fact, feminist. And I suppose you could look at it through that lens if you want to, but we do need to recognize when the time in which this piece was written the roles for women and the rights for women were much different than they are today in England and, of course, in the United States. So I don't know that using that particular lens is altogether useful because there are different expectations of women within and out of marriage.

Most of her novels discuss the balance between financial necessity, being able to take care of yourself, against some other concerns; love and friendship, for example; religious or social morality. So that's important to think about as well. One of the things I'd like you to think about as you're reading Emma is whether or not people get married for love or for economic gain. You might think that people marry for love, but sometimes people don't marry for love. Some people do marry for economic reasons. Certainly we don't like to think that that's true, but certainly it is true. So that's something to think about.

Emma was published in 1816 and the theme, of course, is a misconstrued romance. The main character is Emma Woodhouse, and she is described as being handsome, clever, and rich, and just a little bit spoiled. So we'll see what we think of this Emma as we read. The principal characters, the main characters in the text: Emma Woodhouse, of course, I think she is 21 and she vows that she'll never marry, but of course she has money. So that's an interesting twist. By the end of the novel, she realizes that she is in love with someone. Let's see if you can figure out who that person is. As the neighbor friend, George Knightly, and he's probably in his late 30s, maybe early 40s, and so he's quite the senior of Emma. He is the only person within the novel that finds any fault with Emma, and that's interesting. It's interesting how their relationship pans out towards the end of the novel. Knightly is well respected and he's a very practical man, he's not a romantic, and that's interesting, considering that Austen is writing during the Romantic period against such authors as Byron and Wordsworth.

Every man that Emma meets, she measures against this Mr. Knightly, so he becomes a litmus test for all the other men that sort of approach her. There is Frank Churchill, and he's an interesting guy, he likes dancing and music, so he likes the manners of the time, and he enjoys that carpe diem approach. In a very interesting way, he is much like a Byron. He is not necessarily evil compared to some of the other characters in Austen's novels. He is not as evil or as subversive as they are, but he still is a person who certainly lives in the moment.

Jane Fairfax is a woman with very tasteful manners, but she's an orphan. She is very well educated and she can play the piano and she can sing and she has all the manners down pat but, of course, she has no money. So even though she is this gorgeous, beautiful woman, she has kind of a hard time finding a guy to court her. She is the only woman that Emma envies, and that is an interesting thing to think about, and I'd ask you why? Why do you believe that that's true? An interesting name she has. And Harriet Smith is a friend of Emma's, she's very pretty as well but she's very easily led around by others, especially Emma. She is an illegitimate daughter, nobody knows who her parents are, and she's been educated near Emma. Emma sort of takes her under her wing and Emma tries to do all sorts of different things to her. She tries to be a matchmaker for her, and it is interesting what happens and who Harriet marries. So keep in mind who Harriet marries and how that has to do with Emma, and Emma's work in Harriet's life.

Elton is important in the relationship between Harriet and Emma, so keep him in mind as you're reading. Augusta Elton is Mr. Elton's very wealthy but harsh wife and she is pretty snooty, actually. It is interesting that Jane Austen's novels always function a snooty woman like Mrs. Elton. I wonder what her role is? Why do you think this character is important to a Jane Austen novel? And finally is Mrs. Weston. It is interesting to see what Mrs. Weston, what role she plays for Emma. She's a voice of moderation and reason and as she factors into the novel, it's interesting to see how Emma responds to her. So you will want to definitely pay attention to her.

Emma, of course, is a wonderful novel; probably my favorite of all of Jane Austen's six novels. "Clueless," a movie that came out pretty recently, is actually a modern adaptation of Emma and so for your research paper for this particular novel, you are asked to compare and contrast "Clueless" to the novel Emma. There are a lot of web resources out there for you to use and I encourage you to use them. But I would discourage you from cutting and pasting from any of those sites because, of course, I have them all bookmarked and I will find it, and you'll get in lots and lots of trouble. I sit as the Chair of our Judicial Board, so you want to be careful about citations.

If you have any questions, about anything, please don't hesitate to ask. This is a great novel. You will love it. It is very funny in parts. I would take your time as you are reading it and take notes as you read. If you have anything that you would like to talk about, please feel free to post your questions on the blog or send me your questions and I will post them, if you want to send them to me through email. All right, take care. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Thanks.

Transcription by CastingWords


At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is great what you've done. It's really helped me with my essay on social class in 'Emma'.

I was wondering if you had any other useful points about Austen's presentation of social class through men and women in 'Emma'.

Anyway I think you're awesome.



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