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|I think that was part of the point of setting it in Surrey
Written by Margaret C
(10/16/2013 2:05 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Less mobile., penned by Reeba
London then was small compared to now (a population a little above a million, eight times larger now; physically about one twelfth the size, the Kingston hundredth of Surrey, where Richmond, Kingston and Box Hill, swallowed by the city of London now) but still, there had been an explosion in the population and size of London from the time of Jane Austen's childhood to 1813, when Emma was set.
The introduction of the post coach, with their regular daily services and the new Macadamised gravel roads with their turnpikes (some even TAR- coated MACadamised roads), not only meant that the middle and lower classes (the vast majority of the population) could afford to travel as fast (or rather faster) than a private person with their own horse and carriage, but it was essential to the profitability of the system that they did, and in large number and frequently (as the operators not only had to secure their own livelihood from it, but raise revenues and subsidise an extraordinary number of pensions granted by the king and parliament.)
By the 1810's the area of Surrey that Emma was in, was becoming a dormitory/weekender area for people whose business/employment was in the city, but preferred to live in this semi-rural environment rather than more expensive and less extensive city lodgings. Highbury was less than two hours by public transport from St Pauls. Semi-retired Mr Weston travels to the city when he had business, and people without regular duties to attach them to the area, like Mr Elton, can "ride to London at any time." Its a fair bet that Mr Martin is getting better prices for his wool thanks to competition from city buyers, and the rapid rise of Mr Cole's fortunes hints at bigger markets than a country villiage, albiet a growing and overgrown one, can supply. The canals ensure that the table at Hartfeild can be supplied with fish and oysters, while Emma had never seen the sea.
The underlying joke is the same as in Kath and Kim, in that the Woodhouses are living not in the seclusion of a country estate, but 'on acreage' in the outer suburbs, indifferent to the zeitgeist of town and country alike, seeing themselves at the centre of their own world rather than on the periphery of that wider world the reader is so aware of.
Emma is not at all vulgar (Kath and Kim are beyond crass) but I think this is what Germaine de Stael meant when she pronounced Austen "vulgaire". Austen uses the word herself when she plays on this joke: for example when Emma attempts to alert Harriet of the imminent risk of being "confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life!".(Ch.7)
The Highbury of E4 is a more secluded village than the one in the book. One of my bÍtes noires is the first dinner, where Emma teaches Harriet the proper management of a napkin and soup spoon. This is precisely the sort of accomplishment that Mrs Goddard's pupils would excel at, and Emma would never have continued the acquaintance if Harriet's manners had been so glaringly deficient.
It was also a lost opportunity to show some Regency flatware Harriet would have known (Oyster servers, butter picks, cake benders, fruit knives, for example) and have Emma demonstrate the use of some for less familiar foods (eg. for eating Lobster - I can't even guess the proper names for the various devices), or the correct way to eat asparagus spears with melted butter (fingers).
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