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|'Flag of convenience' praise: beauty, elegance, pleasingness
Written by Tom P2
(2/21/2011 7:16 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Her worth, penned by Ramya
Call me cynical, but I think Emma is often cynical with her outward use of those terms of praise. She uses them as conversational tools, either to serve her own ulterior motives, or to deflect someone else's questions.
Here are some examples of ulterior motives. When she asks Harriet about Robert Martin's looks (ch4), she's looking for leverage to separate them. When she asks Miss Bates about Mrs Dixon's looks, she's trying to prop up her ingenious and animating suspicion (ch19).
Here are some examples of deflection. When she praises Jane Fairfax's elegant appearance, it's in the context of wishing to appease Mr Knightley's anxiety with a sincerity which no one could question (ch21). She steadily uses the phrase "elegantly dressed, and very pleasing" (ch32) to describe Mrs Elton, to avoid sharing her actual views about the difference between ease and real elegance.
Emma's particular liking of Harriet's style of beauty (ch3) and fascination with Jane Fairfax's appearance on seeing her again (ch20) seem more genuine, but I think that we only glimpse that genuineness occasionally.
Jane Austen, as the narrator, is very dry and unsentimental on the subject, using dismissive expressions like all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit (ch22) and the nothing-meaning terms of being "elegantly dressed, and very pleasing" (ch32)! Perhaps Emma is somewhat of a mouthpiece character in this regard - conveying some of the author's own views. And, perhaps Emma values beauty and elegance in the privacy of her own head, and just turns cynical when it comes to communicating on those subjects, because they're so hackneyed. Beauty gets as far as the eye of the beholder, but once the beholder starts talking about it, it becomes rather meaningless.
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