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|The plot thickens!
Written by Rachel G
(5/3/2008 5:38 p.m.)
Is it just me, or are things getting complicated around Highbury? The principal voices in the novel are those of Emma and the narrator, and I'm beginning to think that neither is entirely to be relied on. I certainly don't trust Emma's view of events, now that I have seen how utterly mistaken she was about Mr Elton. She may have repented her interference regarding him and Harriet, but she is still an imaginist, as we see in her response to Frank's rescue of Harriet from the gypsies. I think she is still twisting her interpretation of others' behaviour to suit her vanity or her imaginist scenarios. In short, she is an unreliable witness.
I no longer trust the narrator entirely either. The text seems full of hints that might not really be hints. Clearly she is not telling us everything we want to know, but is she laying red herrings in our path? There certainly seem to be a lot of loose ends lying about.
Take Harriet, for example. She is in love again, but with whom? When she confesses her love to Emma in Ch,40 the latest object of her affections is not actually named. I think Emma believes it is Frank, but it might just as easily be Mr Knightley - either man could fit Harriet's description:
"Service! oh! it was such an inexpressible obligation! The very recollection of it, and all that I felt at the time, when I saw him coming -- his noble look, and my wretchedness before. Such a change! In one moment such a change! From perfect misery to perfect happiness."
Is she talking about Frank or Mr Knightley here? Is it possible that either man might return her affection? Frank speaks of his rescue of her “with a sensibility amused and delighted”, and Mr Knightley has warmed to her and seems to take pleasure in her company.
I am also finding Jane Fairfax difficult to understand. Jane is so reserved that I wonder if she has something to hide. Then at Donwell we get that uncharacteristic outburst about the comfort of being sometimes alone, before she leaves in a hurry in the heat of the day. Perhaps she is merely oppressed by her aunt's endless chatter and Mrs Elton's unstoppable insistence on finding her work as a governess, but could Emma possibly be right after all about Mr Dixon?
Frank is another puzzle. I have always thought him untrustworthy, and suspect him of often saying what he thinks people want to hear, rather than what he actually thinks. He is sometimes so restless and unsettled. When he arrives belatedly at Donwell he is evidently in quite a stew about something. Are the frustration of Mrs Churchill's demands and the discomfort of riding from Richmond on a hot day enough to account for his ill humour, or is there something more going on?
I am even beginning to think of Mr Knightley as an unreliable witness. Seemingly so reasonable and well-judging, he nevertheless was prejudiced about Frank even before he had met him, and he has come to reconsider his early assessment of Harriet. What are we to make of his suspicions about Frank and Jane? Even Mr Knightley himself is unsure whether he has imagined the whole thing. The last lines of Ch.41 seem to hint that he is overheated by something more than Mr Woodhouse's fire, though I'm not certain what it might be.
Or perhaps I am imagining too much. Perhaps the 'unreliable witnesses' are reliable after all, and everything is exactly as it seems. What, if anything, is going on?
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