Posted by Laraine on August 15, 1997 at 15:46:58:
In reply to Emma's Role at the Center of the Novel... posted by Kali on August 15, 1997 at 05:05:16
] ...Someone mentioned, I believe, that Austen's great technical feat in this story is making the reader empathize with Emma, her skewed perceptions, and her false morality. Some may even say that Austen even does as well as to induce the reader to LIKE Emma in spite of her despicable philosophies.
] Do you think these views do justice to the work? I personally believe that this view doesn't quite describe the situation. I think Austen's main achievement, in successfully maintaining Emma as the conscious center of the novel, is in hoodwinking the reader as to the REAL centers of action and truth in the story. A matter of symantics, true, but depending on which idea you subscribe to, the real focus of the novel changes drastically.
] Does this make sense?
It makes lots of sense, Kali--you always do.
I think this question has something in common with our discussion earlier about how much Emma is like Mrs. Elton. I got the feeling that I was more of the first camp you've described ["Some may even say that Austen even does as well as to induce the reader to LIKE Emma in spite of her despicable philosophies."]
I do like Emma. I can't defend her very well, partly because she's not very defensible and partly because I can't seem to get words around why I like her. For me, she's got good qualities as well as bad ones, and I can love her in spite of her faults. For me (but less for you?) Austen helps me to like her by making her capable of seeing that she has faults and by making her capable of wanting to be a good person. (I know plenty of people who wouldn't be as nice to their fathers as Emma is, for example).
But despite our differences about how likeable/lovable Emma is, I think you're spot on regarding (I loved this phrase) "The genius here lies in Austen's ability to subtly slide reality under our doors while she creates a ruckus outside of our windows."...Emma and Knightley are very real people to me. I think there are layers on layers of personality put there for us to discover on our tenth or twentieth reading. In the last reading I've been doing I've noticed how much more there is to Knightley than I've ever imagined. He's a lot more moonstruck a lover than I ever noticed before, and he is so a lot earlier than I ever noticed.
I've also noticed much more this time than any other the incredible amount of deception that goes on in the novel. All of these characters, even the paragon Mr. Knightley, spends a good deal of time carefully stepping around the truth without actually telling lies. I don't know yet why there's so much of it.
I'll stop now, but I may have to say more later :-)