Rereading "Emma", I can't help noticing the name Jane and the job as governess, and more than that, the name Fairfax which also appears in "Jane Eyre"- Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper and Edward Fairfax Rochester. What a coincidence! As it turns out, however, there are more similarities between "Emma" and "Jane Eyre".
Bronte remembered the Puritan or the governess, both Jane Fairfax and the Jane
who marries Edward Fairfax Rochester subdue their passions and appearance. Jane
Fairfax's grey eyes and reserve (167-69) anticipate the self-controlled,
"Quaker-like" governess Jane Eyre, who rejects pink satin for sober
black and pearl-grey (103, 281). Frank flirts with Emma while secretly engaged,
and Mr. Rochester proposes bigamy. Marriage rescues Jane Fairfax from the
Bragges, Smallridges, and Sucklings (380), and Mr. Rochester's proposal
prevents Jane Eyre fleeing to the O'Galls of Bitternutt Lodge (263). Mrs.
Churchill's death allows Jane to marry Frank; that of the madwoman allows Jane
to marry Mr. Rochester. And if Mr. Knightley is sixteen years older than Emma,
but not a brother, no, indeed (99, 331), Mr. Rochester, who at twenty years older
than Jane "might almost be your father," becomes her ardent suitor
(277). It's odd that a charade with sexual implications occurs in both books.
Odder still are the eyes: Emma has "'the true hazle eye--and so
brilliant!'" (39), and when Frank desires his future wife to have
"'hazle eyes,'" Emma thinks of Harriet, "[h]azle eyes
excepted" (373). So why would Mr. Rochester talk of Jane's "radiant
hazel eyes," when they are actually green (271)?"
however, Bronte told truth when she said she read Emma only after she wrote
Jane Eyre, perhaps she was startled to realize that Wollstonecraft's A
Vindication of the Rights of Woman plays as extensive a role in Austen's novel
as her own. [...] Both authors, says Sulloway, want women to think rationally
and morally, with Austen everywhere implying what Wollstonecraft states when
she makes her clever but under-educated heroine fantasize about the sexual
lives of others, shows the effects of substituting "accomplishments"
for a genuine education, pot trays governessing as slavery, exposes the
condition of impoverished women, maintains the importance of equality, and
prioritizes the education of children."
One may argue
that, even though "Emma" compares the governess trade to the slave
trade, the novel doesn't show us governesses' hardships and humiliations, by
letting Jane Fairfax escape her fate through marriage with Frank Churchill and
therefore Jane Austen, also a feminist, also influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft,
also against the oppression of women, doesn't make so strong a point in
comparison with what Charlotte Bronte later does in "Jane Eyre". In
defence of Jane Austen, I would say:
the same logic, the hardship in "Jane Eyre" is nothing compared to
that in "Agnes Grey" by Anne Bronte.
Lowood, Jane Eyre gets employed at Thornfield hall, where she has a better life
than at Gateshead and Lowood, living with the housekeeper Mrs Alice Fairfax-
traditional but kind, her pupil Adele- frivolous, shallow and lazy but
good-natured, and her master Mr Rochester- grumpy, irritable and moody but good
at heart. Later, she marries her master. I do not wish to give the wrong idea
that "Jane Eyre" is a sort of fairytale and that her life at
Thornfield hall is happy-go-lucky and peaceful, but people generally treat Jane
Eyre with respect and the only time she is humiliated is by Blanche Ingram and
doesn't have such luck. Not having an unhappy ending, the book nevertheless explores all the
hardship, oppression and humiliation a governess may face, from the distrust
and disdain of the parents to the incorrigibility and insolence of the
children, from the disrespect of the servants because of the ambiguous status
of governesses to the feeling of helplessness for not being
able to correct the pupils' faults, and the loneliness.
"Emma", not depicting a governess's life, does show us women's
situation in Britain in the 19th century.
begins with "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich..."
Look at this
After a mutual silence of some minutes, Harriet thus began again—
"I do so wonder, Miss Woodhouse, that you should not be married, or going
to be married! so charming as you are!"—
Emma laughed, and replied,
"My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I
must find other people charming—one other person at least. And I am not only,
not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever
marrying at all."
"Ah!—so you say; but I cannot believe it."
"I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be
tempted; Mr. Elton, you know, (recollecting herself,) is out of the question:
and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I
cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to
"Dear me!—it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!"—
"I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in
love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it
is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without
love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune
I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe
few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house as I am of
Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and
important; so always first and always right in any man's eyes as I am in my
"But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!"
"That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I
thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly—so satisfied—so smiling—so
prosing—so undistinguishing and unfastidious—and so apt to tell every thing
relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am
convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried."
"But still, you will be an old maid! and that's so dreadful!"
"Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty
only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman,
with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the
proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always
respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else. And the
distinction is not quite so much against the candour and common sense of the
world as appears at first; for a very narrow income has a tendency to contract
the mind, and sour the temper. Those who can barely live, and who live perforce
in a very small, and generally very inferior, society, may well be illiberal
and cross. This does not apply, however, to Miss Bates; she is only too good
natured and too silly to suit me; but, in general, she is very much to the
taste of every body, though single and though poor. Poverty certainly has not
contracted her mind: I really believe, if she had only a shilling in the world,
she would be very likely to give away sixpence of it; and nobody is afraid of
her: that is a great charm."..."
income that makes the difference. Emma's condition allows her to be whatever she wants- she
may marry if she likes, if not she may stay single for the rest of her life
without being seen as ridiculous and pathetic. More importantly, a parallel may be drawn between her
and Jane Fairfax, who is of the same age, also handsome, also clever or in fact
even more talented and accomplished (which Emma envies and resents) but not
rich. In my opinion, Jane Fairfax, albeit in the background with very small a
voice, is in some ways a more significant character. She has the misfortune of not being Emma, facing 2 options- to get married, or to become a governess, and at the same time, the misfortune of not being the ordinary, simple-minded,
content Miss Bates, of having all of her talents un(der)appreciated and thrown away, with an acute awareness of it.
Jane Fairfax, one may say, is a response to Jean Jacques Rousseau's opinion "The
education of women should always be relative to that of men. To please, to be
useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young, to
take care of us when grown up."
"Emma" the 2nd time, I find myself caring deeply about Jane Fairfax,
because in the end how can one tell whether she'll be happy with Frank Churchill?
One is told that Jane Eyre has a happy, content marriage with Rochester, but
whether Jane Fairfax has a happy ending is to me quite uncertain, considering
that her husband, though good-natured, charming and full of love and regret,
can be narcissistic, impulsive, thoughtless. Believe Jane Austen wants to have
happy endings for her characters? Think of Charlotte Lucas and William Collins,
think of Lucy Steele and Robert Ferras, think of Lydia Bennet and George
Wickham, think of John Willoughby and Sophia Grey, think of William Elliott and
Mrs Clay, etc.
significance lies in this uncertainty.
[Update on 16/1: In short, I think once the readers have knowledge of a governess's life in the 19th century, which is not described in "Emma", Jane Austen makes a stronger point about a woman's life of her time, in making the happiness of the marriage uncertain, in letting the readers see that Jane Fairfax has only 2 options, and above all, in juxtaposing Jane Fairfax with Emma Woodhouse. But it, I do see, is quite subtle, and requires that one already knows about a governess's situation.]
1 of the
reasons I didn't like "Emma" at 1st was the thought that the book means Harriet
Smith, because of her low status and obscure birth, should never dream of
somebody like Philip Elton or Frank Churchill or George Knightley but has to
stay where she is and marry someone like Robert Martin.
throughout 6 novels Jane Austen lets her characters marry across
class lines. In this case it's not Harriet's status, class and income that matters,
but her personality and level of intelligence. The poor Catherine Morland may
be happy with Henry Tilney, the poor Elizabeth Bennet and the ideal man Mr
Darcy may be a good match... but Harriet Smith, with her simplicity and
naivete, suits Robert Martin best and Jane Austen's realistic enough to know that
only with someone like Robert Martin can Harriet find happiness.
an author's greatest work may be their 1st, 2nd or 3rd book, followed by
something dull, unoriginal, uninteresting, even mediocre or simply not as good,
Jane Austen matures and improves throughout her career and betters her craft
after each work.
abbey" < "Sense and sensibility" < "Pride and
prejudice" < "Mansfield park" < "Emma"
latest novel "Persuasion", I am ambivalent. In 1 sense, written in
illness and lacking revision, it is less polished than some of her earlier
works, but in another sense, more serious and mature in tone, with less reliance on what people say, and even with the prospect
of becoming her greatest work.
and prejudice" has liveliness and diversity of characters, wit, and
cheerfulness in tone, featuring the beloved Lizzy Bennet and the dream guy Mr Darcy,
is her most popular novel, yet in my opinion, "Mansfield park" is
more complex and excellent in terms of psychology, magnificent in its nuances and
subtleties and minute details, and in "Emma", the free indirect
speech is perfected. Reading "Emma" the 2nd time and knowing the plot
twist, I look in awe at the way she plays with appearance and reality,
masterfully controls and handles all the small details that make them all fit
together. In my 1st reading, I knew all along that Emma would end up with
George Knightley and guessed correctly that Mr Elton didn't care about Harriet,
but totally missed the secret engagement between Jane Fairfax and Frank