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Monday, 13 January 2014

Jane Fairfax& Jane Eyre || Other thoughts after 2nd reading of "Emma"

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".
http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Jane+Austen,+Jane+Fairfax,+and+Jane+Eyre.-a0179934393
"Whether 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)?" 

"If, 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: 
1/ Following the same logic, the hardship in "Jane Eyre" is nothing compared to that in "Agnes Grey" by Anne Bronte.
After leaving 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 her mother. 
Agnes Grey 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. 


2/ "Emma", not depicting a governess's life, does show us women's situation in Britain in the 19th century.
The novel begins with "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich..." 
Look at this excerpt: 
"... 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 repent it."
"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 father's."
"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."..."


It's the 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.
The character 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."
http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/did-jane-austen-have-revolutionary-thoughts/


3/ Closing "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.
The 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.]




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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. 
I was mistaken. 
Many times 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. 







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Whilst usually 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. 
"Northanger abbey" < "Sense and sensibility" < "Pride and prejudice" < "Mansfield park" < "Emma" 
About her 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.
"Pride 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 Churchill.

4 comments:

  1. I had the same ideas: I figured Emma and Mr. Knightly would pair off and that Harriet would eventually end up with Robert and not with Elton. But, I never saw the Jane/Frank match up before it was revealed.

    The narrator assures us that Harriet and Robert, as well as Emma and George, will be happy. However, we get no such assurance regarding Jane and Frank. Moreover, Frank is very much conscious of Jane's good looks but really doesn't say much about her character. I wonder, if Jane had been a plain woman, whether Frank would have noticed her. Considering his character, I also wonder about the future when they both begin aging.

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    1. Maybe I'll ask everybody if they saw it coming. When I read "Emma" the 2nd time, I couldn't understand why I hadn't seen the match up.
      But yeah, I notice that in Frank too.
      It's strange, perhaps, but I find myself caring deeply about Jane Fairfax and wondering what will happen to her, as though she exists. Only once in a while do I feel that way about a fictional person- Caddy in "The Sound and the Fury" is another example.

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  2. I think Jane is the woman most at risk in Emma. Harriet has her anonymous father who is paying the bills. Emma is rich. Jane seems to be alone, aside from the Bates who apparently have barely enough to survive. Jane has to depend upon the kindness of others and actually has little real support in the community. Emma is no help and Mrs. Elton's help is really a form of tyranny.

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    1. Agree. Most at risk, though most talented.
      I can't stand that woman Augusta Elton. Recently I've just 'discovered' a person exactly like her. Aaaa.

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