Jane Fairfax

Dear Miss Woodhouse

All right, I have decided that it is high time for a Jane Austen-related post. Please note, if you haven’t already, that this is in no way a Jane Austen Blog. I love her work, and I have re-read her six novels many, many times, but a whole blog on one topic? No, I’m afraid I am not disciplined enough for that!

I am currently re-reading Emma. For probably at least the fifteenth time. Emma is special to me, because when Jane Austenites play the “Which Austen character do you think you are?” game, I choose Jane Fairfax. Not because I am elegant and accomplished, but because I can very much see myself in Jane when she says, “I will not say, that since I entered into the engagement I have not had some happy moments, but I can say, that I have never known the blessing of one tranquil hour.” When I do wrong, I am much the same way. I cannot forgive myself easily, and I cannot be calm when I am upset with myself.

Also, I imagine that I am often open to the charge of being reserved. I’m not nearly so charming in person as I am on this blog.

Finally, I have the dubious fortune of being very attached to a gentleman of much livelier temperament than myself. I suppose, for myself and Miss Fairfax (no, I will not call her “Jane”  in the style of Mrs. Elton!) it’s necessary to be with a lively guy who breaks through our reserve and who stirs us up a little. On the other hand, it’s easy for me to imagine, a few years into the marriage, Jane Fairfax Churchill being all, “Frank, just cut it out, okay? You are really annoying me,” or whatever the equivalent of that is in early 19th century language (anyone want to try that in the comments section?).

Query: Do you think Jane Austen is inviting us into a more intimate relationship with Emma Woodhouse by calling her novel merely Emma? I find that I can’t call her “Miss Woodhouse” any more than I can call Jane Fairfax “Jane.”

The more often I read Emma, though, the more I think about one question. When Mrs. Weston, Mr. Knightley, and Emma are talking about Jane Fairfax in Chapter 33, Emma says, “She is a riddle, quite a riddle! …to chuse the mortification of Mrs. Elton’s notice and the penury of her conversation, rather than return to the superior companions who have always loved her with such real, generous affection.”

Then later, Emma asks, “She is not to be with the Dixons… but why must she consent to be with the Eltons? —Here is quite a separate puzzle.”

Mr. Knightley, in the course of his reply, says, “But (with reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs. Elton, which nobody else pays her.”

This is supposed to be a major rebuke to Emma for not inviting Jane Fairfax more often.

But my question is this: Why is Emma the only one so rebuked? Mrs. Weston has finally achieved independence and a lovely home of her own. Why on earth is Mrs. Weston not inviting Jane Fairfax to Randalls for morning visits, supper visits, or walks in the shrubbery?

We know perfectly well that Emma’s jealousy and resentment of Jane Fairfax are the feelings which preclude Emma becoming “more her friend.” Should we suspect Mrs. Weston of similar feelings? Or is she just not paying attention?

Mrs. Weston is probably one of the least-developed characters in the novel. It never really bothers me, except when I realize she could have taken a much more pivotal role in the development of the plot.

And with such a sociable husband, too! Mr. Weston would never have objected to Mrs. Weston having in as much company as she liked!

Maybe there is something I’m missing.

Poor Jane Fairfax. At least I can easily get away from the Mrs. Eltons in my life. And believe me, I do.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy