a melancholy change

Category: Daily Life | Type: Discussion | Title: Emma (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Vol: Volume I | Ch: Chapter I

The paragraph's theme is change, as in part change is the novel's. But for Mr. Woodhouse the ice is splitting around his feet. People will upset him by getting married and moving. "Matrimony, as the origin of change," depresses him. Even his elder daughter's marriage, though he should rejoice at its being "entirely a match of affection," still troubles his peace, several grandchildren later. Any movement, including his own, troubles him. 

He has not changed psychologically perhaps since he married. He was endowed with amiability and an affectionate, sensitive heart yet one fibrillating with phobias. Austen encourages us to smile at his fears—he's one of three comic figures—yet his sedentary life (he claims he cannot walk half the distance, a quarter of a mile, to Randalls), paralysis, over-sensitivity, and self-indulgence, melancholy and hypochondria indicate that Highbury's preeminent citizen is worrisomely unfit. 

Austen's gleans Mr. Woodhouse's symptoms from her mother's hypochondria but the causes from her own association with change. The most traumatic event in Jane Austen's life was her parent's decision in 1801 to move from Steventon Rectory, her home from birth until she's twenty-five, to Bath. Neither she nor Cassandra was consulted beforehand. Perhaps the parents' hope was that one or both daughters would find a husband in Bath, but the effect on Jane is catastrophic and leads to an extended depression. With the exception of "The Watsons" and in 1809 revising Sense and Sensibility, begun in the mid-1790s, she stops writing for a decade. She resumes in a burst of creativity when her mother, her sister, and she (her father died at Bath) are finally established in 1809 in Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, after some years of nomadic uncertainty. This inaugurates her most productive period. She significantly revises Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and writes Mansfield ParkEmmaPersuasion, and begins Sanditon.

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