Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 1

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Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, being settled in London,h only sixteen miles off, was much beyond her daily reach; and many a long October and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband, and their little children, to fill the house, and give her pleasant society again.

Highbury,h the large and populous village, almost amounting to a town, to which Hartfieldh, in spite of its separate lawn, and shrubberies, and name, did really belong, afforded her no equals. The Woodhouses were first in consequenced there. All looked up to them. She had many acquaintance in the place, for her father was universally civil, but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day. It was a melancholy changed; and Emma could not but sigh over it, and wish for impossible things, till her father awoke, and made it necessary to be cheerful. His spirits required support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed;h fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind.h Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying, nor could ever speak of her but with compassion, though it had been entirely a match of affection, when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor too; and from his habits of gentle selfishness,d and of being never able to suppose that other people could feel differently from himself, he was very much disposed to think Miss Taylor had done as sad a thing for herself as for them, and would have been a great deal happier if she had spent all the rest of her life at Hartfield. Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as she could, to keep him from such thoughts; but when tea came, it was impossible for him not to say exactly as he had said at dinner,

"Poor Miss Taylor!—I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!"

"I cannot agree with you, papa; you know I cannot. Mr. Weston is such a good-humoured, pleasant, excellent man, that he thoroughly deserves a good wife;—and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us for ever, and bear all my odd humours, when she might have a house of her own?"

"A house of her own!—But where is the advantage of a house of her own? This is three times as large.—And you have never any odd humours, my dear."

"How often we shall be going to see them, and they coming to see us!—We shall be always meeting! We must begin; we must go and pay wedding visit very soon."

"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a distance. I could not walk half so far."

"No, papa, nobody thought of your walking. We must go in the carriage, to be sure."

"The carriage! But James will not like to put the horses to for such a little way;—and where are the poor horses to bed while we are paying our visit?"

"They are to be put into Mr. Weston's stable, papa. You know we have settled all that already. We talked it all over with Mr. Weston last night. And as for James, you may be very sure he will always like going to Randalls, because of his daughter's being housemaid there. I only doubt whether he will ever take us anywhere else. That was your doing, papa. You got Hannahh that good place. Nobody thought of Hannah till you mentioned her—James is so obliged to you!"

"I am very glad I did think of her. It was very lucky, for I would not have had poor James think himself slighted upon any account; and I am sure she will make a very good servant: she is a civil, pretty-spoken girl; I have a great opinion of her. Whenever I see her, she always curtseys and asks me how I do, in a very pretty manner; and when you have had her here to do needlework, I observe she always turns the lock of the door the right way and never bangs it. I am sure she will be an excellent servant; and it will be a great comfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she is used to see. Whenever James goes over to see his daughter, you know, she will be hearing of us. He will be able to tell her how we all are."

Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own. The backgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwards walked in and made it unnecessary.

X [h] London,

Transportation

Sixteen miles away or five hours walking, two plus by riding, three by horse and carriage. The roads were often dangerous for horse-drawn vehicles until just about this time. Even with carriage lamps ("moons"), travel at night could be precarious, and so monthly meetings such as those of Birmingham's Lunar Society would be held at the full moon.…

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X [h] Highbury,

Places

A village is larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town. Highbury "almost" amounts to a town (a town had a charter for a livestock market). Highbury's population may have been creeping toward 1000 inhabitants, and in any case the village may be growing in actual numbers though we'll learn that it seems to have lost some county families.…

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X [h] Hartfield

Class

A model has been suggested for Hartfield, Polesden Lacey in Surrey, a spectacularly grand manor house situated in the midst of so much land that the house itself appears more than half a mile from anywhere. 

Austen gives no background on the Woodhouse genealogy and how long they have owned Hartfield. The name conjures up deer and perhaps a park—a large enclosed area surrounding the…

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X [d] The Woodhouses were first in consequence

Class

Only within the confines of their small parish. Knightley is a squire who owns a large, old home and a good deal of land (1000 acres would not be unusual), a portion of which he leases. We soon learn he is also a magistrate, which indicates he is most likely the largest landholder in the county. In the precise hierarchy of the gentry he is superior to Mr. Woodhouse but defers to his age and cultivated infirmities. …

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X [d] a melancholy change

Daily Life

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. …

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X [h] nervous man, easily depressed;

Mind

The earlier name for depression was melancholy, which derived from melan choler (black choler, one of the four humours; Search). Austen suggests that Mr. Woodhouse's behavior originates in a psychological disease. Among other things he seems to suffer from mild agoraphobia, for he will not leave his house except under duress.…

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X [h] hating change of every kind.

Daily Life

Mr. Woodhouse grew up during a period of general national stability.This began as long ago as the reign of William and Mary and subsequently of Queen Anne, followed by the first three Georges. This era ends in 1811 with the beginning of the Regency when George III ceases to rule. With regard to the Royal family, the Regency is the least stable period in well more than a century.…

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X [d] habits of gentle selfishness,

Manners & Morals

A perfect phrase. Mr. Woodhouse's concern for others originates in his projection upon them of his fears for himself. His selfishness is gentle, because he is not self-aggrandizing and does not take for himself what is due others.

Being sub-human, his horses are an ideal target for expressions of his concern, for they are merely projections of his own desires and fears. In his sympathy for animals he is, though, typical of a major current of 18th-c. thought. See the next note.…

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X [d] where are the poor horses to be

Manners & Morals

A silly yet revealing question. The horses will spend their time just as they do in Mr. Woodhouse's own stables. He intends his concern for the horses to impede a visit. 

Nevertheless, his anxiety defines him as a man of his time, a man of feeling. This is the title of Henry Mackenzie's 1771 novel describing a temperament whose origins go back to the third Earl of Shaftesbury's mor…

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X [h] Hannah

Class

Servants are rare in Austen but consistent with Mr. Woodhouse's being a man of feeling is his mentioning one by name. In fact he mentions three: Serle, James, and Hannah, and more will occur, more than in any of Austen's other novels. The development indicates a widening of her scope, which is most fully realized in Persuasion, her last completed novel.…

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