Saturday, 5 July 2008

Jane Austen Quote - Week 11 by Linda

I love this one from Emma! Emma is informing Mr. Knightley that Harriet Smith had refused an offer of marriage from Robert Martin. Mr. Knightley says:

"Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?"

Emma then comes back with this gem:

"Oh! to be sure," cried Emma, "it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her."

I simply have a hard time believing Mr. Knightley’s response:

"Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing”…

- Chapter 8, Emma


In my heart I think Jane got it exactly right. Well, I could be wrong, but not wishing to offend our gentlemen readers, I will say no more. They may defend themselves as best they can. Of course, there is always the exception that proves the rule, too.

Linda the Librarian

Pic: Mark Strong as Mr Knightley from: Strange Girl

5 comments:

Michelle said...

Oh Linda, I must re-read Emma again. I love this book. And I love this quote. I think 'Jane Knows Best'!

Thank you, Linda.

bilbo said...

Dear Linda,
I accept your challenge for a male response. Defense is hardly necessary in this instance, however. This will be more in the nature of a counter-attack:
JA did not mean for her readers to take all her little aphorisms perfectly seriously. She understood very well the extreme diffidence and fear of rejection with which a man in love tenders his offers to his beloved. JA portrayed this touchingly in nearly every novel, e.g., in P&P chapter 58, where even the proud Mr. Darcy has been so humbled as to say “You are too generous to trifle with me….My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”
Only those not truly in love, buffoons such as Mr. Collins or rakes such as Henry Crawford, do not suffer this anxiety. Perhaps the hidden meaning of your comment is that you believe all men to be buffoons or rakes. But JA did not believe this – every novel has at least one hero.
Finally, you have taken the quote out of context – the main theme of the novel is that Emma is mistaken in her opinions. Indeed, in the very proposal under discussion in the quote, Robert Martin sought reassurance from Mr. Knightley before he could bring himself to offer marriage to Harriet Smith; and the rejection he suffered (implicitly correctly from your comment) is most happily reversed in the end.
Respectfully, Bilbo

Michelle said...

Hi Bilbo -

Thanks for your comment. You made me think carefully about the quote, and the characters themselves.

I often joke that "Jane Knows Best" because she captures the little quirks and contradictions of humanity so truthfully in her characters. I don't mean to say that Jane's characters are puppets for her own opinions! Just that she captures our human follies brilliantly.

You're right - the central theme of Emma is her misjudgments, but I think in the case of her famous speech, "It is always incomprehensible to a man..." that in anger she generalised wildly (as you do) by lumping "all men" together. Firstly, I think she meant to insult Mr Knightley as badly as she could, and in that respect it IS a clanger. She felt superior as she summed him up as a specimen of ‘all-around male baseness’. Add to this a suggestion that Emma may have been feeling very low about all males at this point in time (a very female tendency!). And finally, remember that Emma's opinion of Mr Martin at this time was that he was the buffiest buffoon, etc. Therefore, in her mind, Mr Martin would perfectly fit the mould she projected, (unfortunately on all men!).

I like what you implied, that those not truly "in love" - (including my favourite – those superior in their own opinion) are true representation to Emma's statement. I believe this. Someone who is so far up themself, "God's Gift" etc, WILL believe this. I mean, how could his chosen one NOT worship him! Or, on the other hand, consider loved-up Darcy, who expected a favourable response to his 1st proposal!

This week (I can't believe I am telling this) I had a friend I hadn't seen a long time down for a mini-break. Two years younger, a "friend-friend", who, on the last day of his visit, sat in full superior glory, rattling off how I was this, this and this, and could you believe it, he was the only male who knew about me! (At this point I was laughing madly inside) And THEN, oh man, he said it. He looked down his nose and said, "a couple of years ago, we would have been perfectly ... compatible" I picked my jaw off the floor and gave him an earful. Compatible?! Then I went to my room and laughed and laughed and laughed, and he left in a high stink. He fitted Emma's statement to a "T".

Thanks for the debate!

Anonymous said...

Michelle has summed up my opinion very well. I was not clear in that I believed Jane Austen's comment to be a generalization and should not be taken literally to include "all men". As I said, "there is always the exception that proves the rule." - and that saying is not to infer that there is a 'rule'.

Also, I must say, Bilbo, that you are quite correct to point out that the situation of Harriet and Mr. Martin "is most happily reversed in the end"! Thank you for keeping our perspective in proper order.

Linda the Librarian

Rachel said...

Agreed agreed Linda. Thanks Michelle and Bilbo for such an interesting discussion. And also thanks Michelle for being so honest about your 'compatible friend-friend'!! Sounds like a very interesting situation and exchange of words.....?