Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Hating Emma Woodhouse


I thought this little anecdote might help to chase away those winter blues. It comes from Quentin Bell’s Elders and Betters, a book of Bloomsbury reminiscences.

Quentin, son of the artist Vanessa Bell and nephew of the writer Virginia Woolf, and his brother-in-law, the writer David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, are talking about Jane Austen’s Emma.

Bunny had no time for Emma. ‘She was a very unpleasant character, a desperate snob, callous, conceited and vain,’ he said. In his view, she had no redeeming features whatsoever.

Quentin Bell expostulated. ‘Although she had her faults, she did suffer from an unbearably silly father and she bore his silliness with angelic patience.’

‘Well, we only have Jane Austen’s word for that,’ responded Bunny, darkly.

It made me laugh out loud. But it does illustrate Jane Austen’s ability to create characters so real that they seem to have an existence entirely independent of their creator.

Elizabeth Hawksley






9 comments:

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thank you for sharing that, Elizabeth. You are quite right, people get passionate about Austen's characters and I think the number of prequels and sequels etc show how many people WANT them to have a life of their own.

Every time I re-read an Austen book I discover a little more about her characters. What a gift she had!

Amanda Grange said...

I loved this! Thanks for posting it, I hadn't come across it before. (And of course, we do only have Jane Austen's word for it!)

Annie Burrows said...

the secret of her success? love them or hate them, J.A's characters spring to life from the page

Jane Odiwe said...

Brilliant-so funny and so true. I think that's why we enjoy discussing her characters so much-they're like friends to return to again and again.
The one I love hearing about is how fantastic and romantic Captain Wentworth's letter is in Persuasion as if it was written by him. People seem to forget that Jane Austen wrote it!

I loved this post, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you, Melinda/Sarah, Amanda, Annie, and Jane for your comments. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the anecdote, too.

It makes me laugh every time I think about it.

Helena said...

Excellent! I'm with Bunny all the way...

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Oh, Helena! Don't be too harsh on Emma. It's true that she is spoilt and thoughtless at the beginning. And, yes, she is snobbish and so on. But she does learn - painfully, in the Box Hill scene, and she comes good at the end.

Jan Jones said...

Oh, that's so funny, Elizabeth!

Christina said...

No, I'm with Helena - I've never liked Emma much, even if she does come good in the end. By that stage I was heartily tired of her :-)