Emma: Episode 1, Chapters 1-5

In this episode, we read the first five chapters of Emma. We give a brief publishing history, and talk about how much we learn about the occupants of Highbury, the introduction of the relationship between Emma and Mr Knightley, Emma’s manipulation of Harriet, and Emma’s personality (and how our views of her are changing on this readthrough).

The character we discuss is Mr Woodhouse, and in the historical section Ellen talks about boarding schools. Harriet gives an overview of all of the popular culture versions of Emma, and explains that due to the number of adaptations there have been, she will talk about one version each episode, rather than trying to cover all of them. For this episode, she talks about the 1972 BBC adaptation.

Things we mention:

General and character discussion:

Hypothetical map of Highbury, by Penny Gay

Historical discussion:

Popular culture discussion:

Creative commons music used:

15 thoughts on “<em>Emma</em>: Episode 1, Chapters 1-5”

  1. Hurrah! My favourite Austen podcast reaches my favourite Austen book at last!

    I love the way you ladies break down books, chapters and characters to show the heart in things, not just prising them apart to say how much ‘better’ things are ‘these days’,

    Academic without being overly so and world building without going too far off topic, I can’t wait to hear what you make of Emma and her world.

    For this book in particular I’m SURE I’ll be diving into links and things & enjoying going into many a rabbit hole beside you.

    One thing I ask, tell Emma off when she NEEDS it, yes, but cut her some slack to.
    Yes, she’s AWFUL to Miss Bates, BUT are ANY of us SO perfect that we might not snap after YEARS of Batesisms in such a small circle company?

    As someone who has a Jane Fairfax figure in my own life, I know that it’s PERFECTLY possible for the idealised version of that person to get right up your nose. but to find that the ACTUAL person can be at least ok (& maybe more), when you MAKE yourself remember they’d probably be horrified to know they’re seen in some quarters as a living angel.

    Thank you and keep up the great work! x

    • Thank you, Fi.
      I think I can promise that I will be cutting Emma much more slack than I would have ever imagined. On this close reading, I am seeing so many more places where Emma deserves congratulations, not censure. And where her less than admirable actions are understandable in the circumstances. My view of her is really turning around.

    • I remember connecting her faux pas with Miss Bates to the bit about “What did she say?–Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.” Well, perhaps she has gotten better at saying what she ought by then…

  2. Im so happy for you to be doing Emma. It is by far my favorite of the Austen novels.
    A thought about Mr Woodhouse’s mental health. He may be experiencing the trauma of unresolved complex grief – if we consider that his back story may have a deceased mother(child’s grief), add his own wife’s death (spousal grief) , the death of Mr Weston’s first wife (local community grief) and the overall cultural grief of mothers dying during in childbirth, it is possible to consider his anxiety, fears, and preoccupation with heath as a form of PTSD – which has a mental confusion component.

    • Thank you, Cherylann.

      I think it is certainly a very legitimate reading, and not one that occurred to either of us when we were recording the episode. (Although since then, I have been watching the 2009 BBC adaptation, and they are definitely positioning his mental health as arising out of grief. They highlighted the death of his wife, and the impact it had on him.)

      There are a lot of possible backstories we can think about, that are consistent with what we see in the book. And it can be interesting to speculate.

      But I do think that the important thing is not so much how he got to be the way he is, but rather how his anxiety and cognitive issues affect his life, how they affect Emma’s life, and how everyone – not just Emma, but all of Highbury – respond to it.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      Did you mean the YouTube channel with Ellen’s talk about education and Charlotte M. Yonge? The video is at https://youtu.be/IxGOS5bJwsw. The channel is Harriet’s, and only has three (unrelated to each other) videos on it – this one, Harriet’s VirtualJaneCon presentation, and a recording of the podium presentation at a fencing event.

      But I’ll check my notes from the podcast, in case there was another YouTube channel we mentioned.

  3. Ellen’s comments about posture remind me of the comically sadistic governess in the BBC series “The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff,” season 2. She inflicts nothing but posture on her pupil.

  4. Long term fan of the podcast and I was so glad to see you’ve started on Emma! I was also really glad you discussed the idea that Emma’s life is shaped by being her father’s carer. My mother worked with people with dementia and their carers and I volunteered with related charities, and when I read the novel in my late teens I thought it was a great portrayal of the carer’s situation – but then was surprised to realise that lots of people didn’t see what I thought was obvious.

    • Thank you Rachel. Reading Emma in light of the idea that Emma is her father’s carer, I become more and more surprised that I had never noticed this before. There are so many references to Emma explaining things to him, and Emma being the person he turns to when he is distressed – and yet, on previous readings they had completely passed me by.

  5. Your discussion of Mr. Woodhouse, and of Mr. Rushworth before him, makes me think of issues in the spectrum community and other disability communities. To label or not to label — parents often fear that a label (a formal diagnosis placed in a record or publicized in the social circle) will limit or stereotype or disadvantage a child who has challenges. Just let him be a person, etc. With Mr. Woodhouse, we see an entire family and an entire village devoted to dealing with Mr. Woodhouse as just a person who has a complex set of needs. Nowadays, a “label” might enable him to qualify for social services that would help him be more independent, and free up Emma and others from their unpaid caretaking duties.

    Mr. Woodhouse himself doesn’t seem to be unhappy – and yet Mrs. Elton (reliable here in spite of herself?) does say that she understands his “spirits” are “sometimes much depressed.” If he’s content, maybe it’s fine for him to be treated as a wealthy eccentric rather than as a labeled person with a disability.

    Food for thought; thank you. I still enjoyed Mr. Woodhouse as a character, but this new point of view diminished my usual enjoyment of Mr. Rushworth, except that I admired Fanny for taking his side against Mr. Crawford.


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