STUDY QUESTIONS FOR JANE AUSTEN, EMMA 7-142
1. The opening chapter of Emma is one of the most brilliant and interesting in all of English fiction. Pay close attention to it, and be ready to discuss the following questions:
a. What do we learn about Emma in the first paragraph? What new information is added in the second paragraph? At the end of those paragraphs, what images of Emma are starting to take shape in our minds? What challenges and adventures seem to await her?
b. How are our impressions and images of Emma refined or fleshed out in the third and fourth paragraphs? Taken together, what do those first four paragraphs suggest about the rest of the novel? At this point, what kinds of predictions would you make about the plot?
c. The marriage of Miss Taylor (poor Miss Taylor!) is the destabilizing event that kicks the story into gear. It’s the functional equivalent of Lady B’s death in Pamela. What difference does it make to Emma’s situation? If it is a destabilizing event, then what exactly does it destabilize?
d. How would you characterize Emma’s conversation with her father (10-11)? What about their three-way conversation with Mr. Knightley (11-5)? How do these conversations differ? What if anything can you tell about Emma’s relationships with these two men?
2. When planning Emma, Austen told a friend, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." Several questions follow from that:
a. Do you think Austen underestimated the likability of her heroine? What, in any case, is dislikable about Emma? What are her worst flaws, her most serious mistakes? Do you ever feel like giving up on her--and if so, when, and why?
b. Given Austen’s worries about her dislikable heroine, what can we say about chapters four, seven, eight, ten, and sixteen. How, in these chapters, does Austen try to maintain the reader's interest in Emma? Does Austen ever try to suggest that Emma is capable of redemption? If so, when and how does she make that suggestion?
3. In Book Three of The Republic, Socrates says that stories can be told in one of two ways: the storyteller can speak in his own voice; or he can imitate the voices of others (393b). The first form of storytelling, in which the storyteller or narrator speaks in his own voice, is called "diegesis." And the second form, in which the narrator employs dialogue and thereby imitates the voices of others, is called "mimesis." Later critics, influenced by this helpful Socratic distinction, have argued that Jane Austen is a master of mixing diegesis with mimesis. Is there any pattern to her use of the two forms of storytelling? Does she tend to employ diegesis in some situations and reserve mimesis for others?
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last modified 10-16-04