Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 3

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Chapter III

Mr. Woodhouse was fond of society in his own way.d He liked very much to have his friends come and see him; and from various united causes, from his long residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms. Fortunately for him, Highbury, including Randalls in the same parish,h and Donwell Abbey in the parish adjoining, the seat of Mr. Knightley, comprehended many such. Not unfrequently, through Emma's persuasion, he had some of the chosen and the best to dine with him: but evening parties were what he preferred; and, unless he fancied himself at any time unequal to company, there was scarcely an evening in the week in which Emma could not make up a card-table for him.

Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr. Knightley; and by Mr. Eltond, a young man living alone without liking it, the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse's drawing-room, and the smiles of his lovely daughter, was in no danger of being thrown away.

After these came a second set; among the most come-at-able of whom were Mrs. and Miss Bates, and Mrs. Goddard, three ladies almost always at the serviceh of an invitation from Hartfield, and who were fetched and carried home so often, that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses. Had it taken place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.

Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicarh of Highbury, was a very old ladyh, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.w She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respecth which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quicksighted to every body's merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters, which exactly suited Mr. Woodhouse, full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a Schoolh—not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigiesd. Mrs. Goddard's school was in high repute—and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after her to church. She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mr. Woodhouse's kindness, felt his particular claim on her to leave her neat parlour, hung round with fancy-workh, whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.

These were the ladies whom Emma found herself very frequently able to collect; and happy was she, for her father's sake, in the power; though, as far as she was herself concerned, it was no remedy for the absence of Mrs. Weston. She was delighted to see her father look comfortable, and very much pleased with herself for contriving things so well; but the quiet prosingsw of three such women made her feel that every evening so spent was indeed one of the long evenings she had fearfully anticipated.

X [d] in his own way.

A double entendre, for Austen also means strictly on his terms. 

X [h] parish,

Religion

A parish in this context is the area served by a Church of England church and is the smallest geographical ecclesiastical unit (next the diocese, then the province), though parishes varied widely in population, size, and wealth. The parish had its own rector or vicar (or a curate hired by one of them), who served under a bishop. There were some 10,000 parishes in England in the later 18th c.…

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X [d] Mr. Elton

Elton's impatience with solitude suggests that he lacks "inner resources." In this he and Emma resemble one another.

X [h] always at the service

Says something about the hunger for convivial company.

X [h] vicar

Religion

A vicar was an ordained Church of England minister, known familiarly as the parson, superior to a curate, also ordained but subbing (unless a "perpetual curate") at nearly starvation wages for the vicar or his immediate superior, the rector.

The parish provided a house, perhaps some land (glebe farm) whose produce could feed the parson's family and the remainder sold to supplement …

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X [h] lady

Class

"Lady" here is more a statement of class than gender, a lady being the equivalent of a gentleman. As a vicar's widow, despite her poverty, she will remain a lady.

X [w] quadrille.

Amusements

A card game requiring four players; two can play backgammon. 

X [h] regard and respect

Gender

This important paragraph describes female old age, a dearly purchased respectability, tender consideration between mother and daughter, and the latter's devoted self-sacrifice, echoed in Emma's own to her father.

Though Miss Bates is not handsome, clever, or rich, and hence unmarried, and though living out her life under arduous conditions that can only get worse (she will not have an unmarried daughter to care for her), yet she is …

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X [h] Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School

Education

Not a "new" type of school dressed out in fancy rhetoric but an old-fashioned boarding-school where useful accomplishments were promised at a reasonable price. Like Knightley, Mrs. Goddard. though a minor character, is a benchmark of virtue (the first syllable of her name intimates her merit): fair tuition, wholesome food, plenty of exercise, care for the children in winter, and truth in advertising.…

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X [d] without any danger of coming back prodigies

Ironic, in that other girls' schools sought to turn out young women ornamented with useless but conspicuous learning.

X [h] fancy-work

Needle-work. Congenial, she plays cards with him for slight sums, more out of kindness than interest in the game.

X [w] quiet prosings

Daily Life

Chatter about trivial subjects. Emma dreads the boring evenings and so finds in Harriet Smith a human pet—docile, worshipful, and easily manipulated. Observant and imperious, given to imagining and arranging, Emma practices on Harriet. Though she lacks the discipline and ambition to write fiction, Emma nevertheless is a sort of proto-author and Harriet the principal character in her (Harlequin) fiction.…

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