Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 1, Ch. 9

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Chapter IX

Mr. Knightley might quarrel with her, but Emma could not quarrel with herself. He was so much displeased, that it was longer than usual before he came to Hartfield again; and when they did meet, his grave looks shewed that she was not forgiven. She was sorry, but could not repent. On the contrary, her plans and proceedings were more and more justified and endeared to her by the general appearances of the next few days.

The Picture, elegantly framed, came safely to hand soon after Mr. Elton's return, and being hung over the mantelpiece of the common sitting-room, he got up to look at it, and sighed out his half sentences of admiration just as he ought; and as for Harriet's feelings, they were visibly forming themselves into as strong and steady an attachment as her youth and sort of mind admitted. Emma was soon perfectly satisfied of Mr. Martin's being no otherwise remembered, than as he furnished a contrast with Mr. Elton, of the utmost advantage to the latter.

Her views of improving her little friend's mind,d by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow. It was much easier to chat than to study; much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet's fortune, than to be labouring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts; and the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of lifed, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quartow of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with ciphers and trophiesh.

In this age of literature,d such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Nash, head-teacher at Mrs. Goddard's, had written out at least three hundred; and Harriet, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped, with Miss Woodhouse's help, to get a great many more. Emma assisted with her invention, memory and taste; and as Harriet wrote a very pretty hand, it was likely to be an arrangement of the first order, in form as well as quantity.

Mr. Woodhouse was almost as much interested in the business as the girls, and tried very often to recollect something worth their putting in. "So many clever riddles as there used to be when he was young—he wondered he could not remember them! but he hoped he should in time." And it always ended in "Kitty, a fair but frozen maid."

His good friend Perry, too, whom he had spoken to on the subject, did not at present recollect any thing of the riddle kind; but he had desired Perry to be upon the watch, and as he went about so much, something, he thought, might come from that quarter.

It was by no means his daughter's wish that the intellects of Highbury in general should be put under requisition. Mr. Elton was the only one whose assistance she asked. He was invited to contribute any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrumsd that he might recollect; and she had the pleasure of seeing him most intently at work with his recollections; and at the same time, as she could perceive, most earnestly careful that nothing ungallant, nothing that did not breathe a compliment to the sex should pass his lips. They owed to him their two or three politest puzzles; and the joy and exultation with which at last he recalled, and rather sentimentally recited, that well-known charade,

    My first doth affliction denote,
      Which my second is destin'd to feel
    And my whole is the best antidote
      That affliction to soften and heal.—

made her quite sorry to acknowledge that they had transcribed it some pages ago already.

"Why will not you write one yourself for us, Mr. Elton?" said she; "that is the only security for its freshness; and nothing could be easier to you."

"Oh no! he had never written, hardly ever, any thing of the kind in his life. The stupidest fellow! He was afraid not even Miss Woodhouse"—he stopt a moment—"or Miss Smith could inspire him."

X [d] improving her little friend's mind,

Writing & Reading

This chapter dwells on reading, literature, and word games. The word games will reappear throughout the novel and become part of a climactic scene, an extension of finding, to use Mr. Woodhouse's later image, "the figure in the message."

Because the word games occur in a work composed of words, they allow Austen further opportunities for irony. For instance, "useful reading" (sermons, etc.) comes up in a moment. But such reading would exclude this or any other novel or what is called …

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X [d] the evening of life

Writing & Reading

Self-improvement through reading and the diligent practice of music and drawing.

Emma does not in any consistent way pursue self-improvement. Why should she when she feels she's already quite perfected. Then, too, there are so many others who need help. But in fact should a smart, rich twenty-year old radiating vitality be collecting acorns for the evening of life? No.…

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X [w] quarto

Writing & Reading

A standard sheet of paper folded twice, producing four leaves.

X [h] ciphers and trophies


Harriet hunts for and transcribes riddles that she lacks the skill to decipher. She is like a  blind stamp collector. She then decorates her collection's cover with ciphers (symbolic figures whose meaning may be in her code), symbols of the riddles within, and trophies that may represent her victorious captures or rare decodings.

X [d] In this age of literature,

Writing & Reading

A most important phrase though, applied to Harriet, edged with irony. Amid this age of literature rich in works of genius Harriet toils at collecting riddles.

It most certainly is an age of literature, especially for women novelists, among the most prominent being Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Jane Austen (and shortly Mary Shelley) as well as women poets. Sir W…

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X [d] enigmas, charades, or conundrums

Writing & Reading

Austen uses enigma to mean "A short composition in prose or verse, in which something is described by intentionally obscure metaphors, in order to afford an exercise for the ingenuity of the reader or hearer in guessing what is meant; a riddle" (OED). Charade is a riddle in which there are written clues to each syllable of the embedded word. A conundrum is a riddle that involves a pun or play on words.…

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