After I read Conrad (Victory & Heart of Darkness) and Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility & Emma) I have come to this conclusion: Never believe it when your literary history books call something “excellent” or “brilliant”. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with these texts or their authors, except that you read them not for the stories themselves but their use of words–and the worlds within the words. No ‘humour’ by itself–sidesplitting or nonsensical or the Wodehousian fantastic, but grim ‘reporting’ of perceptions. If there is any humour, the ability to identify them is a reader’s privilege to be earned and the joke is to be solemnly smiled at. The language is distractingly self-conscious; in describing a landscape or a thought, the narrator must go to unparagraphed lengths, abandoning the characters in mid-action and mid-speech, even in mid-thought. For Conrad, craft is art, while in Austen, it is the author’s mind and values that seep through the narrative facade.
Emma is rooted in a commonsensical, pragmatic and highly sensible view of the meaning of life and the world. Emma Woodhouse is an attractive person–in manners, conversation and daily life, but rather than a progression of character (in keeping with its pre-supposed bildungsromanic genre), Continue reading