December 17, 2015

On the cusp



Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, being settled in London, only sixteen miles off, was much beyond her daily reach; and many a long October and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband and their little children to fill the house and give her pleasant society again.
Emma, Volume I, Chapter 1

For the 200th anniversary celebration, I'm reading an annotated edition of Emma, from a series that I've been collecting over the past few years. And I'm a little torn: part of me just wants to come home and curl up on the couch and read, and the other part loves annotations and footnotes (even though I find them distracting). So we'll see. But I love this one...
This is the first element in the novel's precise triangulation of Highbury's geographically impossible non-location ... since nowhere could be sixteen miles from London, nine miles from Richmond, and seven miles from Box Hill.
How amazing that our Jane 'plotted' this! And why would she? I'm a little sorry that I kept reading for an explanation, because it would have been more fun to wonder. {You can stop reading now if you'd rather not know. :) }
Although Highbury is deliberately presented as a place that might exist, surrounded by places that do exist, it is in fact as nonexistent as Prospero's magic island ad the coast of Bohemia in the plays of Shakespeare. Austen keeps Highbury on the cusp between realism and romance, at once inviting a reader to map it onto and identify it with the real Surrey, and rendering any precise mapping impossible by providing illogical coordinates...
For someone who loves to find maps, and family trees, and floor plans in her books, this is rather perfect.

{The painting is Carshalton House, Carshalton, Surrey, by Thomas John R. Winn, found here.}


3 comments:

Darlene said...

I enjoy the speculation while at the same time wondering what Jane would make of all the dissection. The idea of writing a book without years of research in reading rooms and google searches seems to be a rare thing these days.

JoAnn said...

Perfect! I finished Emma a few days ago and would love to peruse the annotations now. Am currently reading through the 'contextual essays' at the back of my anniversary edition.

Sunday Taylor said...

I have read that same annotation and loved it. I have that annotated edition of Emma and I think it's one of the loveliest. I also love that passage in the book with its concept of her yearning for her sister's company and sixteen miles being too far for daily reach. That left Emma to while away many quiet nights with her father. Until Mr. Knightley would stop by!