Emma Of Jane Austen Essay Research Paper

Emma Of Jane Austen Essay, Research Paper

Jane Austen?s Emma and the Romantic Imagination "To see a world in a

grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your

hand And eternity in an hour." ?William Blake, ?Auguries of

Innocence? Imagination, to the people of the eighteenth century of whom

William Blake and Jane Austen are but two, involves the twisting of the

relationship between fantasy and reality to arrive at a fantastical point at

which a world can be extrapolated from a single grain of sand, and all the time

that has been and ever will be can be compressed into the space of an hour. What

is proposed by Blake is clearly ludicrous?it runs against the very tide of

reason and sense?and yet the picture that the imagination paints of his verse

inspires awe. The human imagination supplies the emotional undercurrents that

allows us to see the next wild flower we pass on the side of the road in an

entirely different and amazing light. In Austen?s Emma, the imagination is

less strenuously taxed because her story of sensibility is more easily enhanced

by the imagination, more easily given life than Blake?s abstract vision of the

great in the small because Emma is more aesthetically realistic. However, both

rely on the fact that "[t]he correspondence of world and subject is at the

center of any sensibility story, yet that correspondence is often twisted in

unusual and terrifying shapes," (Edward Young, 1741). The heroine of

Austen?s novel, Emma Woodhouse, a girl of immense imagination, maintains it by

keeping up with her reading and art because, as Young contends, these are the

mediums through which imagination is chiefly expressed by manipulating the

relationships between the world and the subject at hand. However, even in this,

Emma?s imagination falls short. "The soul might have the capacity to take

in the ?world? or the ?atom? if it weren?t for the body?s

limitations getting in the way," (Joseph Addison, 1712). As Addison

supposes, the limitations of Emma?s body keeps her from seeing the truths that

her soul, if let free, would show her. One of these is that Frank Churchill, a

handsome and well-bred man, is insincere and fake, while Mr. Knightley truly

loves her like no other. In Emma?s love theme, Austen shows us how emotions

and imagination can augment each other. "[I]t was?sensibility which

originally aroused imagination;?on the other hand?imagination increases and

prolongs?sensibility," (Dugald Stewart, 1792). Due to Emma?s

endorsement of Mr. Elton, Harriet imagines feelings for him which become so real

for her that she can?t get him out of her mind. Although the situation is a

tragic one, it shouldn?t be believed that a fantasy-generated reality is

always bad. "Sympathy, the fellow-feeling with the passions of others,

operates through a logic of mirroring, in which a spectator imaginatively

reconstructs the experience of the person he watches," (Adam Smith, 1759).

Emma is miserably inept at this; she completely fails to use her imagination to

construct a reality for herself as might be seen through Miss Bates?s eyes and

thus generate some sympathy for the poor woman?s situation. Emotions can also

be enhanced by imagined details. "I saw the iron enter into his soul?I

burst into tears?I could not sustain the picture of confinement which my fancy

had drawn," (Laurence Sterne, 1768). Through details, Emma stokes the fires

of Harriet?s imagination and turns her emotions for Mr. Martin against him.

Smith?s idea of sympathy and Sterne?s idea of details come together to form

"that extensive influence which language hath over the heart,?strengthens

the bond of society, and attracts individuals?to perform acts of generosity

and benevolence," (Henry Home, Lord Kames, 1762). Language holds power

through the impression from memory that it conjures, that which Kames calls

"ideal presence". Individuals in society employ details in their

imagination to form a common "ideal presence" in language. The word

"love," for example, conjures up the same group of images with most

people; the word has power because it is greater than the sum of its four

letters. This sympathy of meaning between one person and the next is what allows

people to identify with one another and galvanizes society. It is this that

allows Emma to "read between the lines" of Mr. Elton?s charade and

understand its underlying meaning. Because imagination enhances emotion, but

emotion often contradicts reason, imagination was also seen to oppose reason and

principle. "Particular incidents and situations occur, which either throw a

false light on the objects, or hinder the true from conveying to the imagination

the proper sentiment and perception," (David Hume, 1757). Hume suggests

that, in order to imagine truly and effectively, the mind must be as clear as

possible. Mr. Woodhouse?s inability to clear his head leads him to imagine

problems with the food and health of other people. Or worse, "[t]his

separation of conscience from feeling is a depravity of the most pernicious

sort;?when the ties of the first bind the sentiment and not the will, and the

rewards of the latter crown not the heart but the imagination," individuals

will take leave of reason (Henry Mackenzie, 1785). Mackenzie?s concern is that

the limitless freedom of imagination will seduce people out of the more

disciplined act of thinking and reasoning, just as Emma is fueled by the thought

of all the potential matches that she can make and ignores reason and principle

which would have suggested for her to stop meddling. "Reason" can also

be interpreted as the willingness to function socially, that is, to work.

"Reasonable" people preoccupied with physical labor lose their ability

to imagine because there is no need for it and they remain in the best of

health. In contrast, "in the decline of life, [imaginers] pay dearly for

the youthful days of their vanity," (George Cheyne, 1725). Jane Fairfax

does just this. She gets so carried away with the idea of Frank and Emma being

together that she imagines herself into a serious illness. To people of the

eighteenth century, imagination can serve as a source of aesthetic pleasure, or

it can stimulate emotional responses that enhance visual images in opposition to

reason. It has the capability to wrangle the body and make it sick, to falsify

emotions, and charge a language with meaning. To imagine is to blend fantasy and

reality in abstract but beautiful ways, to have a mind open to ideas, and to

have a hand large enough to hold in its palm all of infinity and more.

Addison, Joseph. The Spectator, 26 September, 1712. Austen, Jane. Emma. W.W.

Norton & Company, New York, 1993 (1816). Blake, William. "Auguries of

Innocence". W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1993 (c.1803). Cheyne,

George. Retrospection. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989 (1725). Home,

Henry, Lord Kames. Letter to Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Wm. C. Brown Publishers,

Oxford, 1978 (1762). Hume, David. "On the Standard of Taste". W.W.

Norton & Company, New York, 1990 (1757). Mackenzie, Henry. Emotions of the

Mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984 (1785). Smith, Adam. The Spectator,

27 April, 1759. Sterne, Laurence. Tristram Shandy. Wm. C. Brown Publishers,

Oxford, 1990 (1768). Stewart, Dugald. The Process of Thought. W.W. Norton &

Company, New York, 1995 (1792). Young, Edward, "Night Thoughts".

Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990 (1741).


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