(In which we introduce Miss Dashwood's irreverent reworking of Jane Austen's classic novel, to be presented in weekly installments for the benefit of those blog readers who may be interested in such nonsense.) And we must give credit where credit is due-- this series was partly inspired by Rachel Coker's Truth Universally Acknowledged. However, this series is not in any way affiliated with or inspired by Pemberley Digital's Emma Approved-- no, seriously, I came up with this idea before I even heard of EA. ;)
Emma Woodhouse, a handsome, clever stay-at-home daughter, with a comfortable home and a homeschool education, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father (though of course not too indulgent-- he understood discipline as any good father ought), and had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been a Young Homemaker from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as private tutor, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection. This Miss Taylor had provided the at-home education Emma and her sister Isabella had needed, and she had become almost a member of the family.
Sixteen years had Miss Taylor been in the Woodhouse household, less as a governess than a friend, very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma. Between them it was more the intimacy of sisters. Some days they even wore matching jumpers, inciting admiration and compliments whenever they went to co-op together. Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of teacher, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint (besides which, the duty of discipline belonged to Emma’s father alone); and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached, and Emma doing just what she liked within reason; highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgment, but directed chiefly by her own and her father’s.
The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her. She maintained a blog (entitled “Happily at Home”) on the Internet where she wrote about daily life, recipes, and of course a weekly Monday Modesty feature in which she showcased whatever outfit she happened to be wearing that day, as an encouragement to younger girls. There were a few followers who thought, perhaps, that Emma showed some arrogance in her manner of writing and style of presenting her posts, but one cannot travel the Internet for long without encountering rude people of some kind, and Emma never paid any attention to these naysayers.
Sorrow came -- a gentle sorrow -- but not at all in the shape of any disagreeable consciousness. Miss Taylor married. This was, of course, in and of itself not a sorrow at all, for she had married a godly man and could now settle into a home of her own and be no longer subjected to scrutiny by others in their church who wondered why she was still single. She was just the kind of woman who would make the right man very happy someday, and it had always been a desire of hers to have a husband and children, so all in all things were arranged quite nicely. But it was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. The wedding over and the bride-people gone, with the newly married Westons on their way to their honeymoon at the Creation Museum, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening. Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner, as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost. She considered writing a blog post about her loneliness, but considering that Miss Taylor-- no, Mrs. Weston-- read her blog, she did not wish to instigate feelings of guilt.
The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston, their church’s youth group leader was a man of unexceptionable character, sound doctrine, a steady income and a house with no mortgage; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning's work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day. She recalled her past kindness -- the kindness, the affection of sixteen years -- how she had taught and how she had played with her from five years old -- how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse her in health -- and how nursed her through the various illnesses of childhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but the intercourse of the last seven years, the equal footing and perfect unreserve which had soon followed Isabella's marriage on their being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection. It had been a friend and companion such as few possessed, intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, every scheme of her's; -- one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault. In short, Miss Taylor had been the quintessential Proverbs 31 woman, and how could Emma expect to ever bear the loss?
Or the change, for that matter? It was true that her friend was only moving to Randalls, a small town about ten minutes away from them; but Emma was aware that great must be the difference between a Mrs. Weston only ten minutes from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house; and with all her advantages, natural and domestic, she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude. Her blogging friends were nice, of course, but they were only on the Internet and did not count. She dearly loved her father, but he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful, and they frequently suffered from a lack of topic at any rate, for he never watched Blimey Cow.
The evil of the actual disparity in their ages (and Mr. Woodhouse had not married early) was much increased by his constitution and habits; for having been a bit of a hypochondriac all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time. Besides which, he was currently experimenting with a gluten-free diet, which Emma of course lauded as an admirable enterprise, but it certainly did create more work for her both in the kitchen and when grocery shopping.
Her sister, though comparatively but little removed by matrimony, being settled in the countryside on a self-sufficient farm only forty miles off, was much beyond her daily reach; and many a long October and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield (they had named their homeschool Hartfield Academy and the name had continued with the house), before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband and their several little children to fill the house and give her pleasant society again.
Highbury Christian Fellowship, the large and thriving church to which the Woodhouses belonged, afforded her few equals. The Woodhouses were among the first in consequence there, having homeschooled both their children from day one and set the standard in the community. All looked up to them, despite there being but two girls in the family. She had many acquaintance throughout the church, for her father was universally civil even to those who utilized government education, but not one among them who could be accepted in lieu of Miss Taylor for even half a day. Emma volunteered her time as assistant in the youth group, but of course most of those young people were all still in public high school and could hardly be considered for friendship. It was a melancholy change; and Emma could not but sigh over it and wish for impossible things, till her father awoke, and made it necessary to be cheerful. His spirits required support. He was a nervous man, easily depressed; fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind. He still used Internet Explorer and refused to touch Emma’s iPad with a ten-foot pole. Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable; and he was by no means yet reconciled to his own daughter's marrying, nor could ever speak of her but with compassion, though it had been entirely a match of affection and suitability (both parties being INFJ personality types), when he was now obliged to part with Miss Taylor too; and from his habits of gentle selfishness and of being never able to suppose that other people could feel differently from himself, he was very much disposed to think Miss Taylor had done as sad a thing for herself as for them, and would have been a great deal happier if she had spent all the rest of her life at Hartfield. Emma smiled and chatted as cheerfully as she could, to keep him from such thoughts; but when dinner came, it was impossible for him not to say exactly as he had on the way home from church,
"Poor Miss Taylor! -- I wish she were here again. What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!"
"I cannot agree with you, Daddy; you know I cannot. Mr. Weston is such a godly, pleasant, reliable man, that he thoroughly deserves a Proverbs 31 wife; -- and you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us for ever and bear all my little quirks, when she might have a house of her own and children to raise?"
"A house of her own! -- but where is the advantage of a house of her own? This is three times as large as Mr. Weston’s, though his is fully paid off as well. And you have no quirks, at least not the bad sort, my dear."
"How often we shall be going to see them and they coming to see us! We shall be always meeting! We must begin, we must go and take them a casserole as soon as they get back from Kentucky."
"My dear, how am I to get so far? Randalls is such a distance from here. I could not drive half so far. You know how carsick I get on a long trip."
"No, Daddy, nobody thought of your driving. I shall drive, to be sure."
"You drive! But you have only just got your license a year ago, my dear, and you know what a difficulty you have with parallel parking."
"There is no need for me to parallel park at the Westons’ house, Daddy-- they have a two-car garage. You know we have settled all that already. We talked it all over with Mr. Weston last night and he promised the second door of his garage would be always available for our use. And the Honda fits so nicely in their garage-- I tried it out just last week. I’m so glad we gave up the van when Isabella got married-- I would hate to have had to learn to drive on that huge thing.”
"I am very glad we did, my dear, for it was a gas-guzzler of the worst sort, and I never felt comfortable taking it into a parking garage, as we never seemed likely to clear the roof. You must remember the time when we went to visit your aunt Sophie in the hospital and the top of it scraped the entryway-- at times I still have nightmares about that and wake up in a cold sweat. It was easily fixed, of course, but the Honda is a much better vehicle for our needs. It was John’s idea, you know-- how nice it is to have a son-in-law who knows all about cars. I must ask him to take a look at it again when they come for Christmas, as the fuel tank cover is doing a strange flappity thing that I do not like, and occasionally popping off after I have shut it. But I am sure John will be able to fix it-- he fixes everything, which must be very pleasant around the house for Isabella.”
Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, by the help of Dutch Blitz, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own. The Dutch Blitz cards were placed; but a visitor immediately afterwards walked in and made it unnecessary.
Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about thirty, was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it as the younger brother of Isabella's husband. He lived only a few streets away from the Woodhouses in a house he’d fixed up himself, was a frequent visitor and always welcome, and at this time more welcome than usual, as coming directly from a visit at John and Isabella’s. He had returned to a late frozen dinner after some days’ absence, and now walked up to Hartfield to say that all were well on the farm. It was a happy circumstance and animated Mr. Woodhouse for some time. Mr. Knightley had a cheerful manner which always did him good; and his many inquiries after "poor Isabella" and her five young children were answered most satisfactorily. When this was over, Mr. Woodhouse gratefully observed,
"It is very kind of you, Mr. Knightley, to come out at this late hour to call upon us. I am afraid you must have had a shocking walk."
"Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful, moonlight night; and so mild that I must take off my polar tec. Do you always keep the heat so high this time of year? I would think the electric bill must be tremendous."
"The electric bill is nothing in comparison to Emma’s health. I would not have her catch a cold for the world. If she would only eat more properly and give up grains and breads, she would be in less danger, but she does not share my concerns about diet. But you must have found it very damp and dirty on the sidewalks-- the street sweepers have not been through the neighborhood in several months."
"Dirty, sir! Look at my sneakers. Not a speck on them."
"Well! That is quite surprising, for we have had a vast deal of rain here. It rained dreadfully hard for half an hour, while we were having breakfast. I wanted them to put off the wedding."
"By the bye -- I have not wished you joy. Being pretty well aware of what sort of joy you must both be feeling, I have been in no hurry with my congratulations. But I hope it all went off tolerably well. How did you all behave? Who cried most and who caught the bouquet?"
"Ah! poor Miss Taylor! 'tis a sad business."
"Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse, if you please; but I cannot possibly say ‘poor Miss Taylor.’ I have a great regard for you and Emma; but when it comes to the question of staying here in a mere job or getting married! At any rate, it must be better to have only one to please, than two."
"Especially when one of those two is such a crazy, spontaneous creature!" said Emma playfully. "That, is what you have in your head, I know -- and what you would certainly say if my father were not by."
"I believe it is very true, my dear, indeed," said Mr. Woodhouse with a sigh. "I am afraid I am sometimes very crazy and spontaneous."
"My dearest Daddy! You do not think I could mean you , or suppose Mr. Knightley to mean you . What a horrible idea! Oh, no! I meant only myself. Mr. Knightley loves to find fault with me you know -- in love, of course -- it is all in love. We always say what we like to one another."
Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by everybody.
"Emma knows I never flatter her," said Mr. Knightley; "but I meant no reflection on anybody. Miss Taylor has been used to have two persons to please; she will now have but one. The chances are that she must be a gainer. Plus, she now has a home of her own to manage as she sees fit. I knew that college class on home decorating would serve her well-- I am glad she took it last year."
“Do not mention college in Emma’s hearing,” whispered Mr. Woodhouse. “I would not have her getting ideas in her head.”
"Well," said Emma, not having heard this little aside -- "you want to hear about the wedding, and I shall be happy to tell you, for we all behaved charmingly. Everybody was punctual, everybody dressed nicely and no short skirts. Not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen. Oh, no, we all felt that we were going to be only ten minutes apart, and were sure of meeting frequently. Only think of the health food store, and the library, and the post office, and the Goodwill-- why, we shall run into Miss Taylor every day we go out on errands."
"Dear Emma bears everything so well," said her father. "But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor, and I am sure she will miss her more than she thinks for."
Emma turned away her head, divided between tears and smiles.
"It is impossible that Emma should not miss such a companion," said Mr. Knightley. "We should not like her so well as we do, sir, if we could suppose it. But she knows how much the marriage is to Miss Taylor's advantage; she knows how very acceptable it must be at Miss Taylor's time of life to be settled in a home of her own, and how important to her to have the prospect of children to raise and teach, and therefore cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure. Every friend of Miss Taylor must be glad to have her so happily married and taken care of."
"And you have forgotten one matter of joy to me," said Emma, "and a very considerable one -- that I made the match myself. I made the match, you know, four years ago when Miss Taylor begin helping out with youth group; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for anything."
Mr. Knightley shook his head at her. Her father fondly replied, "Ah, my dear, I wish you would not make matches and predict things, for whatever you say always comes to pass. Pray do not make any more matches."
"I promise you to make none for myself, Daddy; but I must, indeed, for other people. It is the greatest amusement in the world! And after such success you know! I must surely be better than any Christian dating service. Everybody said that Mr. Weston would never marry again. Oh dear, no! Mr. Weston, who had been a widower so long-- why, before he moved here, which must make it six years at least-- and who seemed so perfectly comfortable without a helpmeet, so constantly occupied either in his contracting business or among the young people at church, always acceptable wherever he went, always cheerful -- Mr. Weston need not spend a single evening in the year alone if he did not like it. Oh, no! Mr. Weston certainly would never marry again. Some people even talked of a promise to his wife on her hospital bed, and others of the son and the uncle not letting him. All manner of solemn nonsense was talked on the subject, but I believed none of it. Ever since the day (about two years ago) that Miss Taylor and I began assisting with the youth group meetings every Wednesday evening, I made up my mind on the subject. Do you know, he not only stood up to give me his chair, but he went directly into the fellowship hall and got another, specifically for Miss Taylor. Then he sat down directly beside her, and I planned the match from that hour. When such success has blessed me in this instance, Daddy, you cannot think that I shall leave off matchmaking."
"I do not understand what you mean by 'success;' said Mr. Knightley. "Success supposes endeavor. Your time has been properly and delicately spent, if you have been endeavoring for the last two years to bring about this marriage, and I know for a fact you have not because you spent all of last year learning how to operate that juicer you got for Christmas. Matchmaking indeed-- worthy employment for a young lady's mind! Your time would be much better spent actually learning the verses for Bible quizzing instead of always being the caller. But if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself one idle day, 'I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to begin courting her,' and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards, -- why do you talk of success? Where is your merit? What are you proud of? You made a good guess; and that is all that can be said."
"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a correct guess? I pity you. I thought you cleverer -- for depend upon it, a good guess is never mere speculation. There is always some talent in it. And as to my poor word ‘success,’ which you quarrel with, I do not know that I am so entirely without any claim to it. You have drawn two pretty pictures -- but I think there may be a third -- a something between the do-nothing and the do-all. If I had not maneuvered the seating each time at youth group, and made sure the two of them were partnered in every project, and given many little encouragements, and dropped hints about what a good homemaker Miss Taylor was, it might not have come to any thing after all."
"A straight-forward, open-hearted man, like Jack Weston, and a pleasant, sensible woman, like Anne Taylor, may be safely left to manage their own concerns. You are more likely to have done embarrassment to yourself, than good to them, by interference. The time when you suggested that we pray for spouses for the single people of the congregation during our small group prayer time that one Sunday was particularly cringeworthy. I do not doubt but that everyone present knew exactly what you meant, and if they did not they probably supposed you were looking for a husband for yourself."
"Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others;" rejoined Mr. Woodhouse, understanding but in part. "But, my dear, pray do not make any more matches, they are silly things, and break up one's family circle grievously."
"Only one more, Daddy; only for Pastor Elton. Poor Pastor Elton! You like Pastor Elton, Daddy-- I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in church who deserves him -- and he has been here a whole year, and has fitted up his new house so nicely with the new siding that it would be a shame to have him single any longer -- and I thought when he was joining their hands today, he looked so very much as if he would like to have the same kind office done for him! It is not good for man to be alone, you know, and I am sure there must be several nice young ladies in the congregation who would be happy to enter into a serious relationship with him. I think very well of Pastor Elton, and this is the only way I have of doing him a service."
"Pastor Elton is a very theologically sound young man to be sure, and very well educated-- he has a Mason-Dixon diploma, you know-- and I have a great regard for him. But if you want to show him any attention, my dear, ask him to come and have dinner with us after church some day. That will be a much better thing. I dare say Mr. Knightley will be so kind as to meet him."
"With a great deal of pleasure, sir, at any time," said Mr. Knightley laughing; "and I agree with you entirely that it will be a much better thing. Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of your Spanish rice casserole, but leave him to choose his own wife. Depend upon it, a man of twenty-seven or twenty-eight with a seminary education can take care of himself."
Chapter Two appears on December 13th!