Is Caroline Bingley green with envy as she notices Mr. Darcy’s attentions to Elizabeth Bennet? Does Emma Woodhouse wish unspeakable horrors on Harriet Smith because of Harriet’s crush on Mr. Knightley? After Willoughby, does Marianne covet Elinor’s more sensible behaviour? We could go on for ages, but it’s only for this month so don’t miss a post!
Jealousy frequently features in Jane Austen’s works. But what of Miss Austen herself? Did she ever feel stirrings of writerly envy? Read on for my thoughts on the subject. (I’ve also included a couple of chapters from The Trouble With Emma at the end of my post, and I’m giving away two Jane Austen coloring books. Cheers! – Katie)
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It’s something we’ve all experienced at one time or another. It’s a universal emotion, and one that’s prevalent throughout Jane Austen’s fiction. Both Mr Knightley (Emma) and Captain Wentworth (Persuasion) are motivated to propose marriage partly as a result of jealousy, fearing their competition might steal Emma and Anne’s hearts.
And how could Colonel Brandon not envy Willoughby’s gallant attentions to Marianne? Yet, in true heroic fashion, he kept his feelings in check, and in the end he won her love.
Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility), despite her jealousy of the odious Lucy Steele, sublimates her feelings and conducts herself with decorum during every painful encounter with Edward’s fiancee.
As a writer myself, I sometimes wonder…did Jane Austen ever experience jealousy? Did she envy the successes of her contemporaries in fiction – popular novelists like Ann Radcliffe, Frances Burney, Walter Scott, and Maria Edgeworth? Certainly Radcliffe’s wildly popular gothic novels influenced Austen, as evidenced by Catherine Morland’s obsession with the Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey, and certainly Austen herself enjoyed reading gothics, as well as more elevated fiction.
Yet she didn’t pen a bestseller in her own lifetime. ‘First Impressions’ (later titled Pride and Prejudice) faced rejection by Thomas Cadell, Frances Burney’s publisher, and Austen went on to foot the costs to publish Sense and Sensibility herself.
She saw publication of four novels before her death, with two published later. This alone was an admirable accomplishment for a young woman of the time. Economic times were uncertain, and books were a costly luxury that few could afford. Circulating libraries made it possible for the average person to borrow and read the popular books of the day, and Jane was no exception – she made use of the library to read widely and often.
Did she ever long for a bestseller of her own? Did she yearn to be as popular as Walter Scott or Maria Edgeworth, the ‘Irish Jane Austen’? I’m sure she must’ve experienced the occasion twinge of envy.
But time is a great leveler. After all, who but academics read Walter Scott now, or Ann Radcliffe, or Frances Burney? Yet Jane Austen’s novels continue to be read, discussed, debated, and enjoyed today. She’s one of the most beloved and popular authors of all time. And why shouldn’t she be?
Her output may have been small…but what an amazing six books Jane Austen left us with.
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Here’s an excerpt from my second Jane Austen Factor book, The Trouble With Emma. In this scene, Emma Bennet first encounters Mark Knightley. Their initial meeting does not go well…
Just after nine, the bell jingled over the door.
Emma looked up from her perusal of a bakery supply catalogue with an expectant smile, hoping her first customer of the day would be Mr Churchill.
But the man who stood before the display case was tall, with dark hair. He wore the casually expensive clothes – cashmere sweater pushed up at the elbows, dark-washed jeans, a diver’s watch on his wrist – and the harried expression of a Londoner.
“May I help you?” she asked as she put the catalogue aside.
“I hope so. I’m looking for Litchfield Manor.” He reached for his wallet. “And a coffee. Black, no sugar.”
Her heart quickening, Emma nodded and went to pour coffee from the carafe into a takeaway cup. Why was he looking for the Manor? She snapped a lid on and returned to the counter and set the coffee down. “One pound fifty, please.”
He handed her two pounds and took the cup. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks.” Condescending arse. She dropped the coins in the tip jar.
“Tell me,” he said as he took a sip, “do you know the place? Can you tell me where I might find it? It used to be on the old Litchfield Road, if I remember correctly.”
She nodded. “It still is. Have you been there before?”
“Once. Many years ago.”
“Are you looking for someone in particular? Perhaps I can be of help.”
But he wasn’t so easily persuaded to give over any information. “Just directions will do.”
“You’re from London, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” He lifted his brow. “Is it so obvious?”
She shrugged. “Aside from your suspicious nature, it’s your clothes.” She glanced at his watch. “And nobody round here wears a diver’s watch, except perhaps one of the yachtsmen from over Longbourne way.”
“I see. And if you were to come to London,” he observed, his eyes raking over her with detached but disconcerting thoroughness, “I’d know you were country born and bred straight away. Muddy shoes, clothes serviceable but lacking any discernible style, the faintest whiff of the barnyard…”
My wellies, she remembered suddenly. She’d meant to take them into the back and clean them, but had left them in the front corner of the shop instead.
“Excuse me,” she muttered, and turned away to fetch the boots, her face hot with embarrassment.
He raised his cup for another sip of coffee. “Better a diver’s watch to mark one out than an unpleasant smell, I think. Don’t you agree?”
Emma glared but didn’t spare him a reply as she snatched up the offending boots and carried them into the back. By the time she’d washed and dried them and returned to the front, he was gone.
At half three that afternoon, Emma returned home and set her umbrella in the stand and threw her boots in the corner. The rain had finally stopped after nearly four days and the sun was out.
She only hoped daddy had remembered to let Elton outside…
As she set her handbag down on the hall table and made her way towards the kitchen, she heard the rise and fall of voices. Martine and her father must be discussing the menu for Lizzy’s welcome home party on Sunday.
But the sight that greeted her when she came to a stop in the kitchen doorway left her speechless.
“Lizzy! You’re back!” she exclaimed, and catapulted herself into her sister’s arms. “I didn’t see your car.”
“Hugh parked around back. It’s good to be home again.” Laughing, Elizabeth drew back to study her. “Em? You’re not crying, are you?” She reached in her pocket for a tissue. “I’ve barely been gone for a fortnight.”
“I missed you,” she retorted. “We all did.” She dabbed at her watery eyes. “I won’t apologise for that. Hello, Hugh.”
He gave her a self-conscious smile. “Hello, Emma. It’s good to see you again.”
“Are you staying at Cleremont?” Emma asked her sister. “How long will you be here? You’re not going back to London straight away, I hope?”
“Yes, we’re here until Monday, and no, not straight away,” Lizzy answered, and hugged Emma once again. “Lord, I missed you!”
Emma was about to join her father and Lizzy at the table to demand all the details of their honeymoon trip to Cornwall when she suddenly became aware of someone, arms folded against his chest, standing silently by the kitchen counter…
…someone in a cashmere sweater and dark-washed jeans, with a diver’s watch strapped around his wrist.
“What are you doing here?” Emma asked.
He met her eyes. If he was bothered by her abrupt manner, he gave no sign. “I might ask you the same thing.”
“Emma, this is Mark Knightley,” Lizzy said into the sudden, awkward silence, and glanced between the newcomer and her sister with a questioning expression. “He and I worked together in London. Mark, this is my sister, Emma.”
He nodded. “Miss Bennet.” He glanced down at her espadrilles. “I see you dispensed with the wellies. Good move on your part. But I’m afraid you still wouldn’t pass as a Londoner.”
“Good,” she retorted. “I wouldn’t want to, if Londoners are all as ill-mannered as you.”
Lizzy glanced between them, her brow crinkled in confusion. “I’m sorry – do you two know each other?”
“We met,” he answered her, his eyes still on Emma’s, “in the bakery, in Litchfield.”
Although his expression gave nothing away, Emma was certain she saw a trace of amusement lurking in his dark blue eyes.
“So you found us,” she said. Her words were cool. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew my sister when you came into the shop this morning? I might’ve been more forthcoming.”
“How could I possibly have known Elizabeth was your sister, when you wouldn’t volunteer your name, much less give me directions to your house?”
Emma scowled. Score, and point to Mr Knightley. “Why are you here?” she demanded.
“Oh, Emma, you’ll never believe it,” Lizzy cut in, her eyes bright with excitement. “It’s the most amazing thing!”
“Mark is here,” she told her sister impatiently, “because he works with that television programme, Mind Your Manors. And –” she leaned forward to clasp Emma’s hands in hers. “He came to tell us that Litchfield Manor’s been chosen to appear on the programme!”
For perhaps the first time in her life, Emma Bennet found herself at a loss for words.
“Oh,” was all she could manage.
“Production won’t start for a few more weeks,” Mr Knightley told her. “I overheard Lucy discussing it with the production team and I thought –” he glanced at Lizzy. “I thought you’d want to know right away.”
“That’s wonderful,” she said, and turned to Emma. “But I didn’t know anything about it. Did you, Em? You don’t seem very surprised.”
“Oh, I am. I’m…stunned,” Emma confessed. “I sent an email and asked to have Litchfield Manor put on the telly, but I never dreamt it would actually happen.” She looked at Mark Knightley with wary curiosity. “How are you connected to the programme?”
“Writer,” he replied, “associate producer, and general dogsbody as the occasion warrants.” His smile was brief. “We’ve a very small budget, so we all wear more than one hat.”
“I can scarcely believe it.” Emma sank down into a chair next to her father and shook her head in disbelief. Her eyes widened. “Ten thousand pounds! We can fix the roof, and repair the stair treads, and replace the dining room wallpaper –”
“Simon and Jacquetta will take a look round first and provide their recommendations,” Knightley said. “You should hear something official from Lucy in the next day or two.”
“I know you told me you planned to contact the programme,” Mr Bennet said to Emma in wonderment. “But I didn’t suppose we’d actually be chosen!” He turned to Mark. “Doesn’t Mind Your Manors normally feature more impressive family piles? Places with – oh, I don’t know…Elizabethan knot gardens, and dozens and dozens of chimneys?”
“Usually. But not always. The problem with those grade-I and II listed properties is the English Heritage regulations. It makes doing anything subject to permissions and delays and reams of paperwork. Litchfield Manor may be modest in size, and it may not be listed, but it has historical appeal, as well as a charming country setting.” His glance came to rest on Emma. “It’s bucolic, if a bit of an anachronism.”
Before she could lob back a suitable retort, Lizzy turned to him.
“My sister and father are having a party to welcome us home on Sunday.” She met her new husband’s eyes and blushed. “Hugh and I just got back from our honeymoon.”
“Congratulations.” He came forward to shake Hugh and Lizzy’s hands in turn. “My best wishes to you both.”
“Why don’t you join us?” Lizzy ventured. “I’d love to see you. Give us a chance to catch up.”
He hesitated. “That’s very kind. But I’m afraid I’m returning to London this afternoon.”
“What a pity,” Emma said, and smiled sweetly. “I’m sure the demands of being a writer, associate producer, and general dogsbody keep you terribly busy.”
“On the other hand,” Knightley said, pausing as his eyes met Emma’s with a mixture of amusement and challenge, “I suppose I could stay over for a couple of days and get the lay of the land before the production company arrives. It might prove useful.”
“Wonderful,” Lizzy exclaimed. “We’ll see you here at noon, then?”
He pushed himself away from the kitchen counter. “I look forward to it.” After exchanging polite pleasantries with Hugh Darcy and Mr Bennet for a few moments longer, he made to leave. “It’s time I said goodbye. It was a pleasure to meet you Hugh, Mr Bennet.” His gaze flicked to Emma. “Miss Bennet.”
She pressed her lips together and managed a curt nod.
“You’ll find the Litchfield Inn provides excellent accommodation,” Hugh told him. “And the Regency in Longbourne is very good as well.”
“Thank you, and thank you all for your hospitality. I’d best be going.”
“Emma,” her father suggested, “why don’t you see Mr Knightley out?”
“Of course.” She followed Mark Knightley down the hall to the front door. For such a tall man, he moved with surprising grace.
If one cared to notice such things, she told herself. And she most certainly did not.
“Goodbye, Miss Bennet,” he said as she opened the door. “I’ll see you on Sunday, I expect.”
“I’ll be here,” she assured him. “Dressed in serviceable but unstylish clothes and reeking faintly of the barnyard, no doubt. Goodbye, Mr Knightley.”
He nodded and sketched a bow, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Goodbye.”
As she shut the door after him, Emma found his conceit – no matter how he might try to couch it in charm – beyond irritating.
She returned to the kitchen, to a lively conversation about the relative merits of Cornish pasties and saffron buns, and told herself she was glad that Mr Knightley was gone.
What a pity she’d have to see him again on Sunday. She was not looking forward to it in the least.
“Why did you invite him to the party?” Emma asked her sister later, where they remained behind at the kitchen table after Hugh and Mr Bennet went outside to sit on the terrace.
“Who?” Lizzy asked, feigning innocence. “Mr Knightley, do you mean?”
“Yes, of course, Mr Knightley!”
“Because he’s a friend, Emma, that’s why. We worked together in London. I told you that.”
She studied her sister. “A friend? Or was he something more?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.” Emma lowered her voice and leaned forward. “Were you and Mark Knightley involved?”
Lizzy blushed. “No…yes. Not really,” she said, flustered, and went to the window to make sure her husband and father were still outside on the terrace. “We had a bit too much to drink at lunch one day, and there was a sort-of attraction between us, and –” she broke off and returned to her seat at the table. “We slept together. Just the once,” she added defensively, “and long before Hugh came back into my life.”
“Oh.” For the second time that day, Emma was at a loss for words.
“It shouldn’t have happened, and it didn’t, after that one time. Mark’s a lovely man, clever and talented, but we weren’t really suited. We were both at a loose end at the time, and bored, and it just…happened.”
“So it didn’t mean anything.”
“No. It was very –” Lizzy reddened. “Pleasant, and perhaps if I hadn’t lost my job, and we’d continued to work together…” She paused. “But it didn’t work out, Emma. There was never really anything between us.”
“He seems too arrogant by half.”
“Yes.” She smiled slightly. “He does come across that way, at first.”
“But –?” Emma prodded.
“But what? He’s a perfectly nice man, Em,” Lizzy said in exasperation. “He’s not all that different from you, now I think on it. Intelligent, well spoken, opinionated…” She cast a quick, considering glance at her sister. “And quite fanciable, too, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Emma pushed her chair back and took several lemons out of the refrigerator bin. “I’ll make a pitcher of lemonade and we can take it outside. But first,” she added as she turned around to face her sister, “I want to hear all about your honeymoon. Every romantic, jealousy-inducing detail.”
“All right,” Lizzy agreed. “Hand me some of those lemons and come and sit down.”
Emma set a bowl of lemons on the table and joined her sister. They talked of the honeymoon in Cornwall and the pleasures of sailing on the Rosings, as well as Lizzy’s complete and utter adoration for Hugh, and Mark Knightley was not mentioned again.
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