Emma Abroad

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Gillian Dow is curating an exhibition focusing on “Jane Austen’s Emma at 200: From English Village to Global Appeal,” which will be open to the public at Chawton House Library from March 21st to September 25th. She’s an Associate Professor at the University of Southampton, and Executive Director of Chawton House Library, where she has worked in a variety of positions since 2005. She has published essays on translations of Austen in the Cambridge University Press Companions to Pride and Prejudice (2013) and Emma (2015), and she and Clare Hanson edited Uses of Austen: Jane’s Afterlives (2012), which “shows how Austen’s life and work is being re-framed and re-imagined in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and culture.” Feminisms, Fictions, Futures: Women’s Writing 1660–1830, a collection Gillian edited with Jennie Batchelor, will be published this year by Palgrave.

Gillian Dow

I’ve been following the updates about the Emma at 200″ exhibition on Twitter (@ChawtonHouse) and the Chawton House Library Facebook page, and it’s been fascinating to learn about what will be on display. For example, thanks to a collaboration between the Library and the Lady’s Magazine Project “Stitch Off,” visitors will be able to see examples of embroidery based on patterns published in the Lady’s Magazine in 1775 and 1796. In fact, there’s even an opportunity to contribute to the exhibition, which might be of interest to those of you who are skilled in embroidery. (See “The Great Stitch Off Goes to Chawton House Library” for details.) I wish I could make the trip to Chawton this year, but for now I’ll have to content myself with reading about all the wonderful things that will be on display, including first editions, the first French translation, and Charlotte Brontë’s letter about Emma. (I’ve also sent a donation to help support the exhibition, and I’ll include the link to the donation page here in case some of you feel inclined to do so as well.)

I’m delighted to introduce Gillian’s guest post for “Emma in the Snow”—and the fabulous images that accompany it. So far in this series, we’ve had pictures of editions of Emma, and pictures of snow (and pictures of palm trees and flowers…), but we haven’t seen Emma in the snow. Until now. Thanks, Gillian!

Finnish Emma 1951

This image is courtesy of Goucher College, Baltimore.

When Sarah contacted me to invite me to take part in her “Emma in the Snow” series, I had only the roughest of outlines of what I wanted to say. But I knew at once what image I would use to accompany my post. Here, in a walking outfit, is a 1951 Finnish Emma in the Snow—complete with muff, and a delightful bustle. A transposition of language and, of course, period. This Emma might have walked out of the fashion pages of the 1880s or 1890s. And so might the figures walking away from her in the background—Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill? Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton? Was claret the winter colour for 1888? Is this Emma inspired by the New Woman in literature of the 1880s—by Ibsen, Henry James or indeed Olive Schreiner? So many questions to ask the Finnish publishing house, the designer, and the translator.

In recent years, my own work on Jane Austen—and indeed my place of work—has led me to think about the importance of understanding place and period in an understanding of the novels. It’s a historicist argument, of course. The late great Marilyn Butler wrote, forty years ago in Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, that “No book is improved by being taken out of its context.” And I’m well placed to consider context and authentic setting: my office overlooks the kind of landscape described by Emma in Emma on her visit to Mr. Knightley’s seat. Donwell Abbey—with “its abundance of timber in rows and avenues”—and rambling and irregular Chawton House—with “many comfortable, and one or two handsome rooms”—have a great deal in common.

Certainly, literary tourism would not exist if generations of readers did not feel that much was to be gained from a visit to authors’ homes, and the places that inspired their work. And yet an immersive fictive experience—which I am sure most readers of this blog will agree Austen’s Emma is—cannot, must not, depend on where one is when one reads a book. Whether sitting under an English Oak, next to a cactus, or up a brutalist skyscraper in the centre of a metropolis, one creates the world of a novel oneself. I reread George Justice’s edition of Emma in the snow myself this January, when I had the good fortune to spend a few days in the French Alps. The Alpine setting neither enhanced, nor detracted from, Austen’s characters and their world.

Emma in the Alps

Emma in the Alps

This has some implications for the popularity of Austen’s Emma in the global literary marketplace—something I explored in an essay for Peter Sabor’s Companion to the novel (The Cambridge Companion to Emma [2015]). I was very taken by Janet Todd’s recent post for this series on the English nationalism apparent in Emma. I quite agree. But the continent of course impinges—and not only through Emma’s own reading (remember it’s Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis’s Adelaide and Theodore that Emma brings to mind when she reflects on the birth of a daughter to Mrs. Weston). I’m still struck, when looking at the fate of Emma abroad, how little the English setting of three or four families in a country village mattered to foreign publishers and translators. They have always reworked the novel to suit the tastes of their original readers.

Take the first French translation, published as La Nouvelle Emma in 1816, just a few short months after the original English was brought out by John Murray, himself a publisher with a finger in many continental pies (he had published Germaine de Staël’s De l’Allemagne in both French and in English translation just two years previously). Nearly all the names for Austen’s characters in this first French translation are made more appealing to the first readers. Emma Woodhouse remains “Emma,” and Augusta Hawkins is still Augusta, but Frank Churchill becomes “Franck,” and other names are turned into their French equivalents: “Jeanne” and “Jean” for Jane Fairfax and John Knightley, “Georges” for Mr. Knightley himself, and in the case of plain Harriet Smith, the Frenchified “Henriette.” Some passages are shortened: Miss Bates’s monologues seem to have tried the patience of the first French translator much as they did Emma herself. And by the third volume, the translator seems to have been running out of steam—more small cuts are apparent in this volume than in others.

There is also one very notable change in the text that cannot have been due to exasperation or fatigue. The passage in which Mr. Knightley comments on Frank Churchill’s character is very well known:

No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very “aimable,” have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him. (Volume 1, Chapter 18)

A contrast between the French and English characters, to the detriment of the French, is commonplace in British Romantic-period fiction, and of course has its roots much further back in literary history. Michèle Cohen has demonstrated convincingly that during the eighteenth century “sprightly conversation,” paying of compliments, and verbosity began to represent “the shallow and inferior intellect of English women and the French” (Fashioning Masculinity: National Identity and Language in the Eighteenth Century [1996]). In Emma, French manners represent a genuine threat to the English social order and customs: the threat is embodied in Frank Churchill himself, with his appetite for “abroad” fuelled by perusing “views in Swisserland” (Volume 3, Chapter 6). Here is how the translator of La Nouvelle Emma renders Georges Knightley’s discussion of Franck Churchill:

Non, Emma, votre amiable jeune homme ne peut l’être qu’en italien et non en anglais. Il peut etre très-agréable, tres-bien élevé, tres poli, mais il n’a pas cette delicatesse anglaise qui porte a compatir aux sensations d’autrui.

There is elision here, certainly: Mr. Knightley’s “nothing really amiable about him” is completely lost in translation. More striking, however, is the replacement of the counterfoil to true English delicacy with not a lesser French “amiability,” but an inferior Italian sense of the word. The translator must have felt that this slight to the French character would be too much for the intended readers in the French-speaking world.

It’s perhaps a testament to her broad appeal and her durability that Austen’s novels have crossed borders and settings—in print and on screen—since their first appearance. This Emma Abroad is perhaps not exactly the Emma we Anglo-American readers know and love. But she has countless admirers of her own.

Sixteenth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow. Coming soon: guest posts by Margaret Horwitz, Kate Scarth, and Kirk Companion.

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