Emma

by: Jane Austen

Chapters 13–15

Austen has sometimes been accused of a failure of nerve when it comes to depicting emotional scenes because she generally switches from dialogue to indirect language when relating moments of passion. Instead of reporting Elton’s speech directly, Austen writes, “Mr. Elton [had] actually [begun] making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping-fearing-adoring-ready to die if she refused him. . . .” From this statement and from what we know of Mr. Elton, we can imagine his actual words, but their shock value is softened by the indirect description. The information Austen gives us about Emma’s feelings is similarly vague: “It would be impossible to say what Emma felt on hearing this; which of all her unpleasant sensations was uppermost.” It is up to us to decide whether such language weakens the effect of these scenes or makes them more powerful by preserving the characters’ privacy and challenging us to supply the emotional details.


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