Re-reading Box Hill: reading the practice of reading everyday life

Social Theory at Box Hill: Acts of Union

Deidre Lynch, State University of New York, Buffalo

  1. The plan to journey to Box Hill originates—but not in a straightforward way—in one of those moments of unanimity that seem to define the common course of Highbury days. The choice of Box Hill as a destination for an exploring party is initially Mrs. Elton's. The scheme is tailor made for showing off the famous barouche-landau, although Mrs. Elton in fact continues to adhere to it even after the Sucklings, the barouche-landau's famous owners, have canceled their visit. Soon after, Emma takes up the idea and with Mr. Weston begins the preliminary arrangements for a second excursion, only to see "her" party quickly joined to the Eltons'—an act of union that comes about as the predictable result of Mr. Weston's incorrigible propensity for "general friendship" (III.ii, 287).

  2. I am interested in how the numbers involved in the famous exploring party wane and wax: the vicissitudes of the two guest lists in question seem yet another example of how often the definitions of perfect happiness that Emma tenders hinge on judgments about how many people are to be included in our "circle," or "party," or "special set." Is the pleasure of a Christmas dinner at Randalls diminished by the loss of Harriet, confined to bed by a sore throat? To Emma's dismay, Mr. Elton thinks not: "'it will be a small party, but where small parties are select, they are perhaps the most agreeable of any. [. . .] for my part, I would rather [. . .] fall short by two than exceed by two'" (I.xiii, 105). Alternatively, is it the case that, as Mr. Weston claims, "'One cannot have too large a party'" (III.vi, 319)? I am also interested in the ways in which this question—how many?—is recast by the two words that Austen's narrator uses when she explains to us that Emma in proposing to go to Box Hill does not see herself as following the lead of the vicarage party in particular (far from it), but instead characterizes her scheme as a matter of joining a much larger, and indeed potentially innumerable crowd. When the narrator gestures toward what we might call a "national canon" of tourist attractions, she salvages at least the semblance of universal agreement from the fractiousness and faction that have hitherto characterized the arrangements for the journey: Emma wishes, the narrator informs us, "to see what every body found so worth seeing" (III.vi, 318, my emphasis).

  3. While signaling to the reader the fact that "every body" encompasses various degrees of numerousness, while signaling, that is, the fact that there are crowds Emma will join and crowds she won't, that passage likewise indexes Austen's participation in a project of social theory that had preoccupied the moralists of the previous century. Emma continues the eighteenth century's discussions of sympathy and social cohesion. And the power of this novel lies in large part, I shall propose, with how Austen, in the Box Hill episode especially, takes up the question of whether the unanimity (the "perfect agreement" or "understanding") which "every body" can flag is a quality that might also characterize interpersonal relations more geographically dispersed, more pressured by the dislocations of modernity, than those of the Highburians: the question, for instance, of whether novel readers might through their sympathetic fellow feeling form a nation.

  4. For many readers, Emma, more than any other novel Austen wrote, has seemed to exemplify Mary Russell Mitford's canon-making account in Our Village (1824) of the feelings of insidership that are fostered by Austen's choice of a "confined locality." Mitford opens her book by reminding us of the books that we have already read, Austen's first and foremost:

    Of all situations for a constant residence, that which appears to me most delightful is a little village far in the country; a small neighbourhood [. . .] with inhabitants whose faces are as familiar to us as the flowers in our garden. [. . .] Even in books I like a confined locality; and so do the critics when they talk of the unities. [. . .] [N]othing is so delightful as to sit down in a country village in one of Miss Austen's delicious novels, quite sure before we leave it to become intimate with every spot and every person it contains (3-4).
    Informing this celebration of the parochial is that peculiar product of the Romantic era, a rhetoric of English nationhood that attempts to dissociate national feeling from precisely the widened circle of sympathy with which we might otherwise associate one's love of one's country. To some extent, Mitford reinscribes a scheme propounded by the Anti-Jacobin Review, whose editors in 1797 at once condemned (as symptoms of a nefarious francophilia) their contemporaries' "liberal spirit of indifference, of diffused and comprehensive philanthropy," made a point of glorying in their own insular preference for "particular portions of the human race," and made it appear as if it were in England alone that such local attachments would be treated with the reverence they deserved (Prospectus, n.p.). A similar concept of a "local" nationhood would, in nineteenth-century Australia, inspire Captain Macanochie, governor of the Norfolk Island penal colony, to make the annotations of daily doings in the Home Counties supplied by Our Village required reading for the colony's inmate population: so "as to invest country and home with agreeable images and recollections [that] are too much wanting in the individual experience of our lower and criminal classes" (quoted in Trumpener, 257).
  5. Of course, the Austen novel has often been subjected to comparable nationalizing readings. "Not long ago, a party of friends were sitting at luncheon in a suburb of London, when one of them happened to make some reference to Maple Grove and Selina, and to ask in what county of England Maple Grove was situated. Everybody had a theory" (v): in commencing in this manner, with an account of Janeite inside knowledge, Anne Thackeray Ritchie arranges to make her 1883 discussion of Austen do double duty. Ritchie is also providing a portrait of a scaled-down, domesticated England: Austen is invoked as the muse of English snugness. (And since a Frenchman has unluckily found himself a part of this party—unluckily, because he proves unable to contribute to its prandial small talk about Emma—the category of "every body" operates here in explicitly geopolitical ways.) And yet if Emma is snug in this manner, and if it is about what "every person" thinks and does in the way that Mary Mitford indicates, Austen is, all the same, highly self-conscious about how, within the Highburian context, every body can designate a very restricted circle of acquaintance. In order to secure that sense of cozy exclusivity that Mitford celebrates in her picture of a country neighborhood, somebodies of all descriptions have to be edited out. It would be fair to say that in Emma Austen proceeds by calling attention to such omissions, almost in a spirit of self-parody. The result is a novel that names more names than Austen's other works —but makes a habit, as in the Sucklings' case, of deferring indefinitely the moment when we get the faces to go with those names. Emma does not feel depopulated; it feels full of people. These are the extras who don't get speaking parts but whose presence still puts pressure on all definitions of community, exposing their partiality: such people as "the butcher with his tray, [the] tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket" whose doings entertain Emma as she stands by the door at Ford's (II.ix, 209-10); or "the ladies in the Irish car party" whom Miss Bates glimpses at Box Hill (III.vii, 338).

  6. The undertone of archness that we hear whenever Austen gives voice to Highburian parochialism suggests one reason to hold off on seeing Emma as engaged in any straightforward way either with local solidarities or with that Anti-Jacobin, Burkean nationalism that would view the "little platoon" of the Highburians as synecdochical of England—of a nation that is more successful than other countries at eliciting patriot love precisely because it makes feelings fostered in such parochial spaces "the first link in the series" that leads to an attachment to the state. In fact, the very possibility of such a series is queried throughout the tradition of sentimentalist social theory that supplies me with my lens for reading Emma.

  7. This essay will arrive at Englishness in the end, but, as I hope to demonstrate, when we travel toward nationhood via Box Hill we pursue a more circuitous route than we might expect. The misunderstandings that occur at this beauty spot at the heart of the "garden of England" (II.xiv, 245) recall the scenarios that the earl of Shaftesbury, Samuel Johnson, and Adam Ferguson envisioned when they considered the distinctively modern vicissitudes of humanity's propensity to "assembl[e] in troops and companies" and "to follow the croud [sic]" (Ferguson, 9; 21). But the Box Hill episode also proposes an account of local attachments that refuses them the primordial, "natural" status that they have both in this philosophical tradition and in Edmund Burke's models of the loveable nation. (As I shall suggest shortly, Austen sees local attachments—intimate insidership—and national consciousness—fellow-feeling that is extended over a wider arena—as equally un-natural: indeed, as products of acts of the imagination, both lie within the jurisdiction of an imaginist like Emma.) Thomas Reinert has written recently of how often eighteenth-century philosophy figures "the crowd" "as an agent of moral disorientation" (23). In my reading, the sentimentalist tradition that Reinert engages is, when worrying about the appropriate scale on which the units of human society should be constructed, also worrying about the fate not so much of moral action but of the affections and affect generally. In Rambler 99, Samuel Johnson outlines the fate that can befall the kinds of "universal amiability" and "general friendship" that, in Emma, are ascribed to Frank Churchill and his father: "if man were to feel no incentives to kindness, more than his general tendency to congenial nature, Babylon or London, with all their multitudes, would have to him the desolation of a wilderness; his affections, not compressed into a narrower compass would vanish like elemental fire in boundless evaporation." Eighteenth-century thinking both about urban crowds and about the modern, commercial, empire-building state is troubled by the prospect that fellow feeling may cease when its object is enlarged (so that, as in the example the Rambler gives, the fellowship fostered in a tête-à-tête is not so much recommended on its own merits, but is rather to be indulged as a prophylactic measure, because private friendship can prevent sympathetic feelings from flagging altogether). Sociability can be obstructed if it has too much material to work on. Adam Ferguson's Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767) argues strenuously that it is in the "little district" (61) only that fellow feeling comes naturally: "There is [. . .] a certain national extent, within which the passions of men are easily communicated from one, or a few, to the whole; and there are certain numbers of men who can be assembled, and act in a body" (123).

  8. The modern commercial nation to which Ferguson belongs, as a British subject, a Highlander by birth but one born too late to claim to be the scion of an independent Scotland, in fact typifies a state in which the press of numbers and the extent of territory have begun to make the bonds of society inapprehensible. Ferguson is well aware of this. To avoid the charge of national disloyalty—to avoid being faulted for lack of feeling himself—he shifts the blame in his account of the internal colonialism that enabled this distended state to come into being: "When the kingdoms of Spain were united, when the great fiefs in France were annexed to the crown, it was no longer expedient for the nations of Great Britain to continue disjoined. [. . .] [I]n modern Europe, republics [of a limited extent] are like shrubs, under the shade of a taller wood, choked by the neighbourhood of more powerful states" (61). The other characteristic of the modernity Ferguson describes is ennui (the bane, famously, of life in Highbury, where exhausted spirits are always needing to be re-animated [169], and where, accordingly, the flimsiest pretexts are adopted to make the merit and prospects of a virtual stranger—think of Frank and Jane—"a kind of common concern" [14]). The more populous the state, the more it has implemented the division of labor that, according to Ferguson, underwrites its refinement and prosperity, the more difficult it is to keep the currents of passion travelling along the circuitry of society and the fewer opportunities we have to take an interest in others. (Note that the adjective in Emma that vies with "every" for preeminence is "interesting.") Such populous, commercial nations, Ferguson observes, "by leaving too little to agitate the spirits of men, bring on ages of languor if not decay" (208). Indifferent to one another, their citizens get bored quickly. And so they seek out stimulation.

  9. In this reading of human history, the expansion of a social order is thus offset, repeatedly, by individuals' tendency first to separate into bands or sects, to affect a "distinction of name and community" (25), and then leave behind such divisions of society in their turn, so as to seek out the most minute subdivisions, where "the mind recognises its natural station" (207). The term that Shaftesbury's Characteristics uses to describe this process is "cantonising": "to cantonise is natural," Shaftesbury asserts, because people long to feel "the confederating charm" (quoted in Reinert, 19). "Every body" agrees the beauties of Box Hill are worth seeing, but when Emma and the Highbury contingent actually begin their sightseeing, cantonising, and not unanimity, is the order of the day. "Every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving; but in the general amount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over. They separated too much into parties" (III.vii, 332). Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax, and Mr. Knightley stick together and keep their distance both from the Eltons and from Harriet, Frank Churchill, and Emma. (Mr. Weston, in the meantime, mobilizes his talents for general friendship in the vain attempt to get the three parties to mix.) These people speak and take pains to be agreeable only among their own confederates.

  10. A "principle of separation" (Emma III.vii, 332) has been manifested before in the novel. Repeatedly little parties have become littler still. Midway through the novel, for instance, when the ladies withdraw at the end of the dinner that Hartfield is hosting in Mrs. Elton's honor, Emma finds "it hardly possible to prevent their making two distinct parties" (II.xvii, 269). But the Box Hill episode adds a new element to what has become a pattern. The manner in which civility is derailed there attests, to a degree, to the "confederating charm"—to how we can be seduced from good conduct by the pleasure of keeping company with those few persons to whom we are "always interesting and always intelligible" (I.xiv, 106), with confidants who appreciate our local information, know our secrets, and are known to us in turn. At the same time, however, the episode's depiction of insidership is counterpointed and recontextualized by its allusion to a much wider web of interconnections and interactions. Importantly, Austen also arranges for us to hear about the long-distance communication of feeling and about an epistolary network of national scope.

  11. When the three parties all sit down for the obligatory "cold collation" Frank ostentatiously pays court to Emma. At this late date in their acquaintance, our heroine is certain that all his gallantry means nothing,

    though in the judgement of most people looking on it must have had such an appearance as no English word but flirtation could very well describe. 'Mr. Frank Churchill and Miss Woodhouse flirted together excessively.' They were laying themselves open to that very phrase—and to having it sent off in a letter to Maple Grove by one lady, to Ireland by another. (III.vii, 332-33)
    The passage reveals Emma imagining herself out of her tête-à -tête with Frank, and conceiving of her doings as creating the interest that will stimulate other social circles. She adopts the unmoored outsider's point of view, that of a community of far-flung correspondents whose alliance is the product of an impersonal postal system. This is also the vantage point that is, in the novel, closely associated with Jane Fairfax, a figure whose history is shaped by imperialism—her father's position in the army, his death, her adoption by his military superior—more decisively than it is by a handful of neighbors in country village (see Stewart). And it seems to me just right that this transcript of Emma's thoughts should bring us up against the limits of England and Englishness—for a moment requiring us to step outside our linguistic idiom and imagine how Emma and Frank's conduct would be described in some other language. Indeed, the passage takes us to the remotest outposts of a nation assembled on the distended, imperial scale that Ferguson frets over when he considers Scotland's political assimilation into "Great Britain." The points of connection in this epistolary network seem all the more far-flung, because the first time in the novel that we hear of Ireland—and of Jane Fairfax's choice to remain behind when the Campbells travel there— Miss Bates absent-mindedly conjures back into existence bygone geopolitical divides and thereby makes the Irish Sea an even more formidable barrier to fellowship. When she remarks on how natural it is that Mrs. Dixon should feel homesick three months into her marriage—especially so now that she and her family are "'in different kingdoms'"—Miss Bates at first forgets the Act of Union of 1801, which did to Ireland what had at the start of the eighteenth century been done to Scotland: "'different kingdoms, I was going to say, but however different countries'" (II.i, 141).
  12. Emma's speculation about her fellow picnickers' postal activities represents yet another instance in which our heroine is vain enough to believe herself to be "in the secret of every one's feelings" (III.xii, 382). Emma is wrong, of course, about where Jane Fairfax directs her letters. She is wrong, too, to imagine she knows Frank's motives in this scene. But I want to propose that her confidence in her omniscience looks rather different when we recall the scheme that Benedict Anderson elaborated to discuss the imaginings that lead millions of people who will never meet to think of themselves as a collectivity (a scheme that, we should note, reworks the distinction between the intimate sphere and society as a whole theorized by a figure like Ferguson and proffers an arrangement whereby membership in an inclusive national community becomes—quite precisely—an intimate component of identity and the object of a personal passion). In the context delineated in Anderson's Imagined Communities, Emma's conviction that she can empathically project herself into the place of others and think what they think is not so much misguided as mandated.

  13. In fact, Emma has the kind of well-developed sense of simultaneity—the wherewithal with which to deliver "gloss[es] on the word 'meanwhile'"—that Anderson sees as crucial to the process of "creating that remarkable confidence of community in anonymity which is the hallmark of modern nations" (31; 40). Imagined Communities, we should recall, highlights the capacity of newspapers and novels, the new vernacular print commodities of the early modern period, to weave together otherwise disconnected bits of information into a unity that creates the impression of a "sociological organism moving through homogeneous, empty time" (31); presenting simultaneity, newspapers and novels supply readers with a prototype that prompt them to imagine the community in which they jointly participate every moment of every day, even though the identity of that community does not afford them the comforts of neighborly proximity. We might think here of the cameo Emma uses to entertain Harriet the evening after Mr. Elton rides to London to purchase a frame for Harriet's picture —a vignette that, extended, might serve as a chapter of that celebrated unwritten novel Miss Harriet Smith: "'At this moment, perhaps, Mr. Elton is shewing your picture to his mother and sisters [. . .] and after being asked for it five or six times, allowing them to hear your name. [. . .] How cheerful, how animated, how suspicious, how busy their imaginations all are!'" (I.vii, 50). We might think too of the conjectures (whose subject is, again, others' conjectures) that inform the remarks Emma makes to Jane following the arrival of the piano: "'How much your friends in Ireland must be enjoying your pleasure on this occasion [. . .] I dare say they often think of you, and wonder which will be the day, the precise day of the instrument's coming to hand'" (II.x, 217). (This way of bridging distances—imagining the thoughts that at a given instant might be filling the heads of absent friends, or, as in this case, of absent strangers—is one Highbury models frequently.) Despite exemplifying, as if in keeping with Mitford's program, a "constant residence" in a "confined locale," Emma knows something—as her creator does too—about the technical means for representing the imagined community that is the nation.

  14. Austen seems to intuit, that is, that national consciousness depends on the same powers of divination—of telepathy (feeling across a distance)—that are at the root of Emma's blunders, the same that are in demand during the parlor games that so often engage her particular social set. Totalizing descriptions of what "the nation" or "society" does or believes (like sentences whose grammatical subject is "everybody") can seem to assume a transparency of mind to mind. "'It is a familiar fact that we do not know how the common purpose comes about in the great insect communities: possibly it is done by means of a direct psychical transference.'" Nicholas Royle's Telepathy and Literature, which applies this passage from Freud's "Dreams and Occultism" (107) to the great national communities, hints that the narrator of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children may be the world-champion candidate for the position of paradigmatic national subject. Saleem Sinai's radio-receiver brain, tuned in on the cerebral activity of all children born in the inaugural hour of India's nationhood, makes him a prodigy of fellow feeling. For most national subjects—even those who live together "in a little village far in a country," where, as Mitford writes (just before launching into her praise of Austen's settings), people are "close-packed and insulated like ants in an ant-hill or bees in a hive" (3)—the act of knowing the minds of one's compatriots is much more a matter of using one's imagination, much more of a guessing game.

  15. The troubles at Box Hill are exacerbated when the party from Highbury start to play guessing games. More precisely, the troubles are exacerbated when the Highburians neglect the rules of such games: "'Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of'" (III.vii, 334). Frank's use of the imperative, his reinscription of hierarchy on an occasion when every body is supposed to be on an equal footing, are not at all conducive to conversation and the creation of social unity, though presumably these are the goals he is aiming at. The conundrum ("What two letters of the alphabet are there, that express perfection?") that Mr. Weston offers later on—though better attuned to the norms of game-playing—is only marginally more successful. Badly timed, Weston's riddling reference to "'M. and A.—Em—ma'" (III.vii, 336) ends up, as we know, serving only as an ironic gloss on our imperfect heroine's incivility to Miss Bates. Patricia Meyer Spacks writes of Emma's testy violation of manners in this episode as lying in the way that Emma talks "to Miss Bates as she might have spoken of her" (165). Paraphrasing, we might say that Emma rudely fails to recognize Miss Bates as some one included inside that category we so often have recourse to in polite conversation, the category of "present company." ("Present company excepted, of course.") The multiple failures of sympathy in the episode —and attendant failures of imaginative conjecture—suggest, in fact, much uncertainty about this category's boundaries. Emma must already be confident that she is among intimates (and accordingly must already be claiming clairvoyance) to fall in with Frank's design and to conjecture that it would be pleasant to hear the private thoughts of her companions. Mr. Weston must likewise be sure that there is a positive consensus on Emma among the picnickers in order to present his conundrum as a witty contribution to the afternoon's entertainment. His guessing game, that is, is necessarily founded on his best guess about "what [everybody] is thinking of": and his best guess isn't good enough.

  16. There are moments in the novel when mutual understanding looks perfect—perfect enough to forego words. My favorite of these telepathic moments occurs just after Frank offends Jane as they and Harriet and Emma play at puzzling one another with the little Knightleys' box of letters. Miss Bates knows, before her niece speaks, that Jane requires rescuing: "'Ay, very true, my dear, cried [Miss Bates], though Jane had not spoken a word—'I was just going to say the same thing. It is time for us to be going indeed'" (III.v, 315). But there is much to counterbalance this incident of reassuring simultaneity. There is, for a start, timed to coincide with the climax of the novel's matchmaking, the narrator's account of the blunders that always attend on our attempts to know one another's feelings. Calling attention to the fact that Emma can't ever come clean about why Harriet intrudes on her thoughts at the moment when Mr. Knightley proposes, the narrator states "Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken" (III.xiii, 391).

  17. Yet even as she admits this, Austen makes community—in both the narrow circle of acquaintance we discover in Highbury and England at large—depend on human disclosure or, more precisely, on what approximates it. Rather than coming naturally, social affiliation depends (in the wishful, best-case scenario) on mind-reading or (less optimistically) on a guessing game. Either as near neighbors or as compatriots, we cannot know one another's feelings—but we need to imagine that we can and we need to act as if we do. In emphasizing these tensions in Emma, and in emphasizing how the novel's dramas of insidership and outsidership produce a universe of strangely shrinking and extending proximities and separations, I have aimed to mark the distinctiveness of Austen's response to the idea of the "little district" elaborated in eighteenth-century social theory. Austen eschews a cut-and-dry opposition between the local and the long-distance. She blurs the boundaries between daily life and national life: in Emma "conjecturing" happens everywhere, and everywhere falls short of perfect accuracy.

  18. I want to push this argument a step further still. Emma is testimony to the fact that when Austen confronted the eighteenth-century sociological narrative of the transition from small-scale to large-scale societies, she saw an occasion ripe for exploitation by a professional creator of fiction. If that transition made community something that needed to be imagined before it could be experienced, who better to prompt such imagining? Austen responds to the eighteenth-century moralists' story of diminishing opportunities for local intimacies by helping to re-invent the institution of national literature. Beginning in the nineteenth century, when it was placed under the new, professional management writers such as Austen or Mitford (or Wordsworth) supplied, "English literature" has operated to make the local and the intimate reproducible anywhere. As an arrangement that could enable the long-distance national distribution of the pleasures of inside knowledge, English literature begins in Austen's lifetime to offer itself to the individual reader as the reservoir of her private memories of life as a reader: the canon, familiarized, becomes an institution that returns the reader home to herself, where the reader feels at home. Let me close by zeroing in briefly on the question of how Emma in particular might be involved in this reinvention and in the renegotiation of the relation between personal taste and an impersonal print culture it entailed.

  19. This is the place to think about how often our reading of Emma is prefigured for us within the novel. A national literature must negotiate geographical and social divides in the manner depicted in that phrase "a letter [sent] to Maple Grove by one lady, to Ireland by another"; it is by definition susceptible to the same problems of unseasonableness and irrelevancy that make Mr. Weston's conundrum about the letters of perfection so mal à propos. Emma forestalls such problems by establishing—through its irony for a start—a complicity with its readers founded on the irresistibly gratifying premise that we, particularly, have understood what we have read; we have a special purchase on a text addressed to a wider public. It is as if the text signals to each the message that Knightley, unable to speak openly to Emma because of the presence of her father, communicates just "plain enough to be very intelligible": a message of "approbation" (II.iii, 151). Terry Castle writes of something comparable to this sense of perfect understanding: how Austen's prose provides the reader with the opportunity to "relive [. . .] the primal satisfaction of learning to read itself [. . .] that moment when [. . .] the marks on the page first began to 'make sense'" (xiii). Our reading matter is made familiar in and by Emma in another way—one that connects us, in the pleasures we take in inside information, to others and the pleasures they take in their turn. Like Mr. Weston, the novel also plays games with letters (in multiple senses of that term): not just posing riddles, not just investigating characters' reading habits, canvassing the issue of literary competence, and examining what it means to read together, but also catering, as all three of Austen's last novels do through their allusiveness, to the pleasures that lie in quotation-spotting. In its anthologizing capacity, sauntering through the canon (breezily citing Shakespeare, Gay, Gray, Cowper), Emma enables readers to recognize again what we saw before in our "first acquaintance with poets." Adopting measures like these, Austen situates the English canon in general where Edmund in Mansfield Park says Shakespeare is—as part of "an Englishman's constitution" (306). (As if foreseeing Emma's treatment of mind-reading, Edmund also casts Shakespeare's "thoughts" as that with which we are "intimate [. . .] by instinct.")

  20. And the process of reading Emma does come to seem, thanks to this allusiveness, what Mitford said it was: a return to a neighbourhood in which we have long been settled. Its characters, from strangers, quickly come to seem acquaintance of long standing, whose prospects "are a kind of common concern"—Austen's readers learn in their turn to perform the ceremonies of repatriation that Highbury enacts in adopting that feckless bird of passage, Frank Churchill, as a native son. In the context of Adam Ferguson's worry about an affectless age of languor brought on by states' super-sizing, such strategies for redeeming and remanufacturing local attachments can seem something more than an endearing if rather dotty manifestation of that Highburian habit of "general friendship." They might also seem strategies for coping with the distinctively modern challenges of expanded horizons and an expanded sphere of mutual recognition and responsibility.  

    Works Cited

    Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

    Austen, Jane. Emma. Ed. James Kinsley. Introd. Terry Castle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Cited by volume, chapter, and page.

    ---. Mansfield Park. Ed. James Kinsley. Introd. Margaret Doody. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    Castle, Terry. "Introduction." In Austen, Jane. Emma.

    Ferguson, Adam. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. Ed. Fania Oz-Salzberger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)

    Johnson, Samuel. The Rambler. In The British Essayists. 38 vols. London: Rivington, 1823. Vol. 17.

    Mitford, Mary Russell. Our Village. Introd. Anne Thackeray Ritchie. London: Macmillan, 1910.

    Prospectus of The Anti-Jacobin; or, Weekly Examiner. London: J. Wright, 1797. In The Anti-Jacobin. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1968.

    Reinert, Thomas. Regulating Confusion: Samuel Johnson and the Crowd. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996.

    Ritchie, Anne Thackeray. A Book of Sibyls. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1883.

    Royle, Nicholas. Telepathy and Literature: Essays on the Reading Mind. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.

    Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Gossip. New York: Knopf, 1985.

    Stewart, Maaja. Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions: Jane Austen's Novels in Eighteenth-Century Contexts. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

    Trumpener, Katie. Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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