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Critical View On Emma By Jane Austen

1096 words - 4 pages

Jane Austen's Emma and the Romantic Imagination "To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour." --William Blake, 'Auguries of Innocence' Imagination, to the people of the eighteenth century of whom William Blake and Jane Austen are but two, involves the twisting of the relationship between fantasy and reality to arrive at a fantastical point at which a world can be extrapolated from a single grain of sand, and all the time that has been and ever will be can be compressed into the space of an hour. What is proposed by Blake is clearly ludicrous--it runs against the very tide of reason and sense--and yet the picture that the imagination paints of his verse inspires awe. The human imagination supplies the emotional undercurrents that allows us to see the next wild flower we pass on the side of the road in an entirely different and amazing light. In Austen's Emma, the imagination is less strenuously taxed because her story of sensibility is more easily enhanced by the imagination, more easily given life than Blake's abstract vision of the great in the small because Emma is more aesthetically realistic. However, both rely on the fact that "[t]he correspondence of world and subject is at the center of any sensibility story, yet that correspondence is often twisted in unusual and terrifying shapes," (Edward Young, 1741). The heroine of Austen's novel, Emma Woodhouse, a girl of immense imagination, maintains it by keeping up with her reading and art because, as Young contends, these are the mediums through which imagination is chiefly expressed by manipulating the relationships between the world and the subject at hand. However, even in this, Emma's imagination falls short. "The soul might have the capacity to take in the 'world' or the 'atom' if it weren't for the body's limitations getting in the way," (Joseph Addison, 1712). As Addison supposes, the limitations of Emma's body keeps her from seeing the truths that her soul, if let free, would show her. One of these is that Frank Churchill, a handsome and well-bred man, is insincere and fake, while Mr. Knightley truly loves her like no other. In Emma's love theme, Austen shows us how emotions and imagination can augment each other. "[I]t was...sensibility which originally aroused imagination;...on the other hand...imagination increases and prolongs...sensibility," (Dugald Stewart, 1792). Due to Emma's endorsement of Mr. Elton, Harriet imagines feelings for him which become so real for her that she can't get him out of her mind. Although the situation is a tragic one, it shouldn't be believed that a fantasy-generated reality is always bad. "Sympathy, the fellow-feeling with the passions of others, operates through a logic of mirroring, in which a spectator imaginatively reconstructs the experience of the person he watches," (Adam Smith, 1759). Emma is miserably inept at this; she completely fails to use her...

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