Saturday, 24 May 2014

"Nauticus on his Hobby Horse" (The Oundle Chronicle)

1427 miles would seem, to many sailors, a relatively meagre distance. However, to make this immense journey on nothing more than a tricycle over dirt roads more than 100 years ago, is undeniably, an astounding feat. Charles Edward Reade, a naval officer on leave in the 19th century, travelled across England on an old Victorian tricycle, and he recorded his adventures in his book Nauticus on his Hobby Horse or the adventures of a sailor during a tricycle cruise of 1427 miles in 1880. Written anonymously, Nauticus’ noble story has been almost completely forgotten, despite its witty depictions of Victorian England and the astonishing nature of his journey.

The book is an account of his journey through a number of the country’s most notable cities and towns, including Leeds, Portsmouth and Southampton. He also tells of his adventures in small market towns, including Oundle, which he passed through in order to visit his brother, The Rev Henry St John Reade, Headmaster of Oundle School.

The bicycle was first invented by a German engineer in 1817, and it was originally known as the ‘Dandy Horse’. It was not until 1885 that the first Chain Driven model was invented, and since then the bicycle has evolved very little.

The tricycle, however, was invented long before its two-wheeled descendent; another German engineer, Stephan Farffler, built the first trike in the mid-17th century to help disabled people like himself to move about with ease. It was certainly not created with the intention of long distance travel, although it seems to have served that purpose!

According to, Reade rode a Coventry Machinists Cheylesmore Tricycle (as supplied to HRH The Prince of Wales), getting it repaired by local blacksmiths along the way.

Reade dedicates a chapter of his short book to his journey around Oundle, describing it as a “charming little town of nice old-fashioned houses and well-kept streets.” He also writes: “The church has a beautiful tower and spire in perfect harmony with one another” and he mentions there is a school which is “just getting its ‘name up’ ”.

Along the way he recounts a close encounter with a dog-cart, which he says was no more than a “postage stamp’s distance” away from his tricycle, nicknamed “Chummy”. He is indignant that the dog-cart, “driving rapidly”, is going at ten miles an hour.

While in the area he visits the ruins of Lord Winchelsea’s mansion at Kirby, which he describes as positively gone to ruin and overrun with all sorts of animals. He depicts the residents of Oundle picnicking at Kirby Hall, scribbling their names on the ruins, and even throwing rocks at the windows so that “there is scarcely a whole pane of glass left”. After this brief excursion, he tells of an unfriendly welcome at an unnamed local manor house. Visiting country houses to admire the art and architecture was common enough for local tourists in his time, and so Reade is outraged by the fact that he is not at first let in by a snooty footman.

Ioan Thomas told the Oundle Chronicle about the book, which he had noticed in a footnote in William Walker’s famous book on Oundle School’s history. Thomas was delighted to be able to consult a copy in the British Library, and described it as an “amazing, very humorous account”.

His cycling adventures did not end in England though. In 1883 he published Nauticus in Scotland - A tricycle Tour of 2,462 Miles, Including Skye and the West Coast, which was initially published in the Boys Own Paper.

Little is know about Reade. Born in Reading in 1842, he does not appear in any public record after that. His books remain the only record of his adventurous life.

The books can now be read online at, and are also available to buy print-on-demand.

With the Woman’s Cycle Tour having passed through Oundle in May, it is interesting to know that cycling, or indeed tricycling, is by no means a recent news story in Oundle.

The Women's Tour (The Oundle Chronicle)

In its long history, Oundle has never seen anything as exciting as the big day when cyclists took over the streets. The Grand Depart of the inaugural Friend’s Life Women’s Tour on 7 May attracted thousands of spectators who gathered in the Market Place and lined the race route through town to wave the cyclists off on their five day tour.

It was also an historic day for elite women’s cycling, with prize money, racing conditions and media exposure equal to and even exceeding those offered to men’s tours. There was an undeniable sense of anticipation and enthusiasm as Oundle prepared to welcome 96 of the world’s best women cyclists, including Dutch Olympian Marianne Vos, and British Olympians Lizzie Armitstead and Laura Trott.

The town pulled out the stops; three days of activities, events, fun and festivities led up to the race day. The bunting went up and every shop window was decorated with cycling themed displays. On Tuesday night the Market Place was filled with food stalls, live music, professional stunt cyclists and even a crazy bike collection.

The race was won by Dutch star Marianne Vos, followed closely by Swede Emma Johansson. Vos told BBC Sport "I have won many titles before, and some gold medals, but this women's Tour is really special because it means so much to women's cycling," and she continued: "I have good memories of Great Britain with the Olympics, but these crowds really made a difference."

In August 2004, the men’s Tour of Britain had its somewhat hesitant inaugural event. Men’s stage races go back to the 1940s in the UK, but a women’s event of this scale is certainly a big step, and one that Oundle should be proud to be a part of. In fact, the Observer’s headline on the Women’s Tour read “Oundle at the start of something big”. Cycling fans from all corners of the world will now know what and where Oundle is, and will remember it as the place where a gravitational and hopeful change was made towards equality.

Oundle was chosen as the starting place for the tour after Heather Smith, deputy leader of the County Council, was approached by SweetSpot. Heather worked hard to secure Oundle as the place for the Grand Depart. Cllr Smith described the event as “very emotional”, saying “This has put women’s cycling on the map.”

Events were held throughout Oundle on the Monday and Tuesday before the race. The Monday was branded “have a go” day, and events were held in various locations in the town. There were dancing classes in the market place, and singing classes in Victoria Hall. Participants were very excited for the Bike Race, commenting “It gives us a chance to think about other things” with another adding, “it puts us on the map”. A few of the participants were particularly looking forward to the concert to be held in the town later that evening, featuring the Oundle Choral Society.

Before the race, Northamptonshire cyclist Hannah Burnes came to speak to pupils at Oundle School. She told them about her career with UnitedHealthcare women’s team based in North Carolina. She also told them that, given the world-class quality of the riders, “it’s pretty much the Olympics.” At the end of the first stage Hannah came third, and won the Best British Rider’s jersey and the Best Young Rider’s jersey, two huge honours.

Guy Elliott, part of SweetSpot and one of the race organisers said: “We were told it wouldn’t happen. That made us more determined to do it.” The BBC also said that a women’s only race would not get coverage; they were clearly mistaken! In fact, race organisers were thrilled with the media response. There were more than 200 reporters at the Press Call on Thursday night. Many have speculated that the women’s tour received more media than the men’s race.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who dropped the Union flag to start the race, commented: “Cycling fans know that women’s cycling is brilliant. Those that have never experienced it will know it now.” She feels that an event like this proves to people that women’s sport is as good as men’s sport. She explained: “Less than 5% of media coverage is given to women’s sport, and only 0.5% of sponsorship. The cyclists have never experienced a race like this. The response has been amazing.” 

Cllr Smith agreed: “The doubters said that we wouldn’t get sponsorship. The doubters said that people would not turn out to watch it. We’ve proved them wrong.”

Although it is right to speculate on what this race has done for Oundle’s reputation and economy, it is more important to understand what Oundle has done for this race, and indeed women’s sport as a whole. The country had never seen an event anywhere near the size of the Women’s Tour; now that is something for Oundle to be proud of! The people of Oundle can hold their heads high and think “I was a part of that” or “I was there”. It is not just the organisers and riders and officials that helped to make the race such a success; it was the people of Oundle and their willingness to welcome equality.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Mundane and the Profound in Larkin's Poetry

Philip Larkin is renowned for his ability to turn what seem to be trivial observations of everyday life into some of the most intense meditations on human nature ever written. Unlike most poets, he says, who “take a flying start, several yards off the ground, and hope the reader ultimately catches up with them”, Larkin prefers to develop his somewhat mundane experiences into reflections about not only his own life, but about concepts like love, life and death. This unique technique allows him to work up to what he calls his “big finish”. He has often been referred to as an observational poet; his flat in Hull overlooking the park gave him the opportunity to watch people dispassionately without involving himself with them. Larkin was part of the group of 1950s poets known as The Movement; their ambition was to write anti-romantic and structured poems, completely opposed to the Modernist movement of Pound and Williams. Larkin’s observational method lets him structure his poems formally and give them a purpose. Moreover, Larkin’s realist approach makes his poetry more accessible to the average English man, and indeed he said that “Plain language, absence of posturings, sense of proportion and humour” are the four things that made poetry great.

Death is the recurring theme of Larkin’s poetry. He was only in his forties when he wrote the utterly depressing aphorism “Life is first boredom, then fear” (“Dockery and Son”), and he concludes the same poem with the line “And age, and then the only end of age.” However, where some poets may begin a poem about death with words like “How wonderful is death,” (“Queen Mab”, Percy Bysshe Shelley), Larkin begins “Dockery and Son”, ostensibly arbitrarily, with the speech of a college Dean: “‘Dockery was junior to you, / Wasn’t he?’” The first two stanzas of the poem have no direct references to death, and this is a clear demonstration of Larkin’s skill. The mundane features of his poetry may seem to some irrelevant and trifling, but they are not; in “Dockery and Son” he uses minute details and certain words to insinuate the idea of death before the topic is actually tackled and addressed. For example, his employment of words like “known” and “subside” allow him to turn a mundane concern into a profound meditation. Moreover, his use of realism and phrases like “And ate an awful pie” help readers to relate to Larkin’s experiences, and thus his conclusions are more resonant with their lives. The conclusion of this poem reflects its beginning; Larkin is glad that he does not have children because he can no longer be patronised by their youth (“a son’s harsh patronage.”). He is therefore somewhat glad that he has not fallen into the same trap as Dockery; despite having nothing, he is not suffocated by the “sand-clouds” of life’s routine and the seemingly obligatory act of having children. Nonetheless, he still concludes in a typically Larkin-esque way; no matter what we do in life, we will all die: “Whether or not we use it, it goes.” It seems somewhat fitting, therefore, that Larkin should begin the poem as a “death-suited, visitant”; this is a clear representation of the skill that makes him special among poets.

“Dockery and Son” is not the only Larkin poem to begin with seemingly purposeless direct speech. His poem “Mr Bleaney” begins with the speech of his new landlady:

“‘This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’…”

The antithesis between the landlady’s words and Larkin’s thoughts allow the poem to slowly progress to its conclusion which, rather than being only applicable to Larkin’s life, can be related to by almost any reader. Again Larkin’s use of realism in the poem (his use of phrases like “and stub my fags” and “Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool”) adds to the poem’s melancholic tone of self-deprecation and underachievement. These mundane details simply serve to make Larkin’s situation seem all the more depressing, which is the overall aim of the poem. The poem is particularly engaging because of Larkin’s use of satire; throughout the poem Larkin is comparing himself to Mr Bleaney, and this in itself is amusing. He makes a number of references to places and people (“the Frinton folk”) and the alliteration in these words add a sense of mockery, as if the words are being spat out. Larkin’s mundane description of Bleaney’s habits (“His preference for sauce to gravy”) makes a comparison of the two all the more tempting. He begins his last stanza with the proposition “That how we live measures our own nature,” depicting Mr Bleaney trying to escape this melancholic thought. However, the reader knows that Mr Bleaney’s thoughts have almost become synonymous with those of Larkin’s. Larkin too has realised his life’s lack of achievement. This idea is reinforced by the last three words (“I don’t know”), which imply that, despite his hopes, he has lived a relatively unsuccessful life. And so, just as in “Dockery and Son” Larkin draws the reader in with direct speech, leads them through the poem with mundane details (that nonetheless contribute to the overall effect of the poem) and steadily works up to his big finish, in this case, the ironic realisation of his failure.

His poem “Church Going” follows a similar pattern. It depicts the poet going into an empty Church, something that the majority of people have done in their lifetimes. He describes the mundane details (“matting, seats, and stone”) of what he calls “Another church”. He even describes the action of taking off his cycle-clips; at first glance, this may seem to be a fruitless detail. However, his use of the phrase “awkward reverence” suggests that, despite not being religious, he still feels an obligation to be polite, to take off his hat and to follow Church etiquette. It is not until the fourth paragraph that he really begins to reflect upon religion, the ultimate purpose of the poem. He writes: “But superstition, like belief, must die,” and the perfect pentameter of this line stresses its importance. Moreover, it is only really in the last paragraph that his reflections become serious; before, he has been describing a “ruin-bibber, randy for antique”. He concludes with a reflection upon the importance of meaning and purpose in life, and humanity’s desire to feel of some significance. He finishes with the lines:

            “Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
            If only that so many dead lie round.”

His repetition of the word “serious” in the last stanza emphasises our need to feel important, and it is religion that gives us this feeling. Again, we can observe the steady progress of the poem; Larkin moves from discussing old hymnbooks, renovations and cycle-clips, to a Freudian discussion of religion as an example of ‘wish-fulfilment’ and projectionism. Thus, Larkin is special for his ability to turn mundanities into  reflections of gravity.

Larkin is seen as one of the most significant poets of the 20th Century, and indeed he was offered the position of Poet Laureate a few years before his death. An obituary written by Ian Hamilton was published in The Sunday Times along with his poem “Aubade”. Hamilton observed that “Philip Larkin worked hard at not looking or behaving like a poet.” He wanted to make poetry accessible to everyone, and did not like using particularly esoteric ideas and vocabulary. Perhaps the way he achieved this most effectively was through his use of mundanities. They allow him to enter the poem slowly and in a straightforward, relatable way. Just as his poetry was full of mundanities, his life was too. He lived his life alone in small flats and bungalows, working as a Librarian and writing collections of poetry every ten years. He managed to avoid the aspects of life that he most despised, like marriage and children; in this way he can be seen as an individual voice. He refused to allow his life to be dictated, nor would he allow himself to become that which he despised. However, there was one thing that, despite his poetry and individuality, he could never escape: death. The true irony of his life is that his death was caused by the very thing he used to escape it, alcohol. No matter how hard he tried to escape it, he never could.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Irony of 'Jerusalem' (Revised Version)

Before every rugby match against Uppingham, at every large school event, and after every House Unison competition, it has become tradition that Oundelians unite to sing that famous anthem, ‘Jerusalem’. Put to music as a morale-booster during the First World War, the traditional interpretation of Blake’s ‘And did those feet in ancient time…’ is one of patriotism and nationalism. However, this interpretation seems to be in direct contention with Blake’s own views. William Blake, the early Romantic poet, was certainly not a patriot; in fact, he was a non-conformist with radical views about organised religion and sexuality, amongst other things. He even referred to himself as a ‘liberty boy’; the group of Americans known for undertaking the Boston Tea Party and for protesting against the abuses of the British government. This in itself suggests that Blake opposed the authority exerted by the established institutions of English society.

Given Blake’s views, it is some thing of an irony that ‘Jerusalem’ is sung in Chapel services and is in the Hymn books that pupils love to slam shut (to the annoyance of anyone in authority). To begin with, ‘Jerusalem’ is not a hymn. A hymn, in its traditional sense, is a prayer to God, and Blake’s poem is not. Rather, the message of ‘Jerusalem’ is held in direct contrast to the teachings of the Bible. In Revelation 21 it says: ‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…’ and God himself exclaims: ‘“I am making everything new!”’ Conversely, ‘Jerusalem’ says that it will be us, the people of England, who will be building the New Jerusalem, and it concludes with the following lines:

            Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.’

Rather than a prayer for divine intervention, the final message of the poem seems to suggest that, by working together, humanity can achieve fulfilment without God’s help. Notwithstanding his use of religious metaphors and symbolism, Blake’s vision of the English Jerusalem is man-made.

Blake was particularly opposed to the oppressiveness of the established Church. In his poem ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ he writes: ‘a system was formed [i.e. the Church], which some took advantage of and enslaved the vulgar… thus began priesthood.’ Moreover, in his poignant poem ‘The Garden of Love’ Blake depicts a Church invading his ‘Garden of Love’, and he writes: ‘Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds, / And binding with briars, my joys and desires.’ His aggressive stance on organised religion suggests that the poem should never have been adopted as a hymn in the first place. Should the words of a man who reviled the Church really be sung inside one?

Many people believe that the poem is a call to arms to fight for our country. However, this is unlikely to have been Blake’s intention. When Blake exclaims that ‘his sword will not sleep in his hand’ and that he will not ‘cease from Mental Fight’ he is not supporting imperialist values. He is also not, I am afraid, talking about going to war with Uppinghamians on the rugby pitch. Rather, he is imploring us to devote ourselves with religious vigour towards the improvement of our country; turning it from the land of ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ into the New Jerusalem. His poem ‘London’ tells how capitalism has ruined England, and depicts the bleak and wretched lives of the poor. Blake had quite radical sympathies for those living in poverty, and so it can be inferred that, by the ‘New Jerusalem’, Blake probably envisioned a land of equality and socialism, not constrained by capitalism or organised religion.

Accompanying the poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ there was written the following quotation from Numbers, Chapter 11: “Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” Considering his views, it is unlikely that Blake was referring to the prophets who relate the word of God (since he hated being told what to do), but rather those prophets who speak out about oppression and unjust authority. Christopher Rowland, a Professor of Theology at Oxford University, suggests:

“Blake wanted to stir people from their intellectual slumbers, and the daily grind of their toil, to see that they were captivated in the grip of a culture which kept them thinking in ways which served the interests of the powerful.”

By putting this quotation beneath the poem, Blake is again emphasising the power of the individual as a ‘prophet’. Again, could this suggest that we do not need the help of authority and the powerful to achieve great things? Pupils could see this somewhat anti-establishment interpretation as a rejection of school rules.

‘Jerusalem’ is one of the most popular poems ever put to music and undoubtedly it is a great morale-boosting anthem. However, when Oundelians do sing it, we ought to keep its message in mind and understand Blake’s meaning. It is not a call to arms; it is not an appraisal of England; it is not even a hymn. Rather, it is calling for the people of England to work together to build a great nation, without the help of authority.

Discussing the Final Marriages in Jane Austen's "Emma"

At the end of Jane Austen’s Emma two marriages take place: the marriage of Emma to Mr Knightley, and the marriage of Jane Fairfax to Frank Churchill. Emma is undeniably a novel that discusses the limitations of not only a hierarchical society, but also the restrictions of a predominantly patriarchal society. There is a clear social hierarchy in the small and isolated village of Highbury, and this allows Austen to reflect upon the class system and the inevitable distinction between the ‘polite’ classes (including Mr Knightley and Emma) and the working classes (including Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax). Moreover, Highbury’s lack of a dominant male-figure (besides Mr Knightley) and the apparent feminine authority throughout the novel aids Austen in meditating on Jacobin ideals that became prominent following the French Revolution. Robert P. Irvine, an Austen critic, commented: “The revolution seemed to have involved, and to have authorised elsewhere, a breakdown in the distinction between proper masculine and feminine roles.” In fact, Austen was writing in a time of great political unrest; the French Revolution of the late 18th Century revealed various tensions and contradictions in English society, and indeed print culture became a medium whereby political beliefs could be expressed. Roger Sales, in his book Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England, argues that Austen should be interpreted in the context of post-Revolution social unrest and unemployment in order for her works to be fully appreciated. Therefore, we must consider Emma to be a novel that discusses not only the society of Highbury, but the society of Regency England as a whole.

Throughout the novel, Austen ridicules and makes fun of those characters that are perpetually concerned with hierarchy, particularly Emma. For instance, when Emma is visiting the Bateses, she expresses her fear of “being in danger of falling in with the second rate and third rate of Highbury.” (page 151) Emma seems almost incapable of relinquishing these obsessions from her mind, and indeed she sees marriage as nothing more than a means by which somebody can raise their position in society. The point at which Austen is most amused by Emma’s self importance is when she writes (page 226): “Emma did not repent her condescension in going to the Coles.” She continues: “She must have delighted the Coles…” The reader is encouraged to laugh at Emma’s proud and egocentric nature, just as we are amused by Sir Walter Eliot’s vanity, and thus Austen is criticising the separation of classes.

Austen also promotes a sense of social injustice in the reader. She is careful to present Emma and Miss Bates as polar opposites immediately upon their introductions. Emma is described as “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home” (page 1), whereas Miss Bates, the local spinster, is described as “neither young, handsome, rich” and living “in a very small way” (page 19). Moreover, Mr Knightley tells Emma that Highbury “would be entirely guided” (page 369) by Emma, whereas Miss Bates says: “Oh! as for me, my judgement is worth nothing.” (page 172) The reader is outraged at this because the opposite ought to be true: Miss Bates is one of the first to notice that Harriet has hopes of marrying Mr Elton (she says: “What is before me, I see.”), whereas Emma’s opinion, although it is held in very high regard, is very often mistaken. Indeed Claire Tomalin, Austen’s biographer described Emma’s inner-voice as “consistently wrong”. Not only is Austen criticising Emma for thinking so highly of herself and her opinions, but she is also criticising society and hierarchy; why should Emma’s opinion be more highly regarded than Miss Bates’? Austen, through characters like Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates, is condemning social norms and orthodox attitudes to class. In fact, she is questioning whether hierarchy should be a concern at all.

The fact that Austen’s society of Highbury is mostly female dominated could suggest that patriarchal tradition is both unimportant and out-dated. On page 23, Austen writes: “Emma allowed her father to talk…” and this demonstrates her authority. Emma’s power is not only exercised over her father, but over the majority of Highbury. Mr Knightley himself notes Emma’s influence over the people of Highbury, and indeed she is described as having “rather too much her own way” (page 1). Finally, Frank Churchill refers to her as “she who could do anything in Highbury!” (page 186) The majority of Highbury’s men seem particularly feeble – Mr Woodhouse and Mr Weston are constantly complaining, and Mr Elton is a loathsome character. Mrs Churchill also has a huge amount of power over Frank Churchill; indeed, the power that Mrs Churchill has over Frank is similar to that which Mrs Ferrars has over Edward in Sense and Sensibility. She is described as “a capricious woman” who “governed her husband entirely”. Again, this suggests that Austen supports female emancipation and equality. Even charity is organised by the women: Emma organises the leg of pork that is given to the Bateses. All excursions and parties are largely organised by the females of the novel, and this again suggests that Emma is a feminist novel.

However, is Emma, as well as being a novel that disapproves of class and hierarchy, really a feminist novel? Austen’s use of the typical romantic ending (the book culminating in two marriages) suggests otherwise. Emma is what is known as a ‘Bildungsroman’: a novel that relates the education and moral growth of the hero or heroine. Indeed, Irvine notes:

“The plot of the novel subjects Emma to a process of education whereby she discovers the limitations of her judgement and learns the superiority of Knightley’s: theirs is a lover-mentor relationship…”

This alone suggests that men are more reliable than women. In fact, most of the novel’s true catastrophes are caused by Emma: the Box Hill incident, as well as Harriet’s heartbreak. She is seen as a heroine who must be tamed and educated by a male, just as Catherine Morland is educated by Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. At the start of the novel Emma is described as having “a sort of habitual respect for his judgement in general” (page 64), and at the end she has nothing to wish for “but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgement had been ever superior to her own.” (page 445) Is Austen not suggesting that all women ought to be guided by an intelligent male figure, and that the patriarchal society in which a competent male (i.e. Mr Knightley) rules is better than a female dominated society?

On the topic of hierarchy, Mr Knightley and Emma’s relationship also leaves some contradictions in Austen’s message. During their argument about Harriet (page 57), Emma feels that she must defend her use of social power against Knightley’s objections, who fears fluctuation in Highbury’s hierarchy. Irvine writes: “What is at stake for Knightley is ultimately not the suitability of two people for each other as individuals but the maintenance of a hierarchy of ‘connection’.” This is reinforced by Knightley’s exclamations about Harriet being “the natural daughter of nobody” and a girl with “no respectable relations”. Neither of the two, throughout the argument, questions the existence of a ‘social elite’, but about the intricacies of that elite. Again, Irvine notes:

“Rather, their disagreement is… about where the boundaries of that elite should be set, and what qualifies one for membership; and at a deeper level, about who has the authority to police those boundaries. Such policing is precisely what Emma is engaged in when she persuades Harriet to reject Robert Martin as beneath her.”

Knightley recognises that Elton is of a higher position than Harriet, and indeed he describes it as an “imprudent match”. He also says that Elton “will act rationally” since “be knows the value of a good income as well as anybody” (page 64). He is therefore recognising the importance of hierarchy. As the highest-ranking man, he believes that Emma, the highest-ranking woman, is meddling with matters above her, and he even feels that his position is being threatened. Indeed the two are, throughout the novel, in a competition for power: Emma is arbitrator of domestic matters and matters of love, whereas Mr Knightley controls what is known as ‘Parish business’. One can now read Emma’s marriage to Knightley as a way of resolving the problem of feminine authority:

“the plot subsumes her feminine authority within the authority of her social class as a whole, explaining it decisively as the product of her rank and not her gender. Emma’s recognition that she must marry Knightley is a recognition of the necessity of consolidating the power of their class and maintaining its exclusion…”

Although Emma grows throughout the novel, and although we see the boundaries of the ‘social elite’ stretching (i.e. the Coles become part of the group), Emma’s marriage to Knightley does suggest a consolidation of power and reinforcement of the hierarchical ideal. Is Austen praising the class system because it allows for feminine authority? Or is she suggesting that females are in need of guidance? This idea of consolidation is reinforced by Harriet’s marriage to the less-wealthy Robert Martin. Austen writes on page 474:

“Harriet, necessarily drawn away by her engagements with the Martins, was less and less at Hartfield; which was not to be regretted. – The intimacy between her and Emma must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer sort of goodwill…”

This demonstrates the fact that, although Emma has developed, she still recognises the importance of hierarchy, and Austen emphasises that the two girls cannot be friends on account of Harriet’s marriage to Mr Martin. Thus the boundaries of the ‘elite’ have been set. The breakdown of Harriet’s relationship with Emma coincides with the beginning of Emma’s relationship with Jane. Since Jane is now in the ‘elite’, and since their circumstances are no longer “confused” as Mr Woodhouse says, the two can now be friends. Indeed on page 451 we see Emma making a conscious effort to interact with Jane, something she rarely attempted before. Again, this shows her concern with hierarchy.

Jane Fairfax’s marriage to Frank Churchill also poses a number of the above questions. Jane is undeniably one of the most admirable characters of the novel: she is “the really accomplished young woman” (page 162) who “had yet her bread to earn” (page 161). She is not born with all of Emma’s blessings, and yet she is just as admirable and accomplished, if not more so. Jane Fairfax “represents a much more female powerlessness, and specifically the possibility of downward as well as upward social mobility.” (Irvine) If Emma’s marriage to Mr Knightley is the consolidation of power and reinforcement of the ‘social elite’, Jane’s marriage to Frank can be seen as almost the opposite. Jane is entering the ‘elite’, and the boundaries are being stretched, to Emma’s outrage (“‘Jane Fairfax! – Good God!!’” – page 389) Irvine comments:

“If there is a story in Emma in which true personal (feminine) value wins recognition from a powerful man despite its lack of wealth and status, that story is not Emma’s or Harriet’s: it is Jane Fairfax’s. But that story… is repeated under cover, as the novel’s shaping secret, itself subordinated to a main plot in which gentry power is consolidated by the marriage of Emma and Knightley.”

Here, Austen could be rejecting hierarchy, suggesting that it should be ignored and disregarded when it comes to love and marriage. Conversely, she could also be suggesting the opposite: that hierarchy is good as it allows feminine virtue to be recognised and to be rewarded. However, this alone is questionable: can marriage to somebody as deceptive and loathsome as Frank Churchill really be seen as a reward?

Emma marries Mr Knightley, thus proving the existence of a social hierarchy. Furthermore, Harriet, despite Emma’s schemes, marries Mr Martin. However, the marriage of Jane to Frank cold serve as a contradiction to both of these ideas. Moreover, the fact that Emma and Knightley’s wedding is “very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade…” (page 476) suggests that pride and arrogance of class is no longer a part of Emma’s character. Consequently, it is impossible to definitively say that Emma is a novel that “praises social class” or “rejects the patriarchal society” because it does both, and does neither at the same time. It shows that society does not need to be male dominated, but also that some females need male guidance. Austen is very equal-handed when it comes to discussing hierarchy and patriarchy, and indeed she sees the good and the bad in both. Detestable female characters such as Mrs Elton make it seem impossible for Emma to be a novel devoted to praising the virtue of women, and indeed Frank Churchill’s deception suggests that both patriarchy and hierarchy are imperfect ideals. If Emma really was about breaking social boundaries, why does Emma not marry the adorable Mr Martin and Harriet Mr Knightley? Despite losing her snobbery, Emma can never truly escape her hierarchical ideals, and this shows her to be imperfect, and therefore human. Austen is not ruling out one thing and supporting another; rather, she is praising certain characteristics (like Mr Knightley’s good will) and ridiculing others (Emma’s vanity and snobbery). Hers is a study of people, not of ideals.