Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 24 2015 02:00PM

Despite the New York Times’ efforts to persuade us otherwise, Jane Austen is not a Christmassy writer. It’s true that the word “Christmas” appears in all six of the completed novels, but only three (Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion) include scenes set during holiday festivities. And even those scenes lack the trappings -- trees, stockings, gifts, etc. – that we have come to associate with the Victorian version of the day.

The Christmas scene in Emma – which celebrated its bicentennial yesterday – is actually a Christmas Eve scene. And surely the dinner party at Randalls must rank as one of the worst, if also one of the funniest, Christmases in English literature, bookended, for Emma, by two unpleasant carriage rides with self-absorbed men. John Knightley’s grumpy rant about the horrors of going out in the snow ("A man . . . must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him”) is topped only by Mr. Elton’s won't-take-no-for-an-answer marriage proposal, as the glib vicar graduates, in the space of a few paragraphs, from tipsy faux-sentimentality to sincerely nasty social condescension (“Everybody has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss”).

Over at Sarah Emsley’s blog, Nora Bartlett takes a closer look at this scene, in the kickoff post for "Emma in the Snow," Sarah’s new blog series celebrating the birthday of this sublime novel. I, however, will confine myself to wishing you all a Christmas Eve much happier than Emma Woodhouse’s.

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