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Jane Austen and The Bachelor

Updated: Jun 5

We started studying Emma last week by taking a look at Austen’s playing with point of view. After figuring out some technical terms like free indirect discourse, objective narrator, psychonarrator, and subjective narrator, we tried to identify the indicators of point of view. When are we hearing Emma’s voice in the third person? Why don’t we ever get Frank’s point of view? Or Elton’s? Austen pulls us into Emma’s voice and we fail to see what she fails to see. She can’t figure out who loves who, and neither can we. We rely on body language, tone, words, blushes, changing seats, glances, and smiles, but not on the actual thoughts of anyone else but Emma and sometimes George. Instead of reading the reality, Austen takes us away from the reality with words like seems, supposedly, apparently, should, or may. Emma also doesn’t know who she loves, or if she wants to love at all.

By the end, we’re both disappointed and happy about who marries who. Does Emma really love George, or does she marry him because he’s wealthy, and because he’s her brother-in-law and therefore accepted by her father? Austen revolutionized marriage by demanding more out of it than mere convenience. She created stories that got people arguing over who loves who and why.

I think it’s important to show clips of Clueless right away, so students get that the stuffy world of the 1814 marriage novel is still very much alive in high school in 2020. But, really, The Bachelor is way more up Austen’s alley. Deep down, it's satire. Just as Austen imagined a world of romance determined by “age, character, and condition”, The Bachelor asks the same questions. It captures a reality and then the producers create a story filled with subplots, twists, surprises, and many, many violations of etiquette. We bring our social codes and norms with us when we argue about the right match for our protagonist, the bachelor or the bachelorette.

Corrine from Season 21 is just like Emma. Wealthy, funny, snobby, witty, inappropriate, presumptuous, and most importantly, likable. She’s likeable only because her father is to blame for her worldview. Austen said about Emma: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Jimmy Kimmel tried to analyze Corrine’s sense of etiquette by writing her words on a chalkboard:

I interrupted Taylor and then she came and re-interrupted me. There’s a way to go about things. The way I go about things is very classy and not directed toward a character in general. The way she did it was very directed toward Corrine. I’m like OK Taylor. If you take a direct hit at Corrine, I’m gonna say something. I don’t go about things like that. I don’t like things like that, and I think it’s rude.

One can’t help but think of Emma’s view of her place as a female, and how it determines what’s said and what’s not said:

What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. —She said enough to shew there need not be despair—and to invite him to say more himself.

This novel clearly revolves around Emma, but in the most important scene in the novel, John Knightley, Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Woodhouse argue with Jane Fairfax for four pages about how she took a walk to the post office one morning in some light rain. Mr. Woodhouse objects: “Young ladies are like delicate plants.” Jane responds by telling them that it’s the only time that she gets out of the house. Her anger grows, and by the end of the conversation, “Jane looked as if she did not mean to be conquered.”

The Bachelor takes less than three months to unfold. In Emma, Mr. Elton decides to marry Augusta Hawkins four weeks after Emma breaks his heart. Does love really work that fast? Or do we find someone wealthy enough and attractive enough and call it a day? The Bachelor takes place in an alternative, fictional world without jobs, responsibility, family, friends, stress, routine, or sacrifice. It’s a world without conflict. There’s no shortage of metaphors that connect the events in the show to real life, since the entire show is, in fact, more of a fantasy than a reality. We're taken away from the rat race of life, but we’re reminded of every person’s career in the captions. In Highbury, the setting of Emma, there’s a character for every social class, and status determines everything. But in the end, none of that matters. Through limited omniscient narration and a camera lens, we try to cross consciousnesses. We want to see love, then feel it. And that is so entertaining.

I originally published this blog on January 10th, 2020, and I have a hilarious update on February 21, 2020: I heard an advertisement on the podcast, Bachelor Happy Hour "Peter is Down to Four", for the new film, Emma on the way to work with my wife today: "Focus Features invites you to be charmed by the dazzling new vision of Jane Austen’s classic Emma …. The film is much like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and is about handsome, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse who is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along. Hopefully like Peter is searching for on this season."

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