The Faults in Austen’s Stars: Flawed Heroines
By Jayne Bamber, author of the Friends & Relations Series
In all the facets of Jane Austen’s genius, perhaps the most delightful is the reality she imbues in all her characters. No one is quite perfect, making them all the more relatable. We can easily imagine ourselves as one or other of her heroines, not because they are as perfect as we might wish to be, but because they, like us, are not. Elizabeth Bennet, the paragon every Janeites wishes to be, is prejudiced and faulty in her judgement. Anne Eliot is too easily persuaded, and Fanny Price rather a bore and a prude. Each of the Dashwood sisters lacks one of the titular traits, while experiencing rather too much of the other, and Catherine Morland literally accuses her future father-in-law of murder (yikes.)
The star of Emma, Emma Woodhouse herself, is arguably the most flawed of all of Austen’s heroines – Jane Austen herself wrote that Emma is “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” I will fully admit, I was never much fond of her until a couple of years ago, when Romola Garai’s absolutely stellar portrayal of Emma Woodhouse made me fall in love with Emma for all her faults.
In laying out my plans for Book 2 of the Friends & Relations series, I knew that I wanted Emma to play a large role in the story, and from that notion, I embraced the notion of several flawed heroines, even to the point of blurring the lines between heroine and villainess.
Caroline, a traditionally despicable and almost universally loathed character, is portrayed in great depth, exposing the motivation that lies behind her actions, and we see her struggling with a sense of questioning whether her social aspirations are really worth all the deceit and maneuvering; she is brought to the precipice of questioning the very nature of the social structure she wishes to ascend several times over, and hesitates to abandon what has been her life’s work, even though she becomes increasingly jaded by the way the world she lives in works.
Lady Rebecca, an original character of my invention, was lauded by fans in Book 1, and despite her being so beloved, I decided to reveal some imperfections in her character in the second book. Her disdain of sentimentality comes to the forefront of the story, and her previously infallible judgment is rather less so in this volume. She is forced to face some personal demons she has been hiding from for years, and it’s not going to be pretty.
Georgiana, Lydia, and Mary play lesser roles in Book Two, Unexpected Friends & Relations, but emerge as just as dynamic and flawed as the principal characters, in much the same way as we are accustomed to seeing them. Mary struggles with matters of morality now more than ever, as Lizzy’s marriage to Mr. Darcy has thrust her into a higher echelon of society than she has ever been accustomed to, and with that comes exposure to some pretty awful people. Lydia is struggling to make that same adjustment, but of course in a much different way – Mary may be over-thinking everything, but Lydia is doing just the opposite, leading to lessons hard learned over the course of the novel. And poor Georgiana! Even after the events of Ramsgate, her judgement is not much improved – she’s been through so much, and knows that a lot of it is all her own doing, but she can’t seem to catch a break, even with such a large family all trying to protect her – even, at times, because of her family trying to protect her.
Emma’s flaws are perhaps portrayed a little differently, as I have changed one detail of her history leading up to her entrance into the story. She remains much the same in terms of her sense of superiority and general clueless (ha!) entitlement, but this fault seems diminished in comparison to the flaws of those around her in this re-telling – all the principal residents of Highbury are so flawed themselves, from Miss Bates’s tedious chatter to Jane Fairfax’s irritating reserve, Mr. Elton’s smarmy flirtations, and Mr. Knightley’s over-principled disapproval – really the worst Emma can be accused of is inadvertently making Jane Fairfax very uncomfortable indeed.
Unexpected Friends & Relations is available for pre-order on Amazon now – and below is an excerpt of what we can expect from Emma and Lady Rebecca in the story, being united after John Knightley has taken up residence in Hartfield:
One morning, about a week after their arrival at Hartfield, Mary happened to mention at breakfast that Miss Jane Fairfax, niece of the voluble Miss Bates, had the intention of taking a position as a governess that summer. Thinking it odd that Miss Fairfax should desire to wait, rather than acting upon her resolution as soon as her mind was made up, Rebecca saw an opportunity to make herself useful once more.
She could hardly lift Emma’s spirits with such daily amusements as must occupy the time of young ladies of their station, while Emma was constantly beleaguered by her niece and nephews. No, a governess must be found directly, and it seemed she had found just the one.
Emma protested as they set out for the village, and as they had set out on foot, these lamentations might have occupied a full half-hour of their day, but Rebecca would brook no opposition once her mind was made up on the matter.
“I cannot like Jane Fairfax,” Emma insisted.
“I do not see how you could like her, as you cannot possibly know her,” Rebecca quipped. “Mary informs me that Miss Bates told her that Miss Fairfax was often traveling with her friends, the Campbells. I daresay you have not had the opportunity to come to know her better. I cannot help but think that she must be a rather tragic figure, an orphan dependent on the kindness of strangers, and I have always been rather fond of such downtrodden figures. At any rate, I am hardly suggesting you become her bosom companion now. If she accepts the position of governess, she will occupy her days with your niece and nephews, not you. And really, it would be the greatest kindness she would be doing you, for then you shall be free to play with me.” Rebecca gave her cousin a devilish smirk.
“I am sure I should like that,” Emma acknowledged cheerfully. “Only I cannot bear the idea of Jane Fairfax in the same house as me, doing everything so much better than myself, as she has always done.”
“Jane Fairfax, better than you? Whatever can you mean?”
Emma tipped her head back and gave a loud groan of frustration. “That is how it has always been. Even though she went away so very long ago, her every move has been catalogued and reported back to us all by Miss Bates, who thinks her niece the most profound genius. How absolutely perfect Jane is, she informs us, at pianoforte, at singing and dancing, reading a hundred books, learning French and Italian!” Emma paused, huffed loudly, and screwed up her face. “I am sure it is very sad that Miss Fairfax should be an orphan, but really, I find it very hard to feel pity for her when she is constantly pronounced to be such an expert at everything!”
“Yes, I am sure that has been quite an arduous trial,” Rebecca drawled.
“Well, it is,” Emma insisted, gesturing wildly, but she soon began to laugh at her own ridiculousness. “Mrs. Weston has often told me that I ought to be kinder to Jane, when she does visit, but she is so very shy. So reserved! I can only imagine it is because she thinks herself so superior.”
“Oh yes, I suppose it could not possibly be the great disparity in your stations,” Rebecca quipped. “Yes indeed, far more likely that a penniless orphan thinks herself above the company of the foremost lady in the neighborhood.”
Emma laughed again. “You are a wicked creature, Cousin Rebecca.”
“I certainly cannot have you think Mr. Knightley a liar,” Rebecca teased.
“He does not think so ill of you, I am sure of it,” Emma assured her. “He is only a little stern with everybody, you know. He speaks up for what is right, always. I rather admire that about him, or at least I have done, most of the time. Of course, there have been times when his determination to do the right thing has been rather unpleasant.”
“At times such as these,” Rebecca interjected, “I daresay we should do our best to disoblige him. I am sure he would be disappointed indeed if he could find nothing in us to criticize. Mustn’t let him grow desperate!”
“I wonder what he will say about our little errand today,” Emma mused.
Rebecca made a very droll face. “He will disapprove of it, of course, though if I did not think of the idea, I am sure he would have alighted upon it himself ere long, and been very well pleased with himself for devising the scheme.”
Emma chortled. “What a shocking thing to say – but yes, you must be right. He will be very angry with us that he did not think of such a thing himself!”
“And yet, perhaps you will agree with him when he does disapprove, since you are so opposed to the plan yourself. Tell me truly, can you be quite comfortable with Jane Fairfax coming to Hartfield to look after the children?”
“If it means more days like this, spent in pleasant adult company, I shall reconcile myself to the plan very easily, in no time at all.”
“I only hope Miss Bates does not object,” Rebecca said. “I had not much time to take her measure, when first we met, though I am surprised she has not come back to call at Hartfield this last week.”
“We have Mrs. Weston to thank for that,” Emma replied. “She told me yesterday that she dropped a few not-so-subtle hints to Miss Bates that you and Mary required a little time to settle in at Hartfield, and grow better acquainted with me. It was very good of her to say such a thing, and knowing Mrs. Weston as I do, I daresay she handled it with more tact than I ever could have done.”
“It was very good of her,” Rebecca agreed. “Oh Emma, I do adore your Mrs. Weston. What a treasure! Had I a governess such as she, I might very well be as amiable as yourself, rather than a villainous harpy, bent on plaguing you with my mischief!”
Emma giggled. “Poor Mr. Knightley, shall you ever forgive him?”
“He must beg forgiveness on bended knee,” Rebecca quipped, laughing at her own absurdity.
Emma, snickering still, suddenly reached out to squeeze Rebecca’s hand. “Cousin, I am ever so glad you are here. I do not think I have laughed so much in many months!”
“Oh my, I had no idea I would be any good at cheering you up. I suppose I was only angry at Mr. Knightley because I rather feared him to be correct, that I would be of little use to you at such a time, or that I might perhaps frighten you with my wickedness.”
Emma smirked and narrowed her eyes at Rebecca. “I think you wish to be perceived as much worse than you actually are, you know. It is rather nonsensical of you, to actively wish to be so maligned, when really you are one of the most pleasant and agreeable people I have ever met.”
Rebecca actually felt herself blush. “Thank you – that is very kind. I am glad you think so, but certainly you must never tell anyone that I am capable of inspiring such sentiment. I should much prefer the reputation of a black-hearted malefactress!”
Thanks for joining me on the first stop of my blog tour! I have started a , and will be selecting a winner after each post on the blog tour! See the full schedule for the blog tour below, and click to follow me on Facebook for updates on the final installment of the Friends & Relations Series, coming soon!