Lost In Austen: Emma Cambell Webster
“You are impressed with this latest display of your wit, even if no one else is.”
For whatever reason, I’ve finished in quick succession every Jane Austen novel I could put my hands on – with the exception of the unreadable Emma. (This, although I am not a fan of hackneyed romances, 18th-century clothing, or debutante witticisms.) Webster doesn’t seem much a fan of Austen, either, so we got along.
You are Elizabeth Bennett in this post-modern re-invention, existing solely in the swirling world of parties and picturesque Miss Austen created so many years ago. Within these narrow borders are her other characters – Darcy, Woodhouse, Jane, Mr. Collins; beaux and enemies great and small. Your mission is to navigate the minefield of courtship and emerge the victor, safely encased in a happy marriage that will ensure the future not only of yourself but of your relations, as the dreadful Mr. Collins is still entailed to your father’s estate.
And you may choose to marry the dreadful Mr. Collins, if you like. Or you may marry Mr. Darcy – the first time he asks you. Or you may scorn all offers and live alone, scribbling in a garret (“It is a truth universally acknowledged …”)
Or – life is full of possibilities! – you may slip and fall into an icy lake and drown. Or be disfigured by marauders. Or you may marry unhappily, for money or expedience, and live out your days in bitterness. All of this (except the marauders) you expected, having read Austen before and being aware of her wiles. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat – as the saying goes – and there is more than one path to Happiness and True Love, even in an Austen novel. Elizabeth may happily settle with several different men, or she may end her days happily alone. To be given a choice is the real treat.
… That, and the sheer audacity of Webster’s accomplishment. The reader is required to keep lists: of accomplishments, failings, superior connections, inferior connections, fortune … your choices are, to some extent, dictated by your scores. (Are you too intelligent to be happy in this relationship? Add up the points & see.) Like in real life, some times it’s possible to throw the score-sheets away – and some times it isn’t. You may regret either move.
“Your instincts are extremely unreliable. Deduct 20 intelligence points for failing to realize it and add “Extremely unreliable instincts” to your list of Failings.”