Finch and Bowen argue that the narrative function of gossip is ultimately to
confirm rather than to undermine the social agenda, in that it ends up coinciding
with the narrative voice of the novel: "And just as gossip in the novel is distributed
among certain members of the Highbury community, so the narrative authority of
the novel--by being located nowhere in particular--manages to be everywhere at
once" (6). Jan Gordon, on the other hand, suggests that "gossip is a kind of mass
epic with its own storytellers in Jane Austen, but one which is invariably threatening to other kinds of stories being narrated," in "A-filiative Families and Subversive Reproduction: Gossip in Jane Austen," 7. These opposing interpretations
reveal the complex ways in which gossip operates in Emma, for neither the conservative nor the radical aspect can be completely negated, as I try to show.
Finch and Bowen suggest that gossip "exercises mild disciplinary control over its
members" (7), creating a consensual set of values that are then circulated and
internalized. This is, indeed, a convincing reading, but it discounts the disruptive
effect of gossip at the moment of utterance, the way in which it forces individuals
to question their points of reference, even if the final narrative structure is one of
Glenda A. Hudson, Sibling Love and Incest in Jane Austen's Fiction, who argues that
sibling relations form a recurring model for Austen's representation of sexual
desire. For an analysis of Emma, see pp. 50-55.
Finch and Bowen argue that the function of gossip is recuperative rather than
innovative in that it reveals narratives that are, in fact, already known: "At the level
of the novel's plot, gossip frankly reveals the subject's 'secrets,' which, upon revelation, turn out to be universally known, overdetermined, and--as Mr. Knightley
likes his neighbours to be--public and open" (12).
Claudia L. Johnson also notes that this is a radical form of displacement. "In
moving to Hartfield, Knightley is sharing her home, and in placing himself within
her domain, Knightley gives his blessing to her rule" (143).
Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domertic Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Austen, Jane. Emma. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966.
-----. Mansfield Park. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans.
Caryl Emerson and
. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
-----. Rabelais and His World. Trans.
Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1984.
-----. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans.
Vern W. McGee. Austin: University
of Texas Press, 1986.
Booth, Wayne C. "Control of Distance in Jane Austen's Emma." Jane Austen:
David Lodge. London: Macmillan, 1968. 195-116.
-----. "Freedom of Interpretation: Bakhtin and the Challenge of Feminist Criticism."