What is/are the main point(s) of the essay "The Tittle-Tattle of Highbury: Gossip and the Free Indirect Style in Emma" by Casey Finch and Peter Bowen? 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Taken from the article, Bowen and Finch state, "Emma's agenda is clear: the heroine must renounce her manipulative tendencies so that the novel itself can realize its own manipulations." Just as Emma must relinquish her compulsion to guide, direct, and "narrate" the social lives of certain people in Highbury, Austen herself has relinquished the function of a totally objective (third person) and a totally subjective (first person) style of narration. When Emma realizes that she loves, and has always loved, Knightley, she is recognizing her true, inner feelings. And because no one is really surprised by this, or any other, match, it is clear that Emma's inner feelings are reflective of the expectations of society (gossip) as a whole. Private is aligned with public. For example, Austen notes that the news of the engagement was not a big surprise, i.e. to Mr. Weston, "the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it."

A parallel is drawn here between Austen's free indirect style of narration and the function of community or gossip ("tittle-tattle") in the novel. Gossip reveals the mirroring function between society's expectations and the personal thoughts of individuals. It is kind of "chicken and the egg" riddle; Society informs the individual and the individual informs society.

When Emma discovers her true, private feelings, she is actually discovering that the social conditions of Highbury have already determined that her feelings, and her match with Knightley, are nearly inevitable, "now it seemed as if Emma could not safely have attached herself to any other creature" (Austen, 467). 

Emma is chastised for her meddling. But her meddling is a form of resisting the seemingly natural and inevitable marriages. These marriages are inevitable only because the dialogue between individuals and the community (i.e. gossip) inscribe them according to class rank, attractiveness, etc. Emma's meddling rejects those class and physiological inscriptions. Ironically, however, Emma is "meddled" by those same social conditions and her marriage to Knightley is, in effect, "matchmade" by the collective individual and social expectations of Highbury.

"Here the truth of the invisible narrator (located literally nowhere) and the truth of Highbury gossip (located absolutely everywhere) are completely aligned" (Bowen and Finch, 16). Using a free indirect style, Austen avoids spelling it all out objectively and also avoids speaking too subjectively through one of the characters. Austen narrates the way gossip functions. She shows, through Emma, how individuals and communities resist but in the end, "write" each other.



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