Nina and Jane Austen
Anyone familiar with the Nina Bannister Mysteries knows that Emma’s muse is Jane Austen. No matter how incomprehensible the world seems, no matter how bleak things look, Jane is always there, whispering in Nina’s imaginative ear. And the phrase she whispers most is from the novel Emma: “A mind lively and at ease can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.”
What a marvelous line, and especially apt for mysteries!
First though, we need to get something straight. And that is that Jane Austen is often misunderstood, especially by people who know her only by Hollywood versions of her books (e.g. Pride and Prejudice.) These versions make us think of Jane as a writer of coffee table books. Jane is Downtown Abbey two hundred and fifty years before its first airing. A wonderful chance for us to imagine true British civilization, complete with Butlers and tea.
But this is not the real Jane Austen.
The real Jane is one of the best mystery writers ever, and Emma is one of the best mysteries. It is not a book about manners and courtesy and summer homes; it is a book about deception.
Think you know the truth, Emma? Well, you don’t.
Think you see clearly what’s going on, reader? Well, you actually have no idea what’s going on.
Think you know what’s going on with Jane Fairfax and why she is in Highbury?
Nope. Guarantee you, you don’t.
Nor do you know why Frank Fairfax went all the way to London.
It’s not just to get his haircut.
I dare any reader to even partially understand what’s going on in this novel during the first reading.
Red herrings galore.
Reading it shows us that we all have minds lively but at ease—that means, not working hard enough.
We’re happy to see nothing at all of the real truth.
And we see nothing that does not fit into our perceptions.
At least not until the last chapter!