Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Moment Notebook: "Emma," vol. 1, ch. 6

Marie–Denise Villers: "Young Woman Drawing" (1801)
From the Met's Heilbrunn Timeline.
In chapter 6 of the first volume of Jane Austen's Emma, the title character is trying to make a match between Mr. Elton, the local vicar, and Harriet Smith—a pretty girl from the village school of no social rank whatsoever (Austen's phrase: "the natural daughter of somebody") whom Emma Woodhouse has attempted to "cultivate" as a kind of charity project. Emma fails to see that Mr. Elton is actually falling for herself, not Harriet: she agrees to produce a portrait of her young friend in the hopes of enticing Mr. Elton to fall further in love, not realizing that Mr. Elton is more interested in the artist than the subject.

There are several things that I love about this chapter that I haven't seen sufficiently appreciated elsewhere. One is its summary of the dynamic between Emma and Harriet through the metaphor of artist and subject—Emma trying to craft the raw material of Harriet into whatever she likes, not necessarily a faithful representation of what Harriet actually is. This subplot of Emma is the grandparent of Shaw's Pygmalion: a comic drama concerning how much a person's social habits can be changed when elevated from one social stratum to another, where the stakes are the potentially devastating consequences of failure in the form of hybridity—being comfortable neither in one environment nor the other, with all suitable matches lost in the process.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Apple-ogy accepted

... means never having to say you're apple. (Credit.)
Fun Korean lesson for the day: the word for "apologize" is sagwahada, which sounds like you're saying that you're "doing (hada) an apple (sagwa)." In point of fact, this is a homophonic accident of etymology: sagwa apology is a loanword from Chinese xièguò (謝過, now apparently quite defunct), phonetically fudged a little, while sagwa apple is a loan from Chinese shāguǒ (沙果): they both turned into "sagwa" in Korean. But it's hard not to imagine holding out an apple to say you're sorry!