Characters in Jane Austen’s Emma (1816) frequently, eagerly, and usually mistakenly impute thoughts to others. This essay explores cognitive science’s claims about thought-attribution—people guessing other people’s thoughts—in order to reinvigorate long-standing formal concerns of novel theory including free indirect discourse and narrative closure. My aim is not, though, to ratify Austen’s style through the claims of cognitive science. I look to her presentation of thought-attribution as a way to reassess her use of free indirect discourse and to reevaluate her depiction of feminine power. This essay asks what Austen’s portrayal of minds attempting to read others tells us about her narrator’s entry into her characters’ minds, and it finds answers to this question in the novel’s word games. In their presentation, solutions, and responses, riddles reveal Austen’s foundation of her novelistic style in the mental habits and shortcomings of her characters’ very human natures.
“To Know What You Are All Thinking”: Riddles and Minds in Jane Austen’s Emma
Jeanne M. Britton is curator in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections and affiliate faculty in the English department at the University of South Carolina, where her teaching and research focus on literary form and book history in Britain and Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is completing a manuscript on sympathy and the form of the novel between 1750 and 1850.
Jeanne M. Britton; “To Know What You Are All Thinking”: Riddles and Minds in Jane Austen’s Emma. Poetics Today 1 December 2018; 39 (4): 651–678. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7150924
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