It may seem a strange question in our modern world but it seems to me many are asking it. Now that there are so many opportunities for men and women to find satisfaction in their workplaces and their careers some people are perversely turning their back on such values and reinstating the need for pleasure in our domestic lives. No one would want to be exclusively confined to a domestic sphere but it can be a place where happiness is found for certain periods of our lives.
Egotistical-Emma, in Emma, wants us to believe that the local farmers, the Martins and Mr Martin in particular, are living an inferior lifestyle. Yet when we look more closely at the Martin way of living it is almost idyllic: there are moonlight walks, espaliered apple trees, a pretty gravel walk, walnuts, and even a shepherd boy brought near the fire to sing to the family. It is more akin to a pastoral idyll. The sisters are sweet and the son, we are told, is good to his mother, (which we know is a clear indication he will be a good husband.) It is an enviable position for anyone and it only needs foolish Egotistical-Emma to realise this and Harriet will be free to choose such an advantageous lifestyle. Jane Austen is revealing the simple life aligned to nature is worthy.
Donwell Abbey, also in Emma, was similar although grander. It is the home of Straight-Talking-Mr Knightly who clearly enjoys the farming aspects of his property. He is not a captive to fashion. Donwell Abbey has an “abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up.” It is the best of the English countryside. As an antipodean, I know this is not about England being superior, but of the local being special. Sure, parts of England are beautiful. Just as parts of Italy, Australia, Chile or Ethopia are beautiful. The fashion of thinking one place as superior to another is what the problem is. It is your local that matters. As I ride my bike down by the Merri Creek in Melbourne it is the same. Learning to love and preserve the beauty of our own local landscape is what matters, not the beauty of other more exotic locations. It is especially true because the local is very egalitarian; we can all enjoy it but for an ability to put our boots on. And Austen renders her local as exquisite. When the picnicker’s from Emma visit Donwell Abbey to delight in the season’s strawberries we hear: “It was a sweet view- sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”