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You are my sapphire anchor, exploding

Into delicate silver-plated butterflies

With the Sun’s sugary, amber kiss.


You are my Northern Lights, a

Kaleidoscopic guide to navigate me

Through the muddy hues of days.


I wear you as a symbol of infinity, an

Intricate language of Love’s dreams in

Sprawling italics across eyelids and souls.

Knitting Fate


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Champagne teardrops flow from ice sculptures

Within my heart, as slowly I look skyward,

My eyes yearning to seek solace

Inside emerald networks,

A sky laden with the luminosity of stars.


Fate hangs like the threads of a silkworm,

Delicate and dissolvable, yet radiant

With the palest beams of hope,

I gently embrace memories of the past

And the whispering promises of the future.

Time Flies


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Time outruns us all,

Pounding pavements to echo through Eternity

Time is an hourglass,

A clear structure of shedding and falling,

Where miniscule crystals cascade as sparkling seconds,

The very grains of Time.


Time is tick-tocking footsteps,

Climbing dunes and battling deserts

Against sandstorms of loss

The hourglass is spellbinding,

A mirror glazing eyes,

To reflect what once was and never will be,



Along the Lines of London


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Trains catapult through the catacombs of London, travelling along an intricate pattern of multi-coloured string, before veering off to their secret corners of the city. The screeching sound of metal-upon-metal, the sound of repetition, reverberates off the tiled walls. Walls that were once glisteningly white – clinical in appearance – are now caked in layers of historic grime and fading posters of low budget Shakespeare plays.

Seas of suits flood the platform. They are black and grey, pinstripe and tweed; waves of suits anxiously checking bulky, metallic watches. One solitary girl stands apart. The fading Converse on her right foot hovers in mid-air, outlining the tracks of the train. She inches forward, eyes closed, her battered, black satchel jostled from her left shoulder. She is swimming against the current of this darkened sea – how much further until she reaches the shore? It will be peaceful there.

She opens her eyes and looks to the scattering of dusty, amber travel cards underfoot. What invisible barrier holds this sea of suits back? What is holding her back? She digs her nails into her palm, the glittery nail varnish chipped and ugly. It is no use. She can no longer visualise her oasis – her private beach of peace. The screeching sound storms down the tunnel once again, a metallic hurricane of noise.

10:26 am.

She sighs.

And boards the train.



Postcolonial Identities


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As Caryl Phillips himself stated in The Atlantic Sound, the idea that those blacks who had been displaced from Africa somehow continued as an extended ‘family’, was soon established amongst those who had been transported on the first slave ships to set sail from the West African Coast. Phillips’ novel, Crossing the River, begins with this idea of displacement, as the nameless African father confesses to, ‘a desperate foolishness. The crops failed. I sold my children.’ However, the memory that haunts the African father is not just of his own family’s disintegration. It is rather the ‘common memory’ of dispersal and dispossession that characterises the African diaspora as a whole, this notion of the extended ‘family’. The novel incorporates the journeys of the children sold into slavery, ‘My Nash. My Martha. My Travis. My daughter. Joyce,’ in their efforts to establish new places of settlement across the world. These children of the African diaspora, Helen Thomas writes, represent an engagement with the trope of ‘crossing,’ as they are ‘seen to traverse spatial zones,’ and confront ‘social and cultural boundaries across the chasms of history and geography.’ Phillips uses this sense of a cross-cultural dimension, an ‘inter-relatedness,’ within the novel to present the identities of the African children as something which intertwines in ever-changing and unstable patterns, as each physical or cultural passage can be interpreted as a new translation of the self. Bénédicte Ledent effectively describes this relationship between ‘crossing’ and identity in the novel as the ‘tensions between roots and routes.’ Fred D’Aguiar notes that one of the consequences of the transatlantic slave trade was the severance of blacks from the ‘gravitational clutches of history.’ Phillips thus uses the ‘tensions between roots and routes,’ the rootlessness of the children of the African diaspora, to subvert people’s accepted view of history. Crossing the River is therefore a novel that attempts to look at that history from a different angle, through the prism of the people who have nominally been written out of it, or have been viewed as the victims in a particular historical storm.

            The first section of Crossing the River, entitled ‘The Pagan Coast’ is the narrative of Nash Williams, the African child sold to slave-traders by his father. Raised as a Christian by his master and father figure Edward Williams, Nash is a part of the American Colonization Society’s scheme to repatriate former slaves on the Grain Coast of Africa during the 1830s. In his first letter to Edward, Nash refers to him as ‘my dear father,’ to whom he is ‘eternally grateful’ for removing him from Africa and those ‘same robes of ignorance which drape the shoulders of my fellow blacks.’ However, as Nash’s narrative progresses, his letters reveal a developing contradictory perspective of both America and Liberia as he states, ‘America is, according to my memory, a land of milk and honey, where people are not easily satisfied,’ and, ‘some emigrants hereabouts, having previously embraced religion and displayed the patience necessary to resist the temptation of the evil one, now dance to the discordant tune of drunkenness.’ Nash’s awareness of such ambivalence marks the beginning of, as Ledent states, his own personal, internalised ‘tensions between roots and routes.’ His letters begin to register the effects of his psychological entrance into a ‘no man’s land,’ a liminal space where racial identities are exposed as arbitrary and shifting.

            Nash’s racial identity is not only shifting, but as Ledent argues, his crossing highlights that, ‘there is in each individual a plurality of interacting selves that language fails to apprehend in its full complexity.’ Nash comments upon the increasing racial tensions between himself and the natives, to whom he finds, ‘it strange to think that these people of Africa are called our ancestors.’ Furthermore, he writes that, ‘the native is generally resigned to finally admitting that this white man does talk true, for I think they have become much fond of me.’ For Nash, and his fellow black Americans who are attempting to settle a ‘small Christian empire’ in Liberia, they are treated as both white man and as coloniser. Thomas further explains this idea of ‘crossing’ within the novel as an association with ‘the fluidity of movement between cultures, the physical and cultural crossings that involve the construction of new versions of the self and the destruction / erasure of others.’ Nash is unable to contain his ‘plurality of interacting selves’, and instead rejects Edward, his master and father figure. This rejection is encapsulated in Nash’s letter to Edward, in which he writes:

            It would appear that my present domestic arrangements have caused some offense to those who would hold on to America as a beacon of civilization, and an example of all that is to be admired. Are we not in Africa? This is what I constantly asked of the blacks. But it appeared they felt I merely sought to justify my native style of living. I soon found myself effectively shunned by my fellow Americans, many of whom privately mock African civilization whilst outwardly aping the fashion and posture of persons returned home.

Nash openly aligns himself with Liberia and scorns America, as he reveals a developing political understanding of America’s hypocritical practice of continuing its slave-trading practices whilst simultaneously promoting black repatriation and missionary schemes. He refers to America as ‘a stain on the name of our country,’ severing himself from the Christian beliefs and capitalist values of the Western world that Edward has previously worked to instil in him.

            However, as Edward’s own African experience shows, this shifting sense of racial identity concerns white Americans just as much as black Americans. Ledent argues that by, ‘placing oppressor and oppressed in the same discursive universe, Phillips not only undermines the binary logic, but further challenges the centrality of race and nation in the construction of identity.’ This sense of a binary collapse is epitomised when Edward arrives at what he believed to be ‘a Gentleman’s club for white people,’ and felt, ‘surprised to discover the degree of hostility that this experience occasioned in his soul,’ after ‘a black man, clearly of American origin, answered and asked after his business.’ Edward explains this ‘hostility’ he feels by confessing that:

            Never before had he had to explain or ask anything of a colored man, and to have to do so now, and to have to do so now, and in order to gain access to the company of other white men, he found extremely difficult.

Such feelings of ‘hostility’ can be attributed to what Ledent phrases as Phillips’ ‘dispersive characterization’ as he confronts, ‘an increasing awareness that it is not feasible to subtract a culture, a history, a language, an identity, from the wider, transforming currents of the increasingly metropolitan world. It is impossible to “go home” again.’ Edward’s crossing of spatial zones has forced him to realise how unstable and fragile his own identity is in Africa, as, like Nash, his servant and surrogate son, the version of the self which he enacted in America has been effectively erased.

            Crossing the River further emphasises this collapsing of binaries by exposing how arbitrary and inadequate, yet somehow inescapable, borders are within the novel. The idea that a physical or cultural passage can be interpreted as a new translation of the self also occurs within the second section of the novel, entitled ‘West’. ‘West’ is the narrative of Martha Randolph, who, sold into slavery alongside her brothers Nash and Travis, finds herself working on a plantation in Virginia. When her master dies, Martha discovers herself and her family will be put up for auction. Martha recalls, ‘slaves. Farm animals. Household furniture. Farm tools. We are to be sold in this order. My Eliza Mae holds onto me, but it will be to no avail. She will be a prime purchase.’ This statement demonstrates that the institution of slavery has the power to both sever and commodify familial bonds within the novel. When Martha is then dismissed from Mr. Hoffman’s homestead, finding herself turned instantly from slave to fugitive slave, Phillips narrates this ‘passage’ in the call-and-response style of black sermons and song:

            For where, she was not sure (don’t care where), being concerned only with heading west (going west), away from the big river (away from Hell), and avoiding nigger traders who would gladly sell her back over the border and into Missouri.

This passage suggests that, although alone on her journey, Martha remains connected with ‘the many-tongued chorus of the common memory,’ a shared experience which resonates within the extended ‘family’ across the black diaspora.

            Now separated from her daughter, Eliza Mae, ‘Martha had a strange notion that she, too, must become a part of the colored exodus that was heading west.’ For Martha, to head west means a literal passage away from the Missouri River and its borders, which stands as a symbol of all human societal systems, particularly that of slavery. In ‘West,’ Martha explains that:

            Apparently, these days colored folks were not heading west prospecting for no gold, they were just prospecting for a new life without having to pay no heed to the white man and his ways. Prospecting for a place where your name wasn’t ‘boy’ or ‘aunty,’ and where you could be a part of this country without feeling like you wasn’t really a part.

Martha believes that she must reinvent herself in order to discover her lost daughter, Eliza Mae and, ‘she reckoned that’s just what she was going to do. Pioneer.’ Martha presents herself as a courageous and experienced frontierswoman, confessing, ‘colored folks generally got to be obligated to white folks to get clear to California, but you colored pioneers are offering me a chance.’ She assures the man that, ‘she knew all about wild and dangerous country, and had many times seen horses and oxen shot that had broken their legs and watched as the trailriders made soup out of their hides and bones.’ As Martha reveals, traversing man-erected borders by crossing the Missouri River and heading west towards California does indeed annihilate one in the eyes of others. Or, in this instance, it erases her in the eyes of ‘the white man,’ offering Martha the opportunity to transform herself from slave, to fugitive slave, to frontierswoman, in her quest to be re-united with her daughter.

            Similarly, the character of Joyce in ‘Somewhere in England,’ carries out a series of enactments of the self, demonstrating the mental borders that she must repeatedly cross in order to ensure her own survival. Following her mother’s death, Joyce recalls that when she returned from the funeral, her husband Len simply, ‘laughed at me. She died because you left her down there on her own and went off with me, he said.’ In fact, Joyce’s mother died in a bomb blast, because ‘she wouldn’t go to the shelter. She said, I’ve never had a front seat in a war, and I’m not missing my chance now.’ Yet Len’s reaction still proves to be the catalyst for a new performance of the self, as Joyce, ‘decided that on the first Sunday of every month I would take the bus into town. I would play daughter.’ Ironically, it is only after her mother’s death that their relationship improves, as Joyce confesses, ‘now that she was with her maker I had the feeling that she was listening to me. Which is more than she ever did when she had some breath in her body.’ Despite the irony of Joyce’s own relationship with her mother, Phillips presents warfare, like slavery, to have the power to fracture and destroy family units. Reminiscent of the slave auction scenes in Martha’s narrative, ‘West’, Joyce remembers the evacuee children that had arrived in her village, with only ‘an identification tag around their necks. Before us stood a dozen frightened children, the farmers eyeing the husky lads.’ In addition, when Joyce’s friend Sandra becomes pregnant by another man whilst her husband is away at war, Joyce, ‘pointed out the obvious. That this is a war. That if Tommy ends up without a father, he won’t be the first and he won’t be the last.’ Phillips highlights that the children of warfare, like those sold into slavery, are subjected to the same processes of dispersal and dispossession, which represent a threat to their own sense of self and cultural roots.

            Furthermore, Ledent draws attention to the fact that within her diaries, Joyce ‘keeps deconstructing political discourses, always foregrounding their hidden agendas.’ This is most clearly revealed in her attacks upon Winston Churchill as she records, ‘if Churchill tells me one more time that this war is being fought for freedom and true principles of democracy I’ll scream.’ She similarly claims that the wartime news, ‘just showed the Tommies. Never the Yanks. And if they did, never the Coloureds.’ As Ledent notes, however, Joyce herself contributes to this camouflaging of ‘Britain’s racial others’ as her life with Travis, the black American GI stationed in England during the Second World War, and their son Greer, who is described as, ‘like coffee,’ both become an erasure of the self for Joyce. This is revealed in her 1963 diary entry, when Joyce records a visit by her adopted son Greer, her ‘GI baby. No father, no mother, no Uncle Sam,’ who ‘for eighteen years I hadn’t invited to do anything.’ When Greer questions Joyce about his father she apologetically replies, ‘I don’t even have a picture of him. I’m sorry, love. I destroyed everything. Letters, pictures, everything. When I met Alan. It seemed the right thing to do.’ For Joyce, the only way to keep crossing such mental borders and ensure her own survival is to eradicate all traces of her former life with Travis, and thus Greer. Her new life with Alan cannot accommodate her previous enactments of the self, which emphasises that the discovery of one’s own identity cannot be an act of completion, but is rather always a continuing process.

            However for Edward, his own physical passage and crossing of borders into Africa only leads him to question whether the ‘fever, the sleepless nights, the complex welter of emotions that he had been objected to since his arrival in Africa, were nothing more complex than manifestations of a profound guilt.’ The significance of Edward’s feelings of guilt at the time of his own crossing, can be linked to Paul Gilroy’s metaphor of the ship. Ships, he writes:

            Immediately focus attention on the middle passage, on the various projects for redemptive return to an African homeland…Ships were the living means by which the points within that Atlantic world were joined. They were mobile elements that stood for the shifting space in between the fixed places they connected.

The profound guilt that Edward experiences is the realisation that there was never the possibility of a ‘redemptive return to an African homeland’ for his surrogate son Nash due to this ‘business of encouraging men to engage with a past and a history that are truly not their own.’ For Nash, there are no truly ‘fixed places,’ there is only a sense of rootlessness. The nameless African father similarly emphasises, ‘but understand. There are no paths in water. No signposts. There is no return.’ Gilroy’s metaphor of the ship thus serves to reinforce that which Wilson Harris refers to as a ‘nameless kinship and identity,’ or, as W.E.B. DuBois states, ‘the real essence of this kinship is its social heritage of slavery,’ a suffering that binds the children of the African diaspora, but similarly people like Joyce and Captain James Hamilton’s crew.

            It is the third section of the novel, entitled ‘Crossing the River,’ that is devoted to Captain James Hamilton and his manhandled crew. In this section, as Ledent highlights, Phillips ‘meaningfully disrupts the flow’ of the children’s tales and forms a creative dialogue with the writings of John Newton, a slave-trader born in London in 1725 who travelled to the West Indies as part of an extremely profitable slave-trading expedition. These writings are incorporated into the diary of the fictional Captain James Hamilton who bought Martha, Nash and Travis from the nameless African father at the opening of Crossing the River. This extended ‘family’ of slavery are portrayed as both voiceless and without identity, described merely in numbers, as Captain Hamilton’s records show, ‘Tuesday 20th April…This day buried 2 fine men slaves, Nos 27 and 43, having been ailing for some time, but not thought in danger.’ Helen Thomas links this lack of identity to the African father’s initial actions, which allowed the future of the familial bloodline ‘to disappear without trace into a sea of global transactions motivated by the slave trade.’ Mark Stein effectively explains this statement by looking at the metaphors of both ‘tongue’ and ‘ocean,’ which he believes evokes ‘the history of the linguistic and geographical displacement of enslaved African peoples.’ Stein expands on the relationship between ‘tongue’ and ‘ocean,’ continuing:

            The metaphor of “an ocean” thus evokes the traumatic experience of the Middle Passage, but its vastness and depth also bespeak a wider predicament that this literal displacement entailed. Slavocracy aimed at silencing its slave population to preclude unrest and rebellion by impeding communication…To barbaric punishments and the severing of cultural and linguistic ties with various West African cultures.

Furthermore, within ‘Crossing the River,’ Captain Hamilton reports that he:

            Made a timely discovery today that the slaves were forming a plot for an insurrection. Put 2 in irons and in the thumbscrews to encourage them to a full confession of those principally concerned. In the evening put 5 more in neck yokes.

For the slaves, it is this silence and silencing within the narrative which emphasises their rootlessness, creating a collective, nameless kinship and identity. As they leave Africa, the slaves are said to ‘huddle together, and sing their melancholy lamentations,’ as their physical crossing reveals a geographical, cultural and linguistic displacement of oceanic dimensions.

            Timothy Bewes argues that, ‘the shameful intercourse’ which initiated this worldwide African exodus, seems to ‘function to remove any notion of asymmetrical guilt from the colonial project – that is to say, any clear differentiation between perpetrator and victim of colonialism.’ Phillips does not remove any, ‘clear differentiation between perpetrator and victim,’ but rather seeks to engage in the anxieties and traumas experienced by all; both perpetrators and victims, from Captain James Hamilton to the nameless African father, and the slaves themselves. Phillips complicates the fictional character of Captain James Hamilton by portraying a Janus-like identity, emphasising once again how a physical crossing reveals the transformations involved in the constructions of the self. Hamilton is ruthless in his attitude towards purchasing the slaves, as the extracts from his log book demonstrate, ‘Tuesday 8th December…Sent Mr Foster in the yawl with goods for 5 slaves, that is to say close to 500 bars which in earlier times might have purchased 20.’ He regards the slaves as mere commodities, caught up in a network of financial exchanges. Captain Hamilton objectifies and suppresses the Africans’ existence within his journal in the same way that he attempts to sanitise and repress his participation within the slave trade itself. This attempted sanitisation is conveyed through two ardent letters addressed to his wife, revealing a man that is capable of genuine love:

            They say I am a slave to a single woman; I claim they are a slave to hundreds, of all qualities. They declare they can form no idea of my happiness, I counter with knowledge that being pleased with a drunken debauch, or the smile of a prostitute, can never give one such as I pleasure.

Furthermore, his letters portray him to be a man deeply concerned for his own family’s future:

            My soul pleasure is to dream of our future children, and our family life together. What I have in view at the end of this voyage, is so fixed in my thoughts, that to be acknowledged and rewarded by you, outweighs any hardship that I might possibly suffer.

Phillips’ portrayal of Captain Hamilton’s Janus-like identity therefore seeks to engage with this extended ‘family’ from a universalized perspective, including all who are caught in the ‘sea of global transactions’ motivated by the slave trade.

            Wilson Harrison uses this continued theme of rootlessness in order to explain the epilogue of Crossing the River. He argues that, what is needed is a ‘penetration of partial images, not a submission to the traditional reinforcement of partiality into total or absolute institution.’ He explains this idea further, stating that:

            Partiality may then begin to declare itself for what it is and to acquire a re-creative susceptibility to otherness in a new and varied evolution of community within a fabric of images in fiction and drama; it may begin to evoke inner links or correspondences with stranger cultures…so that all in all a movement occurs towards a goal that remains ceaselessly unfinished or drawn towards futurity.

The final pages of Crossing the River therefore confer a deferred meaning upon the novel’s silences by allowing all the children of the African diaspora, both past and present, to make themselves heard in their own particular way; even Joyce, who is significantly adopted by the nameless African father.  Although they have had ‘their voices hurt,’ the ‘many tongued-chorus of the common memory begins again to swell,’ as the children reveal their determination to ‘survive the hardships of the far bank.’ In spite of their rootlessness, their fragmented lives and narratives, the drum of the diaspora ‘continues to be beaten,’ its own ‘resonant pounding is borne on the wind,’ as it traverses spatial zones and confronts both social and cultural boundaries. Phillips evokes the responsibility of a father himself, as he confesses that he could not, ‘leave this novel as an analysis of fracture, because I felt such an overwhelming, passionate attachment to all the voices. These people were talking in harmonies I could hear. That doesn’t just come from survival.’ Instead, it comes from the children’s arrival ‘on the far bank of the river, loved.’ The nameless African father thus comes to embody an identity-giving counter-balance to the sufferings of displacement caused by his earlier act of betrayal. It is an identity that is rooted in this sense of a family love available for all those who have crossed the river, for the scattered diaspora – for the extended ‘family’.

Jane Austen’s Moral Relation to Language


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Jane Austen’s lifetime saw the development of the Bluestockings, originally a group of men and women who gathered to discuss intellectual topics. As Sylvia Myers outlines, ‘to be a bluestocking meant to be an impeccable member of an intellectual community which included both men and women.’ Hannah More’s poem, ‘Bas Bleu, or Conversation,’ which became the signature piece for this salon, makes the connection between education and conversation, with the exclamation, ‘Hail, Conversation, heavenly fair,’ and continues, ‘Our intellectual ore must shine, / Not slumber, idly in the mine. / Let Education’s moral mint / The noblest images imprint.’ Hannah More’s poem suggests that conversation, ‘calls forth,’ and preserves knowledge, catalysing morality, and thereby ensuring the progress of civilisation. Gary Kelly observes that the Bluestockings significantly contributed to the, ‘creation of and dialectic between what came to be considered private and public spheres.’ In the eighteenth-century itself, this creation of separate spheres, or the ‘rise of civil society,’ saw an acknowledgement of the distinction between the social domains of civility in the domestic sphere, and the public, institutional arena of politics and the state. Tony Tanner draws attention to the fact that this acknowledgement of separate spheres coincides with a new emphasis on the need for good morals among members of the propertied class. John Bowdler’s Reform or Ruin: Take Your Choice! written in 1798, registers this need for good morals as a social and political necessity that is essential to the maintenance of order in society. Tanner uses the term ‘propriety,’ to refer to decorum, morality, and good manners, stating that, for Jane Austen, ‘”society,” ultimately depended on a genuine understanding of, and commitment to, propriety; not simply a propriety expressed in a code of etiquette, or signalled by rank, or manifest in property.’ Tanner continues, arguing that the, ‘ultimate propriety on which all other proprieties depended was a true propriety of language, and all that implied.’ Jane Austen’s focus upon the ‘true propriety of language,’ enables her to dramatise the difficulty, as well as the necessity, of using language to its proper ends. She scrutinises any possible deviance from, or neglect of, true propriety, demonstrating how a thoughtless use of language can be the most insidious destroyer of character, just as a responsible use of language, and at times silence, has the power and strength of salvation.

            In Jane Austen’s novels, Bharat Tandon argues, conversation is not simply, ‘a vehicle for abstract content, nor is it just an appropriate morally objective ground against which a character can be judged.’ In a period deeply conscious of the relationship between conversation and propriety, conversation came to form less a technique than a constitutive atmosphere of Austen’s writing. Alberto Manguel uses this notion of the semi-private domestic sphere in relation to polite conversation to focus upon the very act of reading. Austen was writing at a time in which reading fiction aloud to small circles was still a common practice. Like conversation, reading could be an insistently social and collaborative act, as Manguel observes, commenting on the Austen family reading aloud to one another at Steventon Rectory:

            Reading out loud is not a private act, the choice of reading material must be socially acceptable to both the reader and the audience. Being read to for instruction or to grant the sounds supremacy over the sense, both enrich and diminish the act of reading.

In contrast to this ceremonial act of reading, Eric Griffiths notes that the early nineteenth-century also increasingly began to imply a silent communion of reader with text, in which the act of voicing was not abandoned but rather internalised. Griffiths labels this internalisation the, ‘printed voice,’ which:

            Does not give conclusive evidence of a voice; it raises doubts about what we hear in writing but it also gives an essential pleasure of reading, for as we meet the demand a text makes on us for our voices, we are engaged in an activity which is delicately and thoroughly reciprocal.

It is this double appeal of the ‘printed voice,’ that offers Austen the possibility to construct conversation as the constitutive atmosphere of her work, involving her reader in interpretative processes and puzzles, to imagine how conversations sound, and to question their true meaning.

            In 1821, just four years after Austen’s death, Richard Whately proclaimed Jane Austen to be, ‘a thorough mistress in the knowledge of human character; how it is acted upon by education and circumstance, and how it shows itself through every hour of every day, and in every speech of every person.’ As Whately implies, education impacted upon, and was inextricably linked to, the speech of the characters within Austen’s novels. For Jane Austen, education relates to, as Tanner proposes, ‘the ultimate propriety which was a true propriety of language,’ rather than any range of skills or information. This contrast between education as a, ‘true propriety of language,’ and education as a range of skills or information, is most clearly embodied in the character of Jane Fairfax in Emma. Jane Fairfax is described as receiving, ‘an excellent education,’ through the kindness of the Campbells, the family who sought charge of the child after her own father’s death. The Campbells planned that Jane Fairfax should be, ‘brought up for educating others,’ which, by the age of, ‘eighteen or nineteen she was, as far as such an early age can be qualified for the care of children, fully competent to the office of instruction herself.’ One of her only outbursts in the novel occurs as a result of this planned future for her to be a governess. When Mrs. Elton insists on aiding Jane in finding a governess position, Jane responds, ‘I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect!’ A shocked Mrs. Elton interprets her reference to ‘human flesh,’ as an aligning of the governess trade to the slave trade, to which Jane can only reply:

            Governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different, certainly, as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies.

In this scene between Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton, Austen consciously warns her reader against the very real ‘danger’ of girls, ‘coming back prodigies’ from their schooling, a position which leads Austen to present Jane Fairfax as both muted and marginalised by society.

            The ‘excellent education,’ that Jane Fairfax receives as a result of the Campbells’ care contributes to her marginalisation by Emma Woodhouse, which Mr. Knightley attributes to Emma’s jealousy, stating that, ‘it was because she saw in her the really accomplished young woman which she wanted to be thought herself.’ This is an accusation that Emma openly denies, yet she acknowledges to herself that, ‘there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her.’ Emma is as resentful of Jane Fairfax’s superior talents as she is of her silences and cold caution, as Emma muses, ‘there was no getting at her real opinion. Wrapt up in a cloak of politeness, she seemed determined to hazard nothing. She was disgustingly, was suspiciously reserved.’ However, the outing to Box Hill is one such occasion upon which Jane finds herself forced to maintain her silent reserve whilst being surrounded by the noise of duplicitous talk and behaviour. Emma and Frank Churchill in particular indulge in a word-puzzle game, a game that Mr. Knightley interprets as, ‘child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part.’ The basis of Frank’s ‘deeper game,’ lies in his full knowledge that Jane cannot speak. He cruelly prepares the word ‘Dixon,’ for Emma, having previously encouraged Emma to believe that Jane holds an attachment to Mr. Dixon, despite his secret engagement to Jane. Frank proceeds to pass the word to Jane, whose, ‘comprehension was certainly more equal to the covert meaning, the superior intelligence, of those five letters so arranged. In this scene, Austen conveys the idea that Jane Fairfax’s, ‘excellent education,’ contributes to her marginalised position in society, whilst simultaneously showing that it forms the basis for this, ‘true propriety of language,’ in which her silences become a symbol of morality and virtue.

            Almost four decades before Austen’s Mansfield Park was written in 1814, the evangelical writer, Hannah More, had herself written on the virtue of female silence. She observes:

            How easily and effectually may a well-bred woman promote the most useful and elegant conversation, almost without speaking a word! For the modes of speech are scarcely more viable than the modes of silence… A woman, in a company where she has the least influence, may promote any subject by a profound and invariable attention, which shews that she is pleased with it, and by an illuminated countenance, which proves she understands it.

The idea that a woman may, ‘promote the most useful and elegant conversation, almost without speaking a word,’ corresponds with Austen’s construction of Jane Fairfax, whose ‘excellent education,’ forms the basis for her virtuous silence, which in turn contributes to a, ‘true propriety of language’. This idea is supported in John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education, as he states that, ‘Tis Virtue then, direct Virtue, which is the hard and valuable part to be aimed at in Education; and not a forward Pertness, or any little Arts of shifting.’ He asserts from the outset that, ‘of all the men we meet with, Nine Parts of Ten are what they are, Good or Evil, useful or not, by their Education.’ Like Austen, Locke’s definition of education applies to the internal qualities rather than the external, material attributes of a character. He emphasises that young minds should be, ‘principled with inward Civility’; in order to instil, ‘the Principles of good Nature and Kindness the Ornaments of Conversation, and the out-side of fashionable Manners, will come in their due time.’ However, Locke also refers to the ‘Dangers of Conversation,’ warning young people against the temptation, ‘to cultivate an ostentatious display of factitious brilliance,’ and a superficial cleverness.

            The ‘Dangers of Conversation,’ that Locke alludes to find their clearest representative in the character of Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Through the character of Miss Bingley, Austen demonstrates how a neglect of true propriety, and a thoughtless use of language, can be the most insidious destroyer of character. Miss Bingley is described as addressing Mrs. Bennet with, ‘cold civility,’ as Bingley insists on Jane Bennet remaining at Netherfield during her illness. Austen portrays Miss Bingley’s sense of decorum to be merely a performance, as an attempt to expose to Mr. Darcy the propriety that she believes Elizabeth Bennet lacks. This is demonstrated at Netherfield, when the party has finished dinner and Elizabeth has returned directly to Jane, when Miss Bingley begins, ‘abusing her as soon as she was out of the room.’ She passes judgement on Elizabeth’s character, pronouncing, ‘her manners to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence; she had no conversation, no style, no taste, no beauty.’ Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst then proceed to discuss the nature of Elizabeth’s arrival at Netherfield, labelling it an ‘exhibition,’ as Miss Bingley muses:

            To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.

Miss Bingley’s motives for highlighting Elizabeth’s, ‘country-town indifference to decorum,’ become clear as she tells Mr. Darcy, ‘I am afraid that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her eyes.’ Furthermore, in one of her most significant attacks upon Elizabeth Bennet, she declares that she is:

            One of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.

Mr. Darcy only responds, ‘undoubtedly, there is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.’ Miss Bingley’s employment of language is therefore itself, ‘a paltry device, a very mean art.’ As Austen demonstrates, her sense of decorum is merely a façade, a position from which she may carry out her hypocritical condemnations of Elizabeth Bennet in an abuse of the, ‘true propriety of language.’

            Austen’s focus upon the ‘true propriety of language,’ simultaneously enables her to expose the emptiness of polite forms of conversation, piercing the hollowness of social exchange. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses the private dance at Netherfield, a key moment of narrative tension between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, to demonstrate this emptiness of conversation, as Elizabeth addresses Mr. Darcy:

            It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together and yet for the advantage of some, conversation about to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.

Elizabeth voicing that she thinks it, ‘would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together,’ suggests that like the dance itself, social exchange can be merely performance. Elizabeth tries to read the fellow guests’ reactions to her partnership with Mr. Darcy, as Austen writes, ‘Elizabeth took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it.’ The performativity of dance and conversation is encapsulated in Sir William’s comment to Mr. Darcy, as he says, ‘there is nothing like dancing after all. I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.’ To which Mr. Darcy, responds, ‘certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.’ Austen here demonstrates the interdependent relationship between dance and conversation. Dance has its own spectrum of values, ranging from the savage to the civilised, just as conversation may be the, ‘true propriety of language,’ or the most insidious destroyer of a character.

            In Emma, Emma Woodhouse’s, ‘power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself,’ can also lead to a deviance from the, ‘true propriety of language’. Austen does permit her reader to laugh at Emma’s comic imitation of Miss Bates, as she imagines the ‘evils’ of a marriage between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax. Emma says to Mrs. Weston:

            If it would be good to her I am sure it would be evil to himself – a very shameful and degrading connection. How would he bear to have Miss Bates belonging to him? To have her haunting the Abbey, and thanking him all day long for his great kindness in marrying Jane? “So very kind and obliging! But he always had been such a very kind neighbour.” And then fly off, through half a sentence, to her mother’s old petticoat. “Not that it was such a very old petticoat either – for still it would last a great while – and, indeed, she must thankfully say that their petticoats were all very strong.”

However, unlike this private joke with Mrs. Weston, Emma’s public attack upon Miss Bates at Box Hill does real harm, once again highlighting how a thoughtless use of language can be a destroyer of character. Whilst Emma complains that Miss Bates, ‘never holds her tongue,’ she herself cannot resist a personal attack upon Miss Bates. When Miss Bates announces to the group, ‘I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth,’ Emma retorts, ‘Ah! ma’am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number – only three at once.’ Mr. Knightley alludes to Emma’s abuse of her position, as he rebukes Emma for her poor treatment of Miss Bates:

            Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance; I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were she your equal in situation – but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and if she live to old age must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion.

This rebuke effectively renders Emma’s, ‘tongue motionless,’ as she is unable to respond to Mr. Knightley, and consequently feels, ‘the tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home.’ Austen portrays Emma’s silence to be both an acknowledgement of her poor behaviour, as she feels, ‘at her heart,’ the cruelty of her speech to Miss Bates, and a revolution of the mind that forms the basis for her moral education.

            In The Education of Emma Woodhouse, R. E. Hughes calls attention to the integral link between the moral education of Emma and the irony of the novel itself, arguing that, ‘the underlying theme of the novel is the education of Emma Woodhouse, and the recurrent irony is that Emma, who must become pupil, insists on acting as teacher.’ Emma, ‘initially insists on acting as teacher,’ in her relationship with Harriet Smith, as Austen writes, she has the:

   View of improving her little friend’s mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on tomorrow. It was much easier to chat.

As Austen here implies, and Juliet McMaster remarks, ‘conversation, unlike mere talk, must go somewhere, it must, through a process of verbal exchange and enlargement, refine on a topic and advance it.’ The idea that conversation must ‘refine on a topic and advance it,’ relates back to the development of the Bluestockings, which in Jane Austen’s lifetime was originally a group of men and women who gathered to converse on intellectual topics. Hannah More’s poem, ‘Bas Bleu, or Conversation,’ which became the signature piece for this salon, begins with the exclamation, ‘Hail, Conversation, heavenly fair,’ which, ‘Calls forth the long-forgotten knowledge / Of school, of travel, and of college!’ Like Austen’s differentiation in Emma between ‘conversation’ and mere ‘talk,’ Hannah More’s poem suggests that conversation both, ‘calls-forth’ and preserves knowledge, which catalyses morality, and provides the basis for a stable and orderly society.

            The distinction between asking and telling is a more particular instance of the difference in speech categories between conversation and mere talk. It is this distinction that Emma must learn in the process of her moral education. In the events leading to Mr. Knightley’s proposal to Emma, which Austen describes as a ‘conversation,’ he declares to her that he, ‘must tell,’ that which Emma, ‘will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment.’ Emma grapples with the distinction between asking and telling, stating that it is only as a friend that Mr. Knightley may ask for Emma’s, ‘opinion of anything that you may have in contemplation – as a friend, indeed, you may command me. I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think.’ Emma’s referral to herself as a friend prompts Mr Knightley’s proposal, a question which silences Emma, and Mr. Knightley can only exclaim, ‘you are silent, absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.’ As Bruce Stovel argues:

            Telling is easy and asking is hard, because telling is a one-way communication, a transmission of opinion and fact, whilst question-and-answer is a two way exchange. Question-and-answer is thus the core element in conversation, which is, precisely, an exchange, a mutual creation by two or more people.

This explanation of the elements of conversation reflects Samuel Johnson’s definition of the word ‘converse’ in his Dictionary of the English Language of 1755, which he describes as meaning, ‘to convey the thoughts reciprocally in talk.’ Austen’s portrayal of the differences in speech categories emphasises that Emma Woodhouse’s education, with Mr. Knightley as her mentor, lies in her learning to ask rather than tell – and thus learning to converse – which will lead to a crystallisation of morality.