Misreading the Signs {Book Club}

Misreading the Signs {Book Club}

Sometimes we see what we want to see.

I have no idea why the Enneagram keeps coming to mind as I read Emma—that was not my intention when I set out to read this book, haha. As an Enneagram 6 though, I can often read a situation based on my own biases and fears. But can’t we all?

A project I’ve poured my energy and focus into doesn’t work out, so it must be my fault, right? My friends got together without me and it must be because I’m a terrible companion and they didn’t want me there.

In this week’s section of Emma, we see several cases where the signs were misleading, and the characters got carried along by what they wanted to see.

I did not feel sorry for Mr. Elton, although misunderstandings about one’s affections can be a terrible blow. He thought Emma cared for him and only thought of Miss Harriet Smith as a friend of Emma’s and nothing more. Emma saw his interest as a win for her in the matchmaking department and a win for Harriet who would benefit from a marriage to Mr. Elton. Everyone got a bit mixed up and it led to a very awkward carriage conversation between Emma and Mr. Elton, and some pain and heartache for Emma and Harriet.

Harriet was most gracious through it all. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had been angry with Emma for interfering and leading her on. We read about her reaction in chapter seventeen: “The confession completely renewed her [Emma’s] first shame—and the sight of Harriet’s tears made her think that she should never be in charity with herself again. Harriet bore the intelligence very well—blaming nobody—and in every thing testifying such an ingenuousness of disposition and lowly opinion of herself, as much appear with particular advantage at that moment to her friend”.

When I’ve read a situation incorrectly or have to apologize to a friend for being in the wrong, it can be easy to want to shift the blame off myself. Why is it so terribly hard to admit when we’ve made a mistake? I was rather amazed that Emma was so honest with Harriet about her fault in the situation.

I’ve read that Emma, while not a fast-paced novel with intense action, does provide us a look into society at the time. I laughed at this line at the start of chapter twenty-nine: “It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at a ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind”.

Dances, parties, fancy meals, visiting back and forth between homes. These were a normal, everyday occurrence in Emma’s world. For us, we can reasonably go for days or hours without texting someone, checking social media, turning on a television, or sitting down at a computer. The way that we connect with each other has changed dramatically! I can count on one hand the number of dances I’ve been to in my life.

What do you think about the story so far? What do you think of Emma’s budding friendship with the newly arrived Mr. Frank Churchill? Do you think you would have fit in to Emma’s world? Let us know in the comments!

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:

March 24th: Chapters 30-43

March 31st: Chapters 44-55

What’s Coming Up:

In April we will be reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Here’s a description of the book from Amazon: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . the only way to survive is to open your heart.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Sam March 16, 2020

    I love Emma, it is such a fabulous story and one that I have read over and over. The film adaptations have been very good too, which can make for a special treat after finishing the book.
    I also never felt any sympathy for Mr Elton, he is selfish and ambitious and didn’t like Emma for who she was, only for her station.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 18, 2020

      I’m hoping to watch the latest Emma adaptation after we finish the book- or when it becomes available. 🙂

  2. Michele March 17, 2020

    I was getting a bit tense at the end of the last section, waiting for it to come out that Mr. Elton was actually after Emma the whole time, so it was kind of a relief when it did, and Emma had a heads up before he made the advance. I liked Emma more, too, for how she handled it and was humbled by Harriet’s attitude about the news.
    Is anyone else all the more annoyed with Elton because he’s the vicar? I understand that it was just a job in that setting (for many) and that actual relationship with Jesus and living by his values was either unheard of or radical. But his attitude and actions make me even sadder about the focus on money and position in society. Maybe it’s because I live in a part of the world where that kind of system is still blatant in society, but I keep thinking about how it would be to live in that society as a follower of Jesus. As innocent as it seems to us compared to the current immorality of the west, the society has a very ‘worldly’ feel. I wonder if I would have just gone with the cultural flow or pushed against it. (Sorry if I’m getting to deep for a novel clearly written for pure entertainment- I am enjoying the story! This is just where my mind has been going lately!)

    1. Phyllis March 17, 2020

      Don’t be sorry for going deep. I was a little annoyed about that, too, but I also had to remind myself that it was just a job in those days. Sad.

      Sarah asked if we would have fit in. I think I would have been in a much lower level of society, looking up at those “oligarchs” and shaking my head.

      (And Elinor Oliphant is next?! I read that recently and loved her. It will be a great book to read in a group.)

    2. Sarah Hilkemann March 18, 2020

      I love those deep thoughts, Michele! I did think it was sad that often vicars were portrayed in this way in books from that time period. It seems they were very poor representations of Christianity. 🙁

  3. Rachel Kahindi March 17, 2020

    Thinking about fitting in Emma’s world is kind of like trying to fit in Kenya. Social status is so important here, like it was for them. Although my family would have been servants for Emma’s class of people, here in Kenya I’m given the highest status. I think I would have been more satisfied with the servant status.

    Frank Churchill makes me uncomfortable. Not sure what he’s all about yet. Also not convinced he went to London for a day just for a haircut.

    I haven’t finished this week’s chapters yet. But so far, the only character that I really like is Mr Knightley. Also will sometime please tell Mrs Bates to stop talking? 😉

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 18, 2020

      Rachel, I’m also not sure how I feel about Frank Churchill! I don’t want Emma to fall for him. 🙂 Mr. Knightley seems to be the only level headed one in the book so far.

      I know what you mean! I come from a lower middle-class family in the US, but was honored in Cambodia (for the most part) as a foreigner. I’m not sure where I would have fit in, but am not sure I would have appreciated the focus on social structures and the constraints that came with it.

  4. Jenny March 19, 2020

    I’ve been familiar with Velvet Ashes for a while now, but I had no idea that there was a book club associated with it! And I happen to be reading Emma as I am reading through all of Jane Austen’s novels this year, and I was so happy to come across a Facebook post “advertising” this book club! AND it just so happens that I finished the chapters for this week earlier this week! Winning.

    I love Emma (both the book and the character!). I’m always struck by just how mundane life is for these people in Highbury, but at the same time it is in the mundane that the stuff of life happens. Jane Austen is such a master of showing human nature in such everyday characters and everyday life, cleverly holding up a mirror to what present-day life might look like for any of us in the daily goings-on and conversations we have with people. It’s such a relational story, more than Jane Austen’s others, I feel like. Emma’s relationship with her father, with Mr. Knightley, with Mrs. Weston, Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax, and Harriet… I don’t know, I’m shooting from the hip here a bit, but the story is very much about her relationships with these people more than anything that actually “happens” in the story, if that makes any sense.

    Aaahhh, Frank Churchill. It is worth reading Emma more than once because of this guy! I know how the story ends, so now reading it again (by the way, I’m listening to it this time on Audible with Juliet Stevenson as the narrator, and it is EXCELLENT), Frank Churchill’s character is especially interesting to observe. But I don’t want to spoil anything. He is something else, though!!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 19, 2020

      Jenny, wow, what amazing timing!! 🙂 So glad you can hop into the Emma conversation!

      Now you’ve got me so curious to learn more about Mr. Frank Churchill. 🙂

      The relationship dynamics are so interesting, aren’t they? I definitely want to pay more attention to that as I keep reading. Thanks for pointing that out!!

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