Jane Austen uses the word ““very”” in Emma (1815) at a surprisingly high frequency, one that significantly outpaces its appearance in her other novels as well as in the works of her contemporaries. This essay resists dismissing this smallish word as a nugatory accidental and explores its possible interpretive functions, especially in light of the novel's dominant concerns with confinement and isolation. The essay argues that the ““very””-studded language of Emma indicts truth-telling in the novel, bears the linguistic fingerprint of Austen's own idiolect, and bespeaks her interest in early linguistics. The essay finds in the novel's incessant ““very””s the shaping of a subtle imagined linguistic quirk that marks small-town life. Isolation asserts itself as a dominant subtext of Emma——isolation through mechanisms as various as illness, weather, physical space, social circumstances, and, this essay argues, language. If the application of ““very”” mimics the dulling repetition of life in Highbury and the slow linguistic isolation of country-living, it also reflects Austen's extraordinary control over her own idiolect.
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Research Article| December 01 2007
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Janine Barchas; Very Austen: Accounting for the Language of Emma. Nineteenth-Century Literature 1 December 2007; 62 (3): 303–338. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2007.62.3.303
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