Michael Greaney, “‘The Meaner & More Usual &c.’: Everybody in Emma” (pp. 417-440)

This essay aims to read Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) not as a portrait of a pampered individual but as a story of collective or communal selfhood—that is, as the story of everybody. “Everybody”—the term is used approximately one hundred times in this novel—in Emma is both more and less than a village or a neighborhood. Spread and shared across people, discourses, bodies, and institutions, “everybodiness” is variously apprehended as public opinion, or a ubiquitous collective gaze, or a shared repertoire of constantly updated gossip-narratives, without ever being quite reducible to any one of these. With a mixture of disdain and disquiet, Emma equates everybodiness with banal group-think, senseless chatter, lackluster mediocrity, and oppressive sameness—but, even as it thinks these superciliously undemocratic thoughts, Austen’s novel grants “everybody” narrative space in which to contest the terms of its own marginalization.

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