It is a rare date that Austen mentions in her works, but one of them is today, December 24: Christmas Eve, “(for it was a very great event that Mr. Woodhouse should dine out, on the 24th of December)” [Emma Vol. I, Ch. xiii]
While we usually associate Mr. Woodhouse with often curmudgeonly weather-obsessed behavior, here he is most eager to get all wrapped up and head over to Randalls:
Mr. Woodhouse had so completely made up his mind to the visit, that in spite of the increasing coldness, he seemed to have no idea of shrinking from it, and set forward at last most punctually with his eldest daughter in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than either of the others; too full of the wonder of his own going, and the pleasure it was to afford at Randalls to see that it was cold, and too well wrapt up to feel it. [E, Vol. I, Ch. xiii]
So it is not dear Mr. Woodhouse who is Scrooge this Christmas Eve, but Austen is adept at creating one, and long before Dickens ever did:
‘A man,” said he, ‘must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this, for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow; I could not do such a thing. It is the greatest absurdity — Actually snowing at this moment! The folly of not allowing people to be comfortable at home, and the folly of people’s not staying comfortably at home when they can! If we were obliged to go out such an evening as this, by any call of duty or business, what a hardship we should deem it; — and here are we, probably with rather thinner clothing than usual, setting forward voluntarily, without excuse, in defiance of the voice of nature, which tells man, in every thing given to his view or his feelings, to stay at home himself, and keep all under shelter that he can; — here are we setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow. Going in dismal weather, to return probably in worse; — four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home.” [E, Vol. I, Ch. xiii]
Well, “Bah! Humbug!” to you too, John Knightley! – he is our Scrooge this Christmas Eve [indeed, I believe that Isabella has married her father!] and his ill humor continues throughout the evening – ending of course with his gloomy and overblown report of the worsening weather that sets off three full pages of discussion on the risks of setting out, on the possibility of being snowed-in, on the cold, on the danger to the horses and the servants – “‘What is to be done, my dear Emma? – what is to be done?’ was Mr. Woodhouse’s first exclamation…” and it all is finally “settled in a few brief sentences” by Mr. Knightley and Emma, certainly foreshadowing their success as a companionable couple.
Fig. 3 'Christmas Weather'
And this leads to one of Austen’s most comic scenes – the proposal of Mr. Elton, Emma trapped in the carriage alone with him believing that “he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine, and felt sure that he would want to be talking nonsense…” – which of course he does…
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, with much snow on the ground (but not enough to trouble your carriage), some song and wine (but not enough to induce unwanted and overbearing offers of love and marriage), and the pleasure of good company (with hopefully no Scrooge-like visitors to whom you must either “comply” or be “quarrelsome” or like Emma, have your “heroism reach only to silence.” )
P.S. – And tonight pull your Emma off the shelf and read through these chapters in volume I [ch, 13-15] for a good chuckle! – this of course before your annual reading of A Christmas Carol.
1. Emma’s Christmas Day Paper Doll at Fancy Ephemera.com
2. Dinner at Randalls at Chrismologist.blogspot.com
3. ‘Christmas Weather’ at Harlequin Historical Authors
4. Vintage postcard in my collection
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