"The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her."--Emma
"Paris likes Jess."
"There's no explaining attraction."
Rory chewed the end of her pencil. She'd lied to Dean. She'd lied to Dean. Why hadn't she just told him the truth over the phone? She could have explained everything, said that Jess had come over, that he was there with her and Paris. Why hadn't she?
Rory sighed and tried to turn her attention back to what Mr. Medina was saying.
"She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well...what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of death--this Miss Austen ignores..." can anyone tell me who said this?"
Rory tried to remember, but Paris beat her to it.
"Charlotte Brontë," said Paris. She turned to Rory and smiled triumphantly. Rory rolled her eyes and turned back to her notes.
"Excellent, Paris," said Mr. Medina. "Many people have tried to analyze and assess the value of Jane Austen's works--Mark Twain, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, Henry James, A. S. Byatt, and, as Paris points out, Charlotte Brontë, among others. If you do even a little bit of research you'll find that opinions vary greatly, from the wildly enthusiastic to the severely critical."
He walked across the room and looked at them, leaning against the windowsill.
"What isn't in question is the enormous importance of Ms. Austen to the study of literature, which is why I'm giving you this assignment today. I want you to write a paper on one or more of her books--your focus can be as narrow or as broad as you want, but I want you to give your opinion. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. I'm giving you free reign over the topic of your paper--write about anything you want. Social mannerisms, class, courtship, the choice is yours."
Rory looked over at Paris, who was already writing furiously in her notebook. She was clearly planning to write something resembling a doctoral dissertation.
"The paper should be at least ten pages," said Mr. Medina, "but I would also like you to consider writing something that could later be expanded into a term project, or a senior thesis. So make sure you choose a topic that isn't too restrictive. Okay, class dismissed!"
Rory gathered together her notes, thinking of possible subjects for her paper.
"Hey, I've read Jane Austen."
"Yeah. And I think she would've liked Bukowski."
She'd wanted to ask Jess why he thought that--it had never occurred to her to try and compare the two authors.
She shook her head, trying not to think about their conversation. It had been fun, though: a lot of fun.
And a different kind of fun from listening to music with Lane, or watching movies with her mom--it had been...challenging. Exciting. Just talking and debating with two people who loved books as much as she did.
And Paris had been different, too--no longer so angry or competitive or on the defensive. Rory felt like she could be friends, good friends, with the Paris she'd seen that night.
Maybe, if Dean hadn't called, she could have asked Jess about Bukowski and Jane Austen. No--she shouldn't think that. It was wrong to think that, it was like wishing that Dean hadn't come by.
And she was glad that he had. She would rather have spent that evening with him than with anyone else in Stars Hollow--no, anyone else in the world. There was no doubt about that. No doubt at all.
"Are you going to stand there all day?"
"Huh?" Rory came back from her thoughts to find Paris standing in front of her, hands on her hips, a frown on her face. "Oh, no. Sorry. I was just thinking."
"About the assignment?"
Paris began walking towards the door. "Finding a topic is half the battle. He said that we could cover as many books as we wanted, so clearly what he's hoping for is that we'll study them all. It's the only way to get the full scope of her writing."
"Maybe," said Rory, following her. "But it's a ten page paper, Paris. Really delving into one or two books could be better than analyzing all of them superficially."
"Ten pages is the lower limit," said Paris. "He didn't say anything about an upper limit. I wrote down everything he said, you know. You can't fool me with a trick like that. I learned that one in kindergarten."
"What? No--" Rory protested. Talking to Paris often made her feel like she needed a helmet. Or full body armor. "That's not what I--"
"Can it, Gilmore," said Paris. "Just because the word "friends" came up in our conversation last night doesn't mean that we're going to braid each other's hair and share journal entries. This paper could turn into a prize-winning senior thesis. My prize-winning senior thesis. I'm going to pulverize the competition."
"Okay," said Rory, walking up to her locker. She'd learned that when it came to Paris, you had to pick your battles, and this just wasn't worth it.
"Hey!" Paris yelled, glaring at something over Rory's shoulder. "You! What do you think you're doing?"
Rory looked around to see Brad, cowering back against the lockers. "I...I...uh..." he stammered, going bright red. "I was...just...opening my...my...locker."
"No you weren't!"
Paris stepped past Rory and thrust her face forward, making Brad lean back even further.
"You were spying on us! Trying to find a topic for your paper! Well, let me tell you something, buddy. If the work you submit bears even a passing similarity to mine, I will find out. And I'll make sure you live to regret it. You got that?"
"Y-Y-Yes." Brad had now turned a delicate shade of green. "I'm sorry, Paris."
He turned and fled. Paris turned back to Rory, a satisfied smile on her face. "Well, there's that problem taken care of. See you, Rory."
Rory watched Paris walk away down the hall, shaking her head. But oddly enough, she didn't feel the anger and resentment towards the other girl that she would have felt a year ago.
In fact, she almost felt like laughing. There was no one like Paris in the world--thank goodness--but life at Chilton would be much duller without her.
Music seems scarcely to attract him, and though he admires Elinor's drawings very much, it is not the admiration of a person who can understand their worth. It is evident, in spite of his frequent attention to her while she draws, that in fact he knows nothing of the matter. He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both."--Sense and Sensibility
"So you're supposed to write about Jane Austen?" Lane licked sugar frosting off her fingers. "Anything you want?"
"Yeah," said Rory. "And the problem is, I have too many things I want to write about. How am I going to choose just one topic? Every time I pick one, I feel like there's a better one I haven't thought of yet. Like a Jane Austen buffet. I'm always regretting my pancake order."
"You know, like those pancake bars you have at a buffet where they let you order custom-made, special pancakes. And you can have anything in it that you want, and anything on it that you want. It sounds like a great idea, but really it makes me even more nervous, because if I ask for banana and almond filled pancakes with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, and I get it, and I'm about to walk back to my table all happy about my pancakes, and then the person behind me orders triple chocolate chip pancakes with banana and strawberry sauce and whipped cream with extra maple syrup, I think, "Oh, man, I should totally have ordered that!" I'm telling you, those buffets are evil. They put you in a constant state of nervous tension."
"Rory, I have no idea what you're talking about. The only kinds of buffets my mother will let me go to feature a choice between non-fat tofu, low-fat tofu, and Soylent Green-esque tofu substitute. Your description of a heavenly pancake buffet is cruel and alluring."
"Oh," said Rory. "Right. Sorry."
"You're forgiven," said Lane, swallowing the rest of her cinnamon bun. She pointed at Rory's food. "Are you going to eat that?"
"You can have it," said Rory. "It's the least I can do, after torturing you like that. Where's your mom? Aren't you afraid she's going to see you?"
"Mmm." Lane licked her spoon. "I swear, even Luke's maple syrup is better than anyone else's."
She looked up. "What did you say? Oh, my mom. She's doing her monthly comprehensive Bible review. She was just getting started on Isaiah when I left: I'm safe for at least ten more minutes."
"Doesn't she read the Bible every night?"
"A quick, casual, ordinary dedicated church-goer reading, yes. This is the full-on Bible-a-Palooza, with footnotes and cross references and calls to the Jesus-Is-Your-Friend hotline."
"I know. I feel depressed just talking about it. Let's get back to Jane Austen. Now, I haven't read her books, but I've seen the movies."
"Which one's your favorite?"
"Sense and Sensibility."
"Ah," said Rory. "Ang Lee?"
"Of course," said Lane. "You can't go wrong with the man who gave us The Ice Storm. Also, Alan Rickman."
"Ah ha! Now I know the real reason behind your enthusiasm."
"Shut up," said Lane. "Everyone knows that all the Austen men are totally dreamy."
"I'm surprised you went for Alan. Most girls love Mr. Darcy."
"Let the unsophisticated philistines drool over Colin Firth. I prefer my dark and broody with a touch of melancholy. And his voice, my God. Now that's a religion I can live by."
Rory smiled. Almost involuntarily she looked over towards the counter, where Jess was taking orders. He didn't seem to be listening--in fact, he didn't even look up from his notepad.
Rory was disappointed--she thought he wouldn't have been able to resist joining in their conversation, but apparently, she'd been wrong.
She turned back to Lane, who was still rhapsodizing about Sense and Sensibility.
"The cinematography is amazing. And so is the music. Which one's your favorite?"
"Actually, I haven't seen all the movies, so I can't judge," said Rory. "But Sense and Sensibility is definitely an excellent adaptation."
"But not your favorite book," said Lane. "Come on, Rory, I can hear it in your voice."
"Well..." Rory looked down at the table, tracing a pattern on it with her fork. "I didn't really like either of the couples. Especially not Marianne marrying Colonel Brandon at the end."
"Blasphemy!" Lane raised her eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. "You dare to criticize Alan Rickman?"
"He did a great job with the part, it's just..." Rory crinkled her nose. "It says in the book that Marianne married him without being in love with him. And then it just gives you one sentence saying that she came to love him afterwards. It's like she settled for him. It's not very satisfying."
"You'd rather she got married to the bad, wicked Willoughby and got her heart broken?" Lane thought about this for a few seconds. "You know, I can see what you mean. It's like going for the drummer. You know it's going to end badly, and the bass player is a much nicer, steadier guy. But the lure of the sexy drummer is irresistible."
"Lane!" Rory laughed. "I'm going to go pay, okay?"
"Not a look, or an offer of help had Fanny given; not a syllable for or against. All her attention was for her work. She seemed determined to be interested by nothing else. But taste was too strong in her. She could not abstract her mind five minutes; she was forced to listen; his reading was capital, and her pleasure in good reading extreme. To good reading, however, she had been long used; her uncle read well--her cousins all--Edmund very well; but in Mr. Crawford's reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what she had ever met with."--Mansfield Park
"That'll be ten-fifty."
Rory counted out the money. As she stretched out her hand to pay, she noticed the book in Jess's hand. It was Emma.
"Ha! I knew it!"
"Knew what? Are you going to take your change, or not?" Jess had an exasperated look on his face, but Rory was sure that he didn't really mean it.
"I knew you were listening to what we were talking about. Why didn't you say anything?"
"What, Jane Austen?" Jess rolled his eyes. "Look, I didn't feel like getting into the whole movies vs. books debate, okay? Not my thing."
"We didn't have to talk about the movies," said Rory, her voice faltering. "I just thought--it was a lot of fun that night, with you and Paris."
"Yeah, until you literally pushed me out the door," said Jess.
"I'm sorry," said Rory. "I didn't mean--I just didn't want to fight with Dean, that's all."
"It's okay." Jess shrugged. "It's not like you invited me over, anyway."
"But--" Rory paused. She wasn't sure if she should say this--but it was the truth. "I'm glad you came."
Jess looked up.
"Really, I am," said Rory. "I love talking about books. And there isn't really anybody around who can--well, except maybe Paris. And even she doesn't usually talk the way she did when we were--she was different, that night. Nicer."
"Probably because she's not competing with me for a grade," said Jess, smiling. Rory smiled back in relief.
"You know, that's my favorite Austen," she said, pointing to his book.
"Emma?" Jess laughed outright. "A princess in a village full of weirdos who all worship her. Go figure."
"That's not true!" Rory felt herself blushing in indignation. "I'm not--this isn't--the people in this town are not weirdos!"
"Oh really." Jess crossed his arms. "I'll take Miss Bates over Taylor any day. Or even the Eltons."
Rory tried not to smile. "Okay, so maybe it's a little weird. But Miss Bates is a good person. And so is Taylor, deep down inside."
"If you say so." Jess started wiping down the counter. "So, was Emma always your favorite? Not Pride and Prejudice?"
"How did you know that?" Rory felt astonished. "I used to like Pride and Prejudice best. But I think I outgrew it."
"Too 'light and bright and sparkling'?" Jess grinned. "It has that effect."
Rory didn't know what to say. He was driving her crazy.
Most of the time she had no idea what he was thinking, what he was going to do next, or why he was doing it--realizing that he'd brought over the care package because he'd wanted to see her had been an exception.
Now they were back to him apparently reading her mind and her having no clue.
"You know," said Jess, "I would have thought that your feminist sensibilities would be offended by all the matchmaking. Doesn't it bother you that Emma has to listen to lectures from a guy called Mr. Knightley who lives at Donwell Abbey?"
"Well." Rory hesitated. The truth was, it had bothered her a little--and normally she would have admitted the fact.
Right now, though, she felt an urge to defend one of her favorite books unconditionally. She wanted to see how far she could push this debate.
"That's just looking at the surface of things," she said. "Emma isn't the only one who learns new things. Mr. Knightley learns from her, too. He admits that she'd seen genuine, valuable qualities in Harriet Smith that he'd missed. And..."
"And?" Jess had stopped working, and was looking straight at her.
Rory felt herself blushing, but she kept going.
"And--she teaches him how to love. How to be in love. And I know that sounds awful and cheesy and you'll probably laugh at me, because it's not cool to talk about stuff like that, but not everybody knows how to love. Mr. Elton doesn't. Mrs. Elton doesn't. And Mr. Weston and Mr. John Knightly only half know it, and it's one of the most important things you can learn in life. So I don't care, go ahead, laugh at me, because I know I'm right and I'm not ashamed to say it."
She paused to catch her breath. Jess remained silent for a while, then one corner of his mouth quirked up.
"So what you're saying is that the only things women have to teach men in the book are about the sentimental, emotional stuff, while the men give lessons on moral principles and propriety? Still sounds unbalanced to me."
"It isn't," said Rory. She'd suddenly thought of something that would win her the argument, and her next words came in a rush.
"Because with the other main couple in the book, it's the reverse. Jane Fairfax teaches Frank how to behave, and become a better person, and he's the only one who can break down her reserve and make her blush. So it is balanced. Or at any rate, more balanced than a superficial reading makes it appear."
"Huh," said Jess. "You know, I think there's a topic for your paper right there."
"Maybe you're right," said Rory. "That could work."
"Unless there's something better that you haven't thought of yet," said Jess, in a teasing voice.
"Stop it!" Rory sighed. "Now I'm back to square one."
Rory noted, however, that he didn't look in the least apologetic. She looked back at the book in his hand.
She wondered if he'd made notes in the margin. Normally, she would have been horrified if somebody had written in one of her books--it would have seemed like vandalism. But she hadn't been angry when Jess did it.
She'd read through her copy of Howl a dozen times since that night, seeing things in it that she hadn't even suspected were there, hadn't known to look for. She'd felt anger, and pain, and confusion that she had never known in real life.
She wanted to know what Jess saw in Emma.
"Can I, um..." She cleared her throat. "Could I look at your copy?"
Jess held out the book. "Sure. You want to borrow it?"
"No." Rory blurted out the answer, then immediately regretted it. Why had she refused?
There wouldn't be anything wrong in borrowing a book from Jess. It wasn't as if he was giving it to her, as a gift.
And there wouldn't be anything wrong in that, either. What was wrong about someone giving their friend a book? Absolutely nothing.
"I...um. I have my own copy at home," she said. "I just wanted to look something up right now, that's all."
She flipped through the pages, glancing at what Jess had written, but somehow her eyes just glided over the words without taking them in. She could feel him watching her.
Finally, she came to the following passage.
"Emma's colour was heightened by this unjust praise; and with a smile, and shake of the head, which spoke much, she looked at Mr. Knightley.--It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from hers, and all that had passed of good in her feelings were at once caught and honoured.--He looked at her with a glow of regard."
Next to it, Jess had scribbled, Charlotte Brontë didn't know squat.
"What's so funny?" Jess was staring at her, looking amused.
"Nothing," she said, handing the book back. "It's just--it turns out we agree on something about Jane Austen, after all."