Unconscious Motives in Jane Austen's 'Emma'


  • G.A. Wilkes


The words 'unconscious' and 'unconsciously' occur twenty times in Jane Austen's six novels, with various levels of meaning. The simplest instance is the 'unconscious Marianne' of Sense and Sensibility (p. 333), unconscious because she has fallen asleep. The word is applied in a similar way to the trees of Norland Park, in "Marianne's romantic imaginings about them after her departure: 'you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!'(p. 27) When Catherine Morland is despatched so unceremoniously from Northanger Abbey, and the post-chaise passes the turning to Woodston, she thinks of Henry Tilney 'so near, yet so unconscious' (p. 230), and her grief and agitation are excessive. In these instances 'unconscious' means inert, or unaware, or lacking the capability of awareness. On other occasions it applies to a state of abstraction, or of absorption in other things.