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Jane Austens Emma and the Romantic Imagination To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour --William Blake Auguries of Innocence Imagination to the people of the eighteenth century of whom William Blake and Jane Austen are but two involves the twisting of the relationship between fantasy and reality to arrive at a fantastical point at which a world can be extrapolated from a single grain of sand and all the time that has been and ever will be can be compressed into the space of an hour What is proposed by Blake is clearly ludicrous--it runs against the very tide of reason and sense--and yet the picture that the imagination paints of his verse inspires awe The human imagination supplies the emotional undercurrents that allows us to see the next wild flower we pass on the side of the road in an entirely different and amazing light In Austens Emma the imagination is less strenuously taxed because her story of sensibility is more easily enhanced by the imagination more easily given life than Blakes abstract vision of the great in the small because Emma is more aesthetically realistic However both rely on the fact that the correspondence of world and subject is at the center of any sensibility story yet that correspondence is often twisted in unusual and terrifying shapes Edward Young 1741 The heroine of Austens novel Emma Woodhouse a girl of immense imagination maintains it by keeping up with her reading and art because as Young contends these are the mediums through which imagination is chiefly expressed by manipulating the relationships between the world and the subject at hand However even in this Emmas imagination falls short The soul might have the capacity to take in the world or the atom if it werent for the bodys limitations getting in the way
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