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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access March 26, 2019

A Tale of Two Pianos: Actants, Sociability, and Form in Jane Austen’s Emma

  • Nikolina Hatton EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Cultural Studies


This essay examines the materiality of the two pianofortes in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815). Rather than focusing on the piano’s symbolic function—its cultural capital, for instance—this essay highlights how the physical qualities of the piano as an object enable specific plot and aesthetic effects within the novel. The instrument’s conspicuousness—the continuous human attention that it demands—allows these two instruments to become objects of sustained discourse within the plot. However, in addition to affording certain narrative effects, the piano also functions as a site of interpretive ambiguity, as the object continues to call attention to itself even after its narrative fecundity has been allegedly resolved. By examining the novel’s engagement with these pianos, this essay argues for a more open understanding of narrative agency—one that acknowledges the narrative generating and genre-undermining power of things.

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Received: 2018-08-21
Accepted: 2019-01-06
Published Online: 2019-03-26
Published in Print: 2019-02-01

© 2019 Nikolina Hatton, by De Gruyter Open

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

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