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Adam McCune

Riddles and Games in Jane Austen's Emma

Teaching Notes


"Riddles and Games in Jane Austen's Emma" was first presented at the Jane Austen Summer Program of 2015, entitled "Emma at 200." Adam McCune provides a historical overview of the card and word games that the characters play throughout the novel and connects them to social maneuvers of the same characters. 

Discussion Questions 

  1. Patricia Meyer Spacks has observed that Emma is bored, but that the novel “distinguishes between acceptable and unacceptable responses to” boredom (Spacks 172). On which occasions are card games or word games presented as legitimate or appropriate, and on which occasions are they presented as illegitimate or inappropriate?

  2. Emma encourages Harriet in her collection of riddles and her infatuation with Mr. Elton. If riddle-collecting is Harriet’s “only” intellectual pursuit because Emma does not persevere in improving Harriet’s mind, what is the narrator implying about the wit of riddles and the limitations of that wit? What might the limitations of wit imply about characters who (unlike Harriet) are skilled at witty wordplay?

"Riddles and Games" handout 
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