Austen and Cavell

Taking its departure from Stanley Goldstein’s adoption of himself as Stan Cavell, this essay argues that marriage and adoption are twinned locations where normative patterns of pairing and kinship are first unstitched and then rewoven in the necessarily elusive forms of Cavellian perfectionism. After a review of Cavell’s own belated engagements with Austen’s fiction, the essay offers, first, a reading of a central Cavellian trope, remarriage, in a novel he ignores, Persuasion; and, second, a reading of Emma as a novel preoccupied with adoption. Because Cavell does not attend to cinematic Austen, I pay special attention to the 2009 Jim O’Hanlon film of Emma and argue that both the novel and the film offer a human world in which adoption and marriage are isomorphic forms suffered by and available to, however elusively, the perfectionist quest.