'Without you, I am nothing': On the Counterfactual Imagination in Emma

Emily Rohrbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Positioning Austen's Emma in relation to a number of other nineteenth-century novels, this essay proposes that the novel's strategic restraint of its readers’ counterfactual imagining, enacted through repeat reading, affords a minor countermeasure to the contingencies of readership. By staging the counterfactual imagination as the impossible, that is, Austen's narrative strategies in Emma attempt to rein in the reader's imagination of the counterfactual, acknowledging at the same time the uncertainties of the narrative's future once committed to print and as a book in the hands of unpredictable readers. While critics have observed the geographical and social claustrophobia of the novel, and traced that sense of closing in as well in the extensive use of free indirect discourse, this essay extends our understanding of the novel's tight setting of limits to its handling of narrative contingency and of the counterfactual imagination, enacted especially in the experience of repeat reading.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-488
Number of pages18
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number3
Early online date27 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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