Excerpted from slate.com of the book review of Emma by Austin.

The action takes place entirely in Highbury, a small town in Surrey. This setting provides what Austen described to her niece as “the delight of my life—2 or 3 families in a Country village is the very thing to work on.” In more than any of her other novels, however, the town becomes a speaking presence, with its collective opinion often remarked upon: “Mr. Frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and a lively curiosity to see him prevailed.”

Based on this article only

  1. Does the town become speaking presence(as if it were a living person that could speak), because people, with their collective opinion, there depict the town well? (For example the town(collective opinion) was proud of Mr. Frank Churchill)

  2. What does a lively curiosity to see him prevailed mean? Does it mean "It was a spectacular thing(lively curiosity) to see him prevailed in town"?

    But doesn't the sentence structure "Mr. Frank was XXX and a lively curiosity." make "lively curiosity=Mr. Frank", miss subject in "to see him prevailed" and make it very strange as not depicting how people felt about seeing him prevailed? Is it better to write "Mr. Frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and it is a lively curiosity to see him prevailed."?

1 Answer 1

  1. You have understood it pretty well; the author says that the town as a whole, the community in which the story is set, becomes a sort of collective character.

  2. You've misparsed this; prevail is an intransitive verb, so prevailed cannot be taken as a passive participle acting as predicative complement to see:

    They wanted to see him *prevailed. (* marks an ungrammatical use)

    Instead, prevailed should be read as a past-tense finite verb having the approximate sense "was present everywhere". A lively curiosity to see him is the verb's subject, and the phrase to see him is the complement of curiosity, the "object" of everyone's curiosity.

    Mr. Frank Churchill was one of the boasts of Highbury, and practically everybody was curious to see him.

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