At Steventon Rectory, Jane lived in a house with five brothers (the 6th lived elsewhere), a father, and his male student boarders. As an author she chose not to write scenes showing men talking. In my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily mean she knew little about the way men spoke or thought. Unless the rectory was well carpeted and insulated, she must have overheard any number of conversations between her brothers, or her father and other males. Yet there is a perception that Jane did not know enough about men talking in private to write about the topic. Ian MacKean observes: “The men may well have discussed politics, but not with the women, and Jane Austen never writes scenes with only men present, for the simple reason that she could never have witnessed such a scene herself.” While Mr. MacKean might be correct in his first observation, how can he know that Jane could NEVER have witnessed two men talking politics? Jane lived in a household where reading and conversation were encouraged, and where the family gathered together to entertain each other and read to each other. MacKean’s conclusion, which is echoed by others from multiple sources, makes little sense to me. I am not a scholar, but I cannot imagine that Jane was never alone in a room with two or more men, and that they always limited their conversation while this lively, talented, and opinionated woman was present. Steventon Rectory was crowded, and I imagine at times it was impossible for Jane to find a private spot with so many people (translate males) in the house.
In this passage in Emma, Jane writes the rarest of scenes: that of two brothers talking about their land holdings. They are the Knightleys to be more specific. This manly dialogue is an unusual occurrence in Jane’s novels, so enjoy.
The brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits, but principally of those of the elder, whose temper was by much the most communicative, and who was always the greater talker. As a magistrate, he had generally some point of law to consult John about, or, at least, some curious anecdote to give; and as a farmer, as keeping in hand the home-farm at Donwell, he had to tell what every field was to bear next year, and to give all such local information as could not fail of being interesting to a brother whose home it had equally been the longest part of his life, and whose attachments were strong. The plan of a drain, the change of a fence, the felling of a tree, and the destination of every acre for wheat, turnips, or spring corn, was entered into with as much equality of interest by John, as his cooler manners rendered possible; and if his willing brother ever left him any thing to inquire about, his inquiries even approached a tone of eagerness.