We're now two-thirds of the way through this project...actually, farther, because Mansfield Park and Emma are Austen's longest novels, and the two remaining (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) her shortest. So I'm reasonably confident we'll be wrapping up next year. I'm taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but will be back in short order, tanned, fit, and ready to ride this baby as far as she goes.
With that in mind, I'm already prepping the publication of Vol. 2. The cover's designed and ready to roll, and in fact I've redesigned Vol. 1 to make it a matched set. I've also gone back and fixed all the pesky typos that crept into the first edition of Vol. 1. So it makes the perfect Xmas gift for any Austenphile, Janeite, or bitch on your list—whether bonneted or otherwise. (And remember, the ebook version is just 99 cents!)
Finally, there's now a Facebook page for the project. It's called Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen (which is all the characters they allowed before they shut me down). That's where I'll be updating y'all with news and tidbits, far more so than I feel is appropriate here...I may even slip in an occasional review (of, say, an Austen mash-up, or a movie adaptation or whatever). So when you get a chance, bop on over to Facebook and slap me down a Like.
Meantime, Happy Thanksgiving—and for our readers across the pond, happy whatever it is you'll be doing this month instead.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Everything is very nearly perfect in Jane Austen’s Emma-Land, the Most Magical Place On Earth™. Only one or two lingering nuisances need to be resolved before the happily-ever-after sign can go up for good, and we’ve got four whole chapters to resolve them. Clearly, we’re not in anything resembling a race to the finish line, here.
Emma is Austen’s longest novel, and beyond doubt her most leisurely. We find ourselves hovering near the end of this 462-page whopper, and it’s all been very enjoyable; but even as we wonder how she’s going to fill the 33 pages yet to come, we also wonder what she’s filled 429 pages with already. If someone were to ask you, right now, to jot down the novel’s plot, you’d have a tough time filling a paragraph. As I’ve noted previously, Emma is the least consequential of Austen’s novels; nothing much is ever really at stake. My first time through it, I got to this point in the text, saw how few pages remained, and said to myself, “Wait—this is it?” and flipped ahead, convinced I’d find phrases like unexpected disaster and unfortunately timed demise and profound disturbation in Miss Woodhouse’s situation popping out at me. But no. Emma is basically a lovely saunter through a Regency funhouse, but for me it lacks the narrative urgency, the comic intensity, of Pride and Prejudice, or even Mansfield Park. I know it has its passionate advocates; but for me, it’s Austen in lyrical, pastoral mode, and I prefer her urbane, satirical one.
About those two dangling threads: The chief of them is, of course, Harriet Smith, who readily agrees to Emma’s proposal that they avoid meeting for the time being, because of the whole my-Mr. Knightley-not-yours business.
Harriet expressed herself very much, as might be supposed, without reproaches, or apparent sense of ill usage; and yet Emma fancied there was a something of resentment, a something bordering on it in her style, which increased the desirableness of their being separate. It might be only her own consciousness; but it seemed as if an angel only could have been quite without resentment under such a stroke.
I wish Austen had given us a sample of Harriet’s reply, so we could judge that “something of resentment” ourselves. I personally like to think Harriet has belatedly discovered sarcasm, and written something along the lines of, “I will be only too happy to absent myself from the august presence of Miss Woodhouse, until such time as I am once again fit to kneel before her in unfeigned subjugation.” But perhaps I dream.
Fortunately, Emma makes good on her plan to score Harriet an invitation to John and Isabella’s house in London, and soon Harriet’s out of Highbury altogether. Which means Emma can settle back and groove without guilt on Mr. Knightley’s visits, no stinging sensation in the back of her neck reminding her “how disappointed a heart was near her, how much might at that moment, and at a little distance, be enduring by the feelings which she had led astray herself.”
If getting Harriet out of her range of vision all it takes for Emma to be able to forget about her, I don’t hold out much hope for her as a housekeeper. There’d be so much debris swept under her rugs, you’d need hiking gear to cross them. Good thing she’s got staff.
Emma’s second unresolved issue is her father, who has yet to be told of her engagement. She’s waiting for the safe delivery of Mrs. Weston’s baby, presumably because Mr. Woodhouse is currently in a state of high anxiety about that situation, and not without cause. Childbirth was a dodgy business in pre-modern times, and this is, remember, a man who turns to jelly at the threat of an open window. Emma, however, seems to have no worries on Mrs. Weston’s account, and in fact enjoys the prospect of “a fortnight, at least, of leisure and peace of mind” before the infant arrives.
As for how to fill that fortnight, she soon decides, “equally as a duty and a pleasure,” to drop in on Jane Fairfax.
She ought to go—and she was longing to see her; the resemblance of their present situations increasing every other motive of good will. It would be a secret satisfaction; but the consciousness of a similarity of prospect would certainly add to the interest with which she should attend to any thing Jane might communicate.
Meaning, of course, that Emma’s now hiding a secret engagement too, so any tips she can pick up from the expert would be just soopah.
Visiting Jane without an invitation is a bit of a risk; the last time Emma tried it, there was all that bustling about and “I’ll tell her you’re sick” and people fleeing the room just as Emma reached it. No such theatrics this time; in fact the house seems utterly still. Then Jane appears, so happy to see Emma that she meets her on the stairs, “coming eagerly forward as if no other reception of her were felt sufficient.” She looks unspeakably improved, too, from the last time Emma saw her; no longer haggard or drawn, she glows with health and vigor. Yeah, a hot guy with a couple hundred acres will do that.
Jane’s readiness to greet Emma seems to promise a nice, cozy chat with lots of confidences exchanged, but then Emma hears from beyond the door the unmistakable braying of Mrs. Elton, and there goes that.
Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton were together. Miss Bates was out, which accounted for the previous tranquility. Emma could have wished Mrs. Elton elsewhere; but she was in a humour to have patience with every body; and as Mrs. Elton met her with unusual graciousness, she hoped the rencontre would do them no harm.
Emma quickly figures out why Mrs. Elton is being so polite to her: she’s obviously in on the secret of Jane’s engagement to Frank, and she thinks Emma isn’t. This is all Mrs. Elton needs to be happy. Put her in a room with three other people and she’ll figure out a hierarchy, with herself at the top of it. This is Jane’s apartment; she’s Jane’s good friend, in Jane’s deepest confidence; and she now gets a chance to wield that confidence like a weapon, by repeatedly making little remarks hinting at the engagement, then winking at Jane and saying things like, But of course we won’t speak of that now, the implication being that Emma, seated right next to them (probably touching their goddamn knees in the tiny Bates apartment) is an outsider.
This makes for a pretty hilarious scene, as Emma and Jane can’t get a word in due to Mrs. Elton making repeated sallies onto forbidden ground, then showily retreating.
“Do not you think, Miss Woodhouse, our saucy little friend here is charmingly recovered? Do not you think her cure does Perry the highest credit? (here was a side glance of great meaning at Jane.) Upon my word, Perry has restored her in a wonderful short time! Oh, if you had seen her, as I did, when she was at the worst!” And when Mrs. Bates was saying something to Emma, whispered farther, “We do not say a word of any assistance that Perry might have; not a word of a certain young physician from Windsor. Oh no, Perry shall have all the credit.”
At one point, she does a little feint in the general direction of Frank, just enough to tease at her secret knowledge; then when Emma turns her head to look at Mrs. Bates’s knitting, she whispers to Jane, “I mentioned no names, you will observe. Oh no! cautious as a minister of state. I managed it extremely well.”
There are very few rampaging monsters in Emma, as compared to Austen’s other novels; but I have to say, Mrs. Elton is more than capable of shouldering that burden all by herself.
We get another injection of comic energy when Miss Bates returns, and nearly drops stone dead from the honor of finding Miss Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton both in her sitting room. She goes stuttering on in her machine-gun manner, but is hilariously unable to remember whether she’s permitted to speak of Frank or not.
“Thank you, dear Miss Woodhouse, you are all kindness. It is impossible to say—Yes, indeed, I quite understand—dearest Jane’s prospects—that is, I do not mean. But she is charmingly recovered. How is Mr. Woodhouse? I am so glad.—Quite out of my power.—Such a happy little circle as you find us here.—Yes, indeed.—Charming young man!—that is—so very friendly; I mean good Mr. Perry!—such attention to Jane!”
You have to laugh, imagining Jane’s agonies right about now, flanked by the two worst women in the world to be entrusted with any secret: Mrs. Elton, because her pride won’t let her conceal it; Miss Bates, because her tongue is too loose to hold it.
Emma keeps hoping Mrs. Elton will just go away already, but no, she’s waiting for her caro sposo to fetch her. “He promised to come to me as soon as he could disengage himself from Knightley; but he and Knightley are shut up together in deep consultation. Mr. E. is Knightley’s right hand.”
Apparently not so much, as Mr. E. shows up a short while later, royally miffed at having walked all the way to Donwell Abbey in the heat only to find its owner not there. “Such a dreadful broiling morning!...And no apology left, no message for me. The housekeeper declared she knew nothing of my being expected. Very extraordinary! And nobody knew at all which way he had gone…Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our friend Knightley. Can you explain it?”
Mr. E.’s put his foot in it there. Why is he asking Miss Woodhouse to explain Knightley’s behavior, when the expert on Knightley is seated right next to him? In fact, Mrs. Elton knows exactly what’s happened.
“My dear Mr. E., he must have left a message for you, I am sure he must. Not even Knightley could be so very eccentric;—and his servants forgot it. Depend upon it that was the case: and very likely to happen with the Donwell servants, who are all, I have often observed, extremely awkward and remiss. I am sure I would not have such a creature as his Harry stand at our sideboard for any consideration. And as for Mrs. Hodges, Wright holds her very cheap indeed. She promised Wright a receipt, and never sent it.”
Mr. E. begs to disagree (that’s got to cost him, later). The problem’s not with the servants, but with Knightley himself. Why, he met his estate manager, William Larkins, who “seemed rather out of humour. He did not know what was come to his master lately, he said, but he could hardly ever get the speech of him.”
Emma, of course, knows exactly what’s come to William’s master lately, because she’s it. She’s also got a pretty good guess as to where William’s master is right now, which is at Hartfield, waiting for her to get her pretty little tuckus back there. Which she makes up her mind to do right this minute, that he might be saved from “sinking deeper in aggression towards Mr. Elton, if not towards William Larkins.” I’d have put that the other way around, but never mind.
Emma and Jane have a sweet girl-talk moment as they descend the stairs. Emma says it’s probably best there were other people here today, otherwise “I might have been tempted to introduce a subject, to ask questions, to speak more openly than might have been strictly correct. I feel that I should certainly have been impertinent.”
But Jane protests: “The danger would have been of my wearying you” with all she has to say. Which is principally how grateful she is that all her friends are being so understanding about the unforgivable way she hid her engagement for so long. Emma assures her she has nothing to apologize for. But Jane knows better.
“You are very kind, but I know what my manners were to you. So cold and artificial! I had always a part to act. It was a life of deceit! I know that I must have disgusted you.”
Which is of course bang-on. Still, she and Emma agree to forgive each other, and whaddaya know, it’s another sunshine day in Emma-Land, as Emma finally hooks up with the gal pal she’s supposed to have been besties with all along. The only fly in the ointment, alas, is that they’ve reached this stage of mutual crushiness just as Jane’s on the verge of being swept away forever by Frank. But Jane assures her that there’s no danger of that happening immediately:
“…I will own to you (I am sure it will be safe) that so far as our living with Mr. Churchill at Enscombe, it is settled. There must be three months, at least, of deep mourning; but when they are over, I imagine there will be nothing more to wait for.”
Emma jumps up and down and claps her hands and says, “This is just what I wanted to be assured of. Oh! if you only knew how much I love every thing that is decided and open!” Yes, Emma says that. Austen ends the chapter here, so we don’t get to learn whether, on her arrival back at Hartfield, Knightley asks why her nose is now an inch longer.
Jump-cut to a few weeks later and the debut of a baby girl at Randalls. Emma, we learn, has been particularly hoping for a girl, but emphatically not with an eye towards setting her up with one of John and Isabella’s boys, no no no. But give her fifteen years and how much you wanna bet.
Meanwhile Emma and her man have come up against a bit of a hurdle. She’s always called him “Mr. Knightley,” ever since she was old enough to speak, but because of her feline charm it’s never sounded very formal to him. “And yet it is formal,” he insists. “I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what.” It’s a safe guess he’s already ruled out Pooky, Love-buns, and Daddy Smoochums.
As for Emma, she’s stumped, too. She remembers once calling him George, “in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but, as you made no objection, I never did it again.” Well, duh. If she wanted to offend him, she should’ve chosen something that wasn’t his actual name. Like Chico, or Killer Diller, or The Schnoz. (Can you tell I’m having fun here?)
“And cannot you call me ‘George’ now?”
“Impossible! I never can call you any thing but ‘Mr. Knightley.’ I will not promise even to equal the elegant terseness of Mrs. Elton, by calling you Mr. K. But I will promise,” she added presently, laughing and blushing, “I will promise to call you once by your Christian name. I do not say when, but perhaps you may guess where…”
We read this, and we think oh yeah baby, bam-shakka-wayoh, but it turns out she only means on the altar when they’re exchanging vows.
Despite all the affectionate banter (and there are pages and pages of it), there’s still something wedged between them; which is that Emma hasn’t yet had the courage to confess how she misled Harriet into being in love with him. “The pain of being obliged to practise concealment towards him, was very little inferior to the pain of having made Harriet unhappy.”
In fact they don’t speak of Harriet at all. Nor does anyone else; her name doesn’t even come up when John Knightley—who’s got Harriet under his roof at the moment, remember—writes to congratulate his brother on his engagement. Knightley shows Emma the letter, warning him that John “is so far from making flourishes, that any other young woman might think him rather cool in her praise.” Fortunately, Emma knows John well enough not to take offense at the terseness of his good wishes (which we don’t see, but are apparently along the lines of, You might have done worse, just don’t ask me how right now). Knightley, however, is a little put out on her behalf.
“Oh!” she cried with more thorough gaiety, “if you fancy your brother does not do me justice, only wait till my dear father is in on the secret, and hear his opinion. Depend upon it, he will be much farther from doing you justice.”
Like I said—pages of this.
Inevitably, Emma does break the news to Mr. Woodhouse, summoning up all her available resources of firmness, good cheer, diplomacy, and reassurance, and probably with a defibrillator on hand in case he goes into cardiac arrest. She tells him of “a plan to promote the happiness of all—she and Mr. Knightley meant to marry; by which means Hartfield would receive the constant addition of that person’s company, whom she knew he loved, next to his daughter and Mrs. Weston, best in the world.”
He reacts—as he does to any hint of change, of forward movement, of life—with shock and horror. He reminds Emma that she’s always said she’d never marry, as if that vow were legally binding and he just might draw up papers and file suit against her if she breaks it; and then he reminds her of “poor Isabella, and poor Miss Taylor”, whose terrible fates as beloved wives and mothers ought to be cautionary tales to Emma. But she shoots back that she’s not to be compared to them, because they left Hartfield, while she’s staying; her husband’s coming to her, not the reverse.
Would he not like to have [Mr. Knightley] always on the spot? Yes. That was all very true. Mr. Knightley could not be there too often; he should be glad to see him every day: but they did see him every day as it was. Why could not they go on as before?
Mr. Woodhouse is so obviously forgetting the (ahem) principal benefit of the conjugal estate, that you have to wonder how much whoopee he ever made in his own marriage. Not a whole helluva lot, if it can now have slipped his mind entirely. How he managed to father two daughters at all, is a mystery. I can only guess he and Mrs. Woodhouse occasionally bumped in the hallway.
Mrs. Weston is surprised by the news as well, though happily so, and she spends the better part of a page going over what an extra-super-special slice of wonderfulness it is for everyone concerned. Austen is wise to have parceled out Mrs. Weston in small doses over the course of the novel, because it’s taken her this long to bore me.
Her husband is a different story; he retains quite a bit of comic brio.
Mr. Weston had his five minutes’ share of [surprise in the news]; but five minutes were enough to familiarize the idea to his quickness of mind. He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour, he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it.
Mr. Weston goes to Highbury the next morning to tell Jane the news (“Was she not like a daughter, his eldest daughter?—he must tell her”), and Miss Bates naturally hears it at the same time, which means that by lunchtime it’s spread all over Highbury, by dinner to all major world capitals, and by bedtime to the farthest flung desert outposts and tropical fiefdoms.
Everybody approves the match, and although there are minor reservations about the unorthodox living arrangements of the couple, “on the whole there was no serious objection raised, except in one habitation—the vicarage. There, the surprise was not softened by any satisfaction.” Quite the opposite; Mrs. Elton is propelled into the highest of dudgeons.
“Poor Knightley! poor fellow!—sad business for him. She was extremely concerned; for, though very eccentric, he had a thousand good qualities. How could he be so taken in? Did not think him at all in love—not in the least. Poor Knightley! There would be an end of all pleasant intercourse with him. How happy he had been to come and dine with them whenever they asked! But that would be all over now. Poor fellow! No more exploring parties to Donwell made for her. Oh no; there would be a Mrs. Knightley to throw cold water on every thing. Extremely disagreeable! But she was not at all sorry that she had abused the housekeeper the other day. Shocking plan, living together. It would never do. She knew a family near Maple Grove who had tried it, and been obliged to separate before the end of the first quarter.”
Stop and take a bow, Mrs. Elton. We’ve loved every epithet you’ve hurled, every insinuation you’ve snarled, every boast you ever brayed. We’re genuinely sorry to see you go, and will console ourselves for your loss by now and then thinking fondly of you sailing regally up the high street of Highbury, berating tradesman and beating stray dogs with your parasol.
But wait; we’re still in wrap-up mode. Time passes, and Mr. Knightley greets his bride-to-be with a teasing little paradox:
“I have something to tell you, Emma; some news.”
“Good or bad?” said she, quickly, looking up in his face.
“I do not know which it ought to be called.”
“Oh, good I am sure. I see it in your countenance. You are trying not to smile.”
“I am afraid,” said he, composing his features, “I am very much afraid, my dear Emma, that you will not smile when you hear it.”
“Indeed! but why so?—I can hardly imagine that any thing which pleases or amuses you should not please and amuse me too.”
And so on, and so forth, until he takes mercy on her and delivers the blow: “You are prepared for the worst, I see; and very bad it is. Harriet Smith marries Robert Martin.”
Emma is thunderstruck (“her eyes, in eager gaze, said ‘No, this is impossible!’ but her lips were closed”) and asks him repeatedly whether he’s sure, whether he didn’t just misinterpret something someone said or have a very vivid nightmare after too much three-cheese pizza or something. And Knightley reassures her that there’s no mistake: he’s had it from Robert Martin’s own lips. He’s proposed, and been accepted.
Emma, to his astonishment, is actually pleased by the news, now that the floor is back beneath her feet and the ceiling once again over her head, instead of the other way around. Of course she’s happy; it erases one more blemish from her conscience. Girl’s got mad luck that way.
She’s eager to hear every detail. But as Knightley says, “It is a very simple story.” He himself sent Robert Martin to London with some papers for his brother. John Knightley thanked Robert for the errand by inviting him to join the family group (which included Harriet) at a circus performance that evening; during which Robert became such a favorite that he was asked to dinner the next night—giving him more face time with the dewy Miss Smith. Sufficient, in fact, to embolden him to get her alone after the meal and pop the same question he’d popped a year earlier. And with a significantly happier result.
Knightley, not entirely convinced Emma’s as okay with this news as she’s giving out to be, tries to persuade her that it really is a very good thing.
“[Robert Martin’s] situation is an evil; but you must consider it as what satisfies your friend; and I will answer for your thinking better and better of him as you know him more: his good sense and good principles would delight you. As far as the man is concerned, you could not wish your friend in better hands. His rank in society I would alter if I could; which is saying a great deal, I assure you, Emma.”
But she’s not so worked up about his rank in society anymore, pointing out that “Her connections may be worse than his: in respectability of character, there can be no doubt that they are.” No, any lingering stupefaction she may be showing is just due to her conviction that Harriet was “very lately more determined against him, much more than she was before.” Though she still doesn’t admit why.
Knightley responds with the best summation of Harriet we’ve had yet:
“You ought to know your friend best…but I should say she was a good-tempered, soft-hearted girl, not likely to be very, very determined against any young man who told her he loved her.”
Or any middle-aged man. Or any wizened old man. Or any man of any age who didn’t actually say he loved her, but who winked at her and dropped a few broad hints. Or any man who sat next to her on the tram. Or any man, period.
Knightley’s so perplexed by Emma’s pleasure at the news that he can’t resist commenting on it: “You are materially changed since we talked on this subject before.” She replies, “I hope so—for at that time I was a fool.” This prompts him to admit that he was a bit of a fool, too, in his initial opinion of Harriet, and is now “very willing to grant you all [her] good qualities.”
“I have taken some pains for your sake, and for Robert Martin’s sake (whom I have always had reason to believe as much in love with her as ever), to get acquainted with her. I have often talked to her a good deal. You must have seen that I did. Sometimes, indeed, I have thought you were half suspecting me of pleading poor Martin’s case.”
Well, no; she was suspecting him of pleading his own. But happy happy joy joy, that’s all cleared up now, too. Emma’s really getting off scot free, isn’t she. The karma slot machine just keeps paying out for her.
What had she to wish for? Nothing, but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgments had been ever so superior to her own. Nothing but that the lessons of her past folly might teach her humility and circumspection in the future.
Mm-hm. Which will totally happen.
Though we’ve got to grant her a few significant changes. For instance, she’s now persuaded that “it would be a great pleasure to know Robert Martin.” That’s right, the guy she wouldn’t deign even to look at when he was right in front of her, forty-odd chapters back. So, yeah, props to our homegirl for that.
She’s also genuinely happy to see Frank again, which happens in short order, on a visit to Randalls—where Frank and Jane are both in attendance, giving Emma her first opportunity to see them together as a couple. She’s impressed by his genuine delight in his fiancée; and even more impressed when she gets a chance to compare notes with him on the course of their acquaintance. “But is it possible that you had no suspicion?” he asks her. “I mean of late: early, I know you had none.” Emma assures him she never had a clue he was secretly engaged.
“That appears quite wonderful. I was once very near,—and I wish I had; it would have been better. But though I was always doing wrong things, they were very bad wrong things, and such as did me no service. It would have been a much better transgression, had I broken the bond of secrecy and told you every thing.”
“It is now not worth a regret,” said Emma.
Frank also gets to answer Emma’s congratulations on his engagement by wishing her well with hers. “I assure you that I have heard the news with the warmest interest and satisfaction. [Mr. Knightley] is a man whom I cannot presume to praise.”
Emma might reply, “And you are a man whom Mr. Knightley cannot pretend to praise,” but she doesn’t because she’s a lady, remember?
But she’s not so much a lady that she lets Frank off the hook entirely. When he starts rhapsodizing about Jane’s fair complexion, Emma says, “[B]ut do not I remember a time when you found fault with her for being so pale? When we first began to talk of her. Have you quite forgotten?” He pretends to be appalled by the memory—he calls himself an “impudent dog”—but laughs “so heartily at the recollection” that Emma can’t resist going in for the kill.
“I do suspect that in the midst of your perplexities at that time, you had very great amusement in tricking us all. I am sure you had. I am sure it was a consolation to you.”
“Oh no, no, no!—how can you suspect me of such a thing? I was the most miserable wretch.”
“Not quite so miserable as to be insensible to mirth. I am sure it was a source of high entertainment to you, to feel that you were taking us all in. Perhaps I am readier to suspect, because, to tell you the truth, I think it might have been some amusement to myself in the same situation. I think there is a little likeness between us.”
This is the same girl who, a few pages back, crowed, “Oh! if you only knew how much I love every thing that is decided and open!” But it’s okay. We like that she’s a little bit full of bullshit. That’s our Emma. We don’t want her suddenly to become all linear and transparent, even (hell, especially) to herself.
We also don’t want Frank to change too much either, which doesn’t seem likely, as now he makes Jane blush by recollecting his “dream” about Mr. Perry’s carriage, and the “blunder” of having mentioned it aloud after learning of it by secret letter. Jane pretends not to hear him, but he knows it’s a sham and calls her on it, laughing all the while.
Eventually she turns and says, “How you can bear such recollections, is astonishing to me! They will sometimes obtrude: but how can you court them?” Frank, we’re told, “had a great deal to say in return, and very entertainingly”. We’re not worried about Frank and Jane. They’ve got exactly the right chemistry. They’ll be happy till the day they drop dead together (probably of exhaustion).
As will Emma and Knightley; and as will Harriet and Robert Martin, a fact of which Emma becomes “perfectly satisfied” after spending an hour with Harriet on her return to Highbury. She realizes with some degree of surprise that Harriet “had always liked Robert Martin; and that his continuing to love her had been irresistible.” Though to her, it still seems pretty cray-cray.
In the run-up to the wedding, Harriet’s parentage is revealed: she’s the daughter of a tradesman, “rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment. Such was the blood of gentility which Emma had formerly been so ready to vouch for!” So, whaddaya know, another narrow escape for her. She could start scrapbooking them, at this point.
Emma’s and Harriet’s friendship now goes on the wane. “The intimacy between [them] must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer sort of good-will; and, fortunately, what ought to be, and must be, seemed already beginning, and in the most gradual manner.” So much for that troublesome class mixing; whatever else our J.A. may be, democratic she ain’t.
Then come the weddings, and, as usual, Austen couldn’t care less. Harriet’s is first; and with the exception of a glance at Mr. Elton’s discomfort in officiating, it barely rates a mention. Jane Fairfax’s wedding isn’t mentioned at all; when the Campbells return from Ireland she goes off to be with them for the month of November, and that’s the last we hear of her.
But it’s Emma’s and Knightley’s march up the aisle that really counts. And how does our über-romantic author handle that?...Well, we get several paragraphs about how miserable Mr. Woodhouse is as the date draws near, until one night Mrs. Weston’s poultry-house is burgled of all its turkeys, and he becomes convinced that a pack of brigands is in the neighborhood so yes please Mr. Knightley do marry my daughter and come live with us, and bring seven or eight or twenty-five of your burliest friends too, and how does tomorrow sound?
With that out of the way, we finally get to the main event. Drumroll, please:
The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.”
In short, the much anticipated wedding is no dizzying apotheosis, no grand climax to whirling emotions that have been building to a crescendo, no soft-porn cleaving of ripened heroine and tousle-haired hero; instead, it’s a chance to reward us with a unexpected curtain call from our favorite grotesque. That’s our J.A. That’s why we love her.
Emma is literary champagne; but of the very driest variety. In it, we find Austen at the height of her narrative powers, and clearly aware of it; she indulges herself—in fact, a bit too much so for my taste. She doesn’t make light of the world she creates; but she doesn’t exactly make heft of it, either. It’s a frolic—a gambol; a sunny roundelay. We love Emma, but we never feel any kind of anxiety for her, as we did for the Dashwood sisters, and for Lizzy Bennet. We never feel anxiety for anyone in the cast of characters. It’s as though Austen has invented such a group of darlings, she can’t bear to afflict them with any real tribulations. There is—as there always is, in Austen—a rival, and a cad; but the rival is never seriously a rival, and the cad only intermittently caddish. The book’s only two villains are married off to each other and pushed to the margins so that their hideousness can only delight, never threaten. In a way, Emma is Jane Austen writing her own Jane Austen fan fiction.
Her next novel will feature no darlings, and will plunge back into the acid seas of roiling social satire. So we may infer that Emma sated her thirst for leisurely idylls and sunny, sassy set pieces; and we can be glad of that. But we have no regrets; Emma has been a lovely port of call on our cruise through her canon, and one we won’t mind revisiting…largely because of Emma herself. She’s intoxicatingly contradictory; maddeningly charming; sweetly insouciant. Austen sometimes named her novels after her heroines, but Emma is the only one whose title wasn’t changed before publication; because it couldn’t be. Emma is simply too central to be in any way sublimated. And not just to the novel; to the culture at large. She’s an icon—a prototype; the western canon’s first spoiled rich girl, the original ancestress of every brash young heiress who shows up in books or plays or movies radiating self-confidence and trailing furs. We see her everywhere, swaggering about sporting jodhpurs and a riding crop, or zipping down city streets in a convertible at 3 a.m., or kicking her shoes off and dancing on a private jet. Her lineage is always different, but her story is always the same: she meets the right man, and learns serenity. Well…it’s the 21st century, and feminism is no new thing anymore. But still we’re happy for her. We always will be.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
The weather’s lousy, to match Emma’s mood; but she’s young, and resilient, and when the sky clears she “resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible” and to give that shrubbery another go. She’s immersed in its foliage, enjoying whatever therapeutic vapors it give off (maybe it’s a cannabis plant in full flower), when she spots you-know-who striding manfully toward her. “It was the first intimation of his being returned from London…There was time only for the quickest arrangement of mind. She must be collected and calm. In half a minute they were together.”
She’s startled to find him looking like high holy hell. She supposes this is because he’s told his brother of his plans to marry Harriet Smith, and it didn’t go well. Maybe John Knightley laughed at him. Or accused him of tarnishing the family name and threw an inkwell at him, or something.
In which case, he’ll be watching till about a week after the crack of doom, because Emma is totally not going there. She’d rather ditch him by the dogwood and just hide out on the grounds till the urge to speak leaves him…living on berries and nuts, if comes to it.
Instead she chooses the perhaps more expedient tack of simply changing the subject. “You have some news to hear, now you are come back, that will rather surprise you.” Actually, she’s the one who’s surprised, because he shoots back, “If you mean Miss Fairfax and Frank Churchill, I have heard that already.” Turns out he’s had “a few lines on parish business” from Mr. Weston, which included the happy news as a postscript. Emma’s relieved, and also a little abashed.
This is a refreshing admission, if a tad melodramatic (“doomed to blindness”—sweet creepin’ Jesus), but it has an entirely unexpected effect on Mr. Knightley, who draws Emma’s arm to him and presses it against his heart, and speaks “in a tone of great sensibility”, which in Austen means he speaks like one of those tunes where Johnny Cash talks instead of sings.
Emma quickly realizes what’s behind this—or rather, she thinks she does; she actually only gets about half of it. (We, of course, get the other half; but we’ve been about six miles ahead of her the entire length of the novel. Maybe “doomed to blindness” isn’t so far a reach. She could pretty much have it tattooed on her forehead.) And “as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure, excited by such tender consideration,” she puts his mind at rest, reassuring him that while she regrets the way she let herself behave when Frank Churchill was around, and “was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures,” she has no regret about learning the news of his engagement to someone else.
Mr. Knightley’s so happy, he does his version of the Snoopy dance, which is basically to stutter over a few sentences and then stoically regain control of himself. He admits he could never be entirely sure how much Emma’s feelings were invested in Frank; “I could only be certain that there was a preference—and a preference which I never believed him to deserve. He is a disgrace to the name of man.” Whoa, Big K.—take a deep breath, already. Count to ten. Heal.
Emma is confused by his vehemence, because hello?—everything’s fine now, remember?—so she reiterates, possibly speaking verrry slloooowly and with PRECISE ARTICULATION the way we do to small children or service people on I.T. help lines, that “I never have been at all attached to the person we are speaking of”. Possibly she writes Frank’s name in the dirt with a stick, then jumps up and down on it to illustrate her point.
Mr. Knightley still looks at her with an unreadable expression, so that she supposes she really has to bite the bullet and “lower herself” even further in his opinion, by explaining exactly what drove her peculiar relationship with Frank—which, as we know, is basically a combination of convenience, boredom, and I-am-queen-of-everything.
That’s what was behind her part in the performance; and now she finally understands what was behind his. “He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real situation with another.”
Some time passes while all this sinks in. Then Knightley finally speaks, and it’s not the most charitable of outbursts.
Well, of course everyone forgives him. He’s a rogue and a liar, a creature of impulse, all appetite—but dayum, dude’s got charm. And besides, he doesn’t really mean any harm; he’s the scoundrel with a heart of gold, to borrow my terminology for Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park (itself borrowed from Robert Graves). Frank Churchill is Henry Crawford reincarnated—and this time given the proper ending. He gets his Fanny Price, to the inestimable advantage of both.
Emma takes note of the hint of snark in Knightley’s tone, and says, “You speak as if you envied him.” He replies, “And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy.” We all know where this is headed. We’d know it if we were reading it through the wrong end of a telescope. We’d know it if we were reading it in pig Latin. We’d know it if Austen dropped every third word and deleted the vowels from all the rest. We’ve known it since the first chapter, and seen it barreling towards us ever since.
But Emma, God love her, still doesn’t. The way she sees it, “They seemed to be within half a sentence of Harriet,” so she again tries to change the subject, but before she can ask about Isabella’s children, or the coach ride from London, or what did you have for breakfast or what’s your favorite Adam Sandler movie, he blurts out:
Aaaaaand still Emma doesn’t get it. Apparently Knightley will have to write I LOVE YOU, MORON on a cricket bat and then kneecap her with it, before she’ll twig. As it is, still thinking this is all about Harriet, she begs him not to speak—“take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself.”
He thanks her in “an accent of deep mortification,” and looks so puppy-dog hurt that Emma changes her mind, and decides she’ll hear whatever he has to say, no matter how much it distresses her. So when they reach the house she proposes another hit off the shrubbery and they turn back the way they came. After a few steps she says, “I stopped you ungraciously, just now, Mr. Knightley, and, I am afraid, gave you pain”, and she offers this time really, no kidding, to hear what he has to say, as a friend.
“As a friend!” he replies, again mortified, and Emma is probably wondering why she can’t seem to say one bloody thing right today. Then it all comes gushing out: it isn’t as a friend that he wants to confide in her at all. What he wants to say—wants to ask—is something quite different. “Tell me, then,” he pleads, “have I no chance of ever succeeding?”
Knowing Emma, she probably wonders, succeeding at what? Is he building a ship in a bottle or something? Because she’s heard those can be really tough. Then he makes it crystal goddam clear.
All the time he’s speaking, Emma’s “mind was most busy” with a “wonderful velocity of thought”, which is pretty much what she’s like on any given day, so it’s not that big a deal. But it turns out her first thoughts aren’t just of her own ecstatic, somersaults-and-cartwheels happiness, but of the inevitable let-down to Harriet, who seems to be well on her way to a career of not getting married to every man in Highbury, one at a time. But Emma can’t seem to summon up any regret that, where Knightley’s concerned, “Harriet was nothing; that she was every thing herself;” quite the contrary.
And thank God for it. A few decades later, the Victorians would develop a thing for weepy, self-sacrificing heroines, but not yet. Here, we get to enjoy the sunny self-interest of one of literature’s most enchanting pragmatists, as she now happily consents to take receipt of everything she’s ever wanted.
Why do people love Jane Austen?...There it is, right there. Of the tortuous, calamitous, hilarious path to conjugal harmony, she’s indispensible. Her sparring, self-deluding, self-immolating lovers are the stuff of legend. But when they finally get to the point where they can look at each other across the blasted landscape of their battlefields, and see, finally see, that they were meant for each other all along…Austen loses interest. She proceeds in short, swift strokes. In accepting her true love’s proposal, Emma says “just what she ought.” Because “a lady always does.”
This is why Hollywood has to mutilate her, when they adapt her. The clear-headedness, the sobriety, of her take on male-female relations, is so at odds with the vulgar appetite for oceans of feeling and hailstorms of exclamation points, that filmmakers feel compelled to put all that in—swamping the sparkling spareness of her prose with rapturous orchestral gravy, burdening the clarity of her vision with pealing bells, swooping camera angles, and sumptuous art direction.
But we cognoscenti, who have experienced her undiluted, on the page, know the real Austen, and we revere her for all the things Hollywood chooses to jettison: her astringency, her sly sense of subversion, her bracing lack of sentimentality. They’ll never get her; but it’s okay. We do.
From this point in the novel, Mr. Knightley and Emma are in complete accord. The differences between them are retroactively resolved, to the satisfaction of each. Knightley had been in love with Emma and jealous of Frank Churchill, and after the Box Hill nightmare had gone to London to try to forget her.
Note the things that sustain his love for Emma here: not passion; not desire; not desperate yearning; but amiability…affinity…”domestic happiness.” Our only hint of capital-R Romance—of the collision of primal personal feeling with the chaos of the natural world—is in the single line relating that he had “ridden home in the rain” to comfort her after hearing of Frank Churchill’s engagement. But on arriving he “heard her declare that she had never loved him…She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.”
There’s no great thundering romance in any of this; just the sublimity of a comedy concluded—serenely, harmoniously. “[Emma] was now in an exquisite flutter of happiness, and such happiness, moreover, as she believed must still be greater when the flutter should have passed away.” We’ve laughed our fill; now we smile. Jane Austen, ladies and gentlemen; Jane Austen.
Of course, there are still more than a few narrative strands to tie up. First among them is Mr. Woodhouse. Emma’s resolution never to leave him hasn’t been abandoned; so she tearfully concludes that she and Mr. Knightley will have to have a very looooong engagement, concluding in matrimony only when Mr. Woodhouse is no longer there to give away the bride (which is just as well, as there are probably innumerable drafts in the church; if he were alive to do his duty, it would kill him).
Then there’s Harriet; which is, fortunately, a matter that can be settled more quickly. (Though the Mr. Woodhouse matter might be settled quickly, as well, if Mr. Knightley only had it in him to sneak into Hartfield one brisk autumn night and open all the windows.) Emma decides it’s best not to see her “little friend” for a while, and writes to tell her why; and then, to make up for the blow, vows to try to get her invited to Brunswick Square. “Isabella had been pleased with Harriet; and a few weeks spent in London must give her some amusement.” Maybe the novelty and variety of town will help Harriet get over her disappointment. Or something. Whatever. We’re not really worried about Harriet. We know her long-term memory is about the same as a gerbil’s.
Then there’s Frank Churchill. His promised letter to Mrs. Weston arrives, and that lady dutifully forwards it on to Hartfield…not realizing that anything to do with Frank and Jane Fairfax is now of zero interest to Emma.
So she opens the envelope and plunges in. The letter is, as might be expected, equal parts swagger and humility. Frank begs Mrs. Weston for forgiveness, but is already sure she’ll forgive him, because after all, he’s “been forgiven by one who had still more to resent.” And speaking of Jane, he goes on to explain that had she refused his offer of a secret engagement, “I should have gone mad.” (What madness would look like in Frank Churchill is an interesting question; he’s already as headstrong as a stallion, and as impulsive as a gibbon.) And what, he presumes Mrs. Weston to be wondering, did he think he had to gain in committing to this kind of subterfuge? “To any thing, every thing”, he replies. In other words, he wasn’t really thinking at all; he was feeling. He adds:
Hard to get more charming than that. Though it’s also pretty much the dictionary definition of “cheeky.” Frank in a nutshell. Undaunted, he jumps right into yet another humble set-up, with another charmingly arrogant payoff:
Frank Churchill’s amazing silver tongue, ladies and gentlemen. He’s here all week. Try the Swedish meatballs.
As for his sins against Emma herself (and here you can imagine Emma, despite her initial resistance to reading the letter, sitting up in her seat a little), he acquits himself by insisting that “had I not been convinced of her indifference, I would not have been induced by any selfish views to go on.”
The fact that he’s right doesn’t make him any less wrong, if you know what I mean. Still, it’s hard not to like him. Even as you fantasize about kicking him to the curb.
Frank also says, of his first fortnight’s visit, “[W]hen I called to take leave of [Emma], I remember that I was within a moment of confessing the truth, and I then fancied she was not without suspicion…She may not have surmised the whole, but her quickness must have penetrated a part. I cannot doubt it.” You have to wonder how Emma feels, at this; because of course her take-away from that encounter was that Frank had been preparing to confess his love for her. Her “quickness” isn’t anything of the kind; next to it, your average glacier seems full of pep.
Frank also ‘fesses up that he was the one who sent the pianoforte; then he spends a page or so rhapsodizing Jane, to the point you start to suspect he’s at least as much in love with the sound of his own voice as he is with her. When he comes to Jane’s “hasty engagement” with “that woman”—meaning Mrs. Smallridge—he halts in mid-sentence, then resumes with, “Here, my dear madam, I was obliged to leave off abruptly, to recall and compose myself”, and reveals he’s been “walking over the country,” no doubt with the wind in his hair and the setting sun behind him, and regretting that movies haven’t been invented yet because damn it look at me.
He then details the crises that led up to the Mrs. Smallridge brouhaha. Jane didn’t like Frank’s attentions to Emma; for which he thought her “unnecessarily scrupulous and even cold.” On the morning of the strawberry expedition to Donwell Abbey, “every little dissatisfaction that had occurred before came to a crisis.”
And the next day, at Box Hill, when Frank fawned over Emma in a way even Emma started to get sick of, Jane “spoke her resentment in a form of words perfectly intelligible to me. In short, my dear madam, it was a quarrel blameless on her side, abominable on mine, and I returned the same evening to Richmond,” convinced that “I was the injured person, injured by her coldness, and I went away, determined that she should make the first advances.” Which she did…to Mrs. Smallridge. Whoops.
Frank had known of the offer, and of how pressured Jane was to take it by Mrs. Elton, “the whole system of whose treatment of her, by the by, has filled me with indignation and hatred.”
Oh, snap. We’ve been waiting for someone to call out the Eltons, and this is a very satisfying passage. Anyway, Frank received a letter from Jane—received on the very morning of his aunt’s death—dissolving their engagement and saying they were never to meet again. He immediately wrote back to calm and reassure her of his devotion, but in all the confusion surrounding the bereavement the letter never got sent; it remained locked up in the charming idiot’s desk. He wondered why he didn’t hear from her “speedily; but I made excuses for her, and was too busy, and—may I add?—too cheerful in my views to be captious.” His candor really is disarming; that it’s meant to disarm is a little troublesome, but let’s not cavil.
When he finally did hear from Jane, he was shocked; because it was in the form of a parcel containing all his letters to her. She asked that hers to him be similarly returned, and gave Mrs. Smallridge’s address—the first indication Frank had that this was her new plan for her future.
And we all know how happily that worked out…except for Frank arriving in Highbury filled with the good news, only to find Jane physically a wreck. And a wreck not wildly inclined to hear anything he had to say. “A great deal of very reasonable, very just displeasure I had to persuade away.” Well, after this letter, we know he’s the guy for the job.
Emma finishes reading with a little sigh of contentment; of course “every line relating to herself was interesting, and every line agreeable”, because hey, that’s Emma. But beyond that she thinks Frank’s done just a super job of making a case for himself, and “though it was impossible not to feel that he had been wrong, yet he had been less wrong than she supposed,” and if he entered the room right now, “she must have shaken hands with him as heartily as ever.”
But that’s Emma’s reaction, and she’s a comparatively soft touch. Her fiancé is a different story, and when he comes in Emma sits him down and makes him read Frank’s letter right then and there, despite his plea that he take it home and read it later (and return the next morning, no doubt, apologizing that before he could get to it, the dog ate it).
“It will be natural for me,” he says as he begins, “to speak my opinion aloud as I read. By doing it, I shall feel that I am near you,” which is a little mysterious, because, hey, he is near her. Any nearer and she’d be in his lap. But these are young lovers, fresh from their first oh-baby-you’re-mine’s, so maybe anywhere but the lap does seem like a distant shore. Anyway, Emma approves his proposal, and so do we, because we want to hear his running commentary. Which is replete with the usual Knightley snorts and grunts and harrumphs.
Emma, who has…umm…neglected to tell him how she’s inadvertently whipped Harriet into an erotic fever over him, isn’t too keen about that last bit, so she just flaps her hands and says, “You had better go on”.
When he gets to the part about the pianoforte, he says, “A boyish scheme, indeed! I cannot comprehend a man’s wishing to give a woman any proof of his affection which he knows she would rather dispense with”. (That made me blink. Would Jane really rather have dispensed with the piano? Why? Maybe because it made her vulnerable to gossip. Or possibly because it was about three-and-a-half inches wider than any room in the Bates apartment.)
There are, however, some grudging admissions along the way, as when Knightley says, “I perfectly agree with you, sir…You did behave very shamefully. You never wrote a truer line.” And, “There is no saying much for the delicacy of our good friends, the Eltons”. Though in general, wading through the epic missive page by page by page by page—possibly he needs a shave by the time he finishes it—gradually wears him down. “What a letter the man writes!” he sighs as he flips over to page fourteen. When he’s finally finished, he just plain doesn’t have the energy left for moral outrage. He sets the letter aside with the observation that Frank, as cretinous as he is, appears “beyond a doubt, really attached to Miss Fairfax, and will soon, it may be hoped, have the advantage of being constantly with her, [thus] I am very ready to believe his character will improve”.
And that’s all the time he can spare for Frank Churchill (possibly ever again—Frank can live to a ripe old age and die surrounded by grandchildren, and Mr. Knightley will have no comment), because someone else is on Knightley’s mind: Mr. Woodhouse. He knows Emma will never leave her father, and if by some chance he were able to persuade her to, Mr. Woodhouse would likely go right round the bend, walling himself up in Hartfield and luring in small children at night who would never be seen again come light of day.
So his plan is simple: instead of a long engagement (because, *ahem*, the gentleman is ready now), and instead of relocating Emma to Donwell, Knightley himself will come and live at Hartfield, and what does Emma think of that scheme?
So yeah, she’s fine with it.
Actually, she promises “to think of it more;” but there’s never any real doubt she’ll gracefully allow it. It involves someone else making all the compensations for her own comfort and ease, so what’s the problem?...Similarly, she even has to laugh at herself as her former, vehement defense of her nephew Henry’s right to inherit Donwell now evaporates like beer foam.
So, there you go, little Henry. Off to the army with you. Or possibly the church. If there’s going to be an heir to Donwell Abbey, Emma will supply him. You can come and visit, though. Seriously, anytime. But…write first.
So everything’s settled. Or rather, almost everything. Because flitting at the margins there’s still…Harriet Smith. Emma’s most spectacular failure. She plucked the girl from nothing and promised her everything, and now everything she promised has gone to other women—including Emma herself. And Emma can’t even issue her any more pity invitations to Hartfield, because Mr. Knightley will be there, blaring a big red “rejection” light.
Of course Harriet will eventually get over him; “but this could not be expected to happen very early. Mr. Knightley himself would be doing nothing to assist the cure; not like Mr. Elton.” No, Knightley is unlikely to become a sneering villain to help turn Harriet’s love sour. Emma’s only hope is that Knightley is somehow supplanted. Though “really it was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than three men in one year.”
Notice that Emma doesn’t have anyone in mind for number four, or an active plan for bringing them together. We’re on page 430, for God’s sake, but at least she’s finally learned that lesson.
They walked together. He was silent. She thought he was often looking at her, and trying for a fuller view of her face than it suited her to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps he wanted to speak to her of his attachment to Harriet; he might be watching for encouragement to begin.
“You probably have been less surprised than any of us, for you have had your suspicions. I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution. I wish I had attended to it—but (with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) I seem to have been doomed to blindness.”
“Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound…I know you will not allow yourself—“ Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, “The feelings of the warmest friendship—indignation—abominable scoundrel!” And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, “He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate.”
“…He was the son of Mr. Weston—he was continually here—I always found him very pleasant—and, in short, for (with a sigh) he let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last—my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions…I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me.”
“Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good. He meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment—and had he and all his family sought round the world for a more perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior. His aunt is in the way. His aunt dies. He has only to speak. His friends are eager to promote his happiness. He has used every body—and they are all delighted to forgive him.”
“You will not ask me what is the point of envy. You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity. You are wise—but I cannot be wise. I must tell what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment.”
“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.”
Maybe not trusting herself after batting zero all afternoon, she clams up; and Knightley figures well, okay, it’s not a no, so he’s encouraged to go on. “I cannot make speeches, Emma,” he says, before launching into a pretty decent speech. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,” he continues, as a preamble to talking about it more. “God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me,” he adds, before explaining himself anyway.
…[A]s to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted her to entreat [Mr. Knightley] to transfer his affection from herself to Harriet, as infinitely the most worthy of the two—or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and for ever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain.
What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. She said enough to show there need not be despair—and to invite him to say more himself.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material. Mr. Knightley could not impute to Emma a more relenting heart than she possessed, or a heart more disposed to accept his.
But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother’s house; woman wore too amiable a form in it; Isabella was too much like Emma—differing only in those striking inferiorities which always brought the other in brilliancy before him, for much to have been done, even had his time been longer.
She was now in perfect charity with Frank Churchill; she wanted no explanations, she wanted only to have her thoughts to herself—and as for understanding any thing he wrote, she was sure she was incapable of it. It must be waded through, however.
If you need farther explanation, I have the honour, dear madam, of being your husband’s son, and the advantage of inheriting a disposition to hope for good, which no inheritance of houses or lands can ever equal the value of.
You will look back and see that I did not come [to Randalls] until Miss Fairfax was in Highbury; and as you were the person slighted, you will forgive me instantly: but I must work on my father’s compassion by reminding him, that so long as I absented myself from his house, so long I lost the blessing of knowing you.
Amiable and delightful as Miss Woodhouse is, she never gave me the idea of a young woman likely to be attached; and that she was perfectly free from any tendency to being attached to me, was as much my conviction as my wish. She received my attentions with an easy, friendly, good-humored playfulness, which exactly suited me. We seemed to understand each other.
I was late; I met her walking home by herself, and wanted to walk with her, but she would not suffer it. She absolutely refused to allow me, which I then thought most unreasonable. Now, however, I see nothing in it but a very natural and consistent degree of discretion.
“Jane,” indeed! You will observe that I have not yet indulged myself in calling her by that name, even to you. Think, then what I must have endured in hearing it bandied between the Eltons, with all the vulgarity of needless repetition, and all the insolence of imaginary superiority.
Imagine the shock; imagine how, till I had actually detected my own blunder, I raved at the blunders of the post. What was to be done? One thing only. I must speak to my uncle. Without his sanction I could not hope to be listened to again.
“Very bad—though it might have been worse. Playing a most dangerous game. Too much indebted to the event for his acquittal. No judge of his own manners by you. Always deceived, in fact, by his own wishes, and regardless of little besides his own convenience. Fancying you to have fathomed his secret! Natural enough! his own mind full of intrigue, that he should suspect it in others. Mystery—finesse—how they pervert the understanding! My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?”
She was sensible of all the affection it evinced. She felt that, in quitting Donwell, he must be sacrificing a great deal of independence of hours and habits; that in living constantly with her father, and in no house of his own, there would be much, very much, to be borne with.
Think she must of the possible difference [her marriage would make] to the poor little boy; and yet she only gave herself a saucy conscious smile about it, and found amusement in detecting the real cause of that violent dislike of Mr. Knightley’s marrying Jane Fairfax, or any body else…