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Emma Chapter 26
Emma Volume II, Chapter VIII: Quotes, Questions, and Conversation
September 27, 2016
4:57 AM
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Welcome to this week’s read-along discussion! As promised in the intro, I want to begin by taking a look at Frank Churchill’s actions in the chapter. Emma anticipates the evening at the Coles’ as an opportunity to further examine Frank’s behavior:

With Tuesday came the agreeable prospect of seeing him again, and for a longer time than hitherto; of judging of his general manners, and by inference, of the meaning of his manners towards herself; of guessing how soon it might be necessary for her to throw coldness into her air; and of fancying what the observations of all those might be, who were now seeing them together for the first time.

Yet her interest is all selfish. She looks to gauge his attachment to her and revel in the attention they will attract together. She does not look to be critical of his “general manners,” though he repeatedly displays how much they are lacking. 

The rest of the gentlemen being now in the room, Emma found herself obliged to turn from him for a few minutes, and listen to Mr. Cole. When Mr. Cole had moved away, and her attention could be restored as before, she saw Frank Churchill looking intently across the room at Miss Fairfax, who was sitting exactly opposite.

“What is the matter?” said she.

He started. “Thank you for rousing me,” he replied. “I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way–so very odd a way–that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree!–Those curls!–This must be a fancy of her own. I see nobody else looking like her!–I must go and ask her whether it is an Irish fashion. Shall I?–Yes, I will–I declare I will–and you shall see how she takes it;–whether she colours.”

He was gone immediately; and Emma soon saw him standing before Miss Fairfax, and talking to her; but as to its effect on the young lady, as he had improvidently placed himself exactly between them, exactly in front of Miss Fairfax, she could absolutely distinguish nothing.

What a jerk! How does Emma, with all her acute discernment, not perceive his flaws? Not question the lack of conviction and strong sentiment he displays in agreeing with her so readily on every little point during dinner? Is she merely too egotistical and susceptible to flattery to perceive his inconsistencies? He says:

“Your reasonings carry my judgment along with them entirely. At first, while I supposed you satisfied that Colonel Campbell was the giver, I saw it only as paternal kindness, and thought it the most natural thing in the world. But when you mentioned Mrs. Dixon, I felt how much more probable that it should be the tribute of warm female friendship. And now I can see it in no other light than as an offering of love.”

For those who have read the book before, his disingenuousness nauseates. 

Let’s move on to Mrs. Weston. I adore the exchange between she and Emma after dinner. Here are the highlights:

“This is the luxury of a large party,” said she:–“one can get near every body, and say every thing. My dear Emma, I am longing to talk to you. I have been making discoveries and forming plans, just like yourself, and I must tell them while the idea is fresh.”

Mrs. Weston has concluded that Mr. Knightley only hired horses for the evening in order to be able to accommodate Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax. Emma is warm in her praise of such a gesture and how it reflects on Mr. Knightley’s character, yet she doesn’t agree with Mrs. Weston’s next supposition.

“Very likely,” said Emma–“nothing more likely. I know no man more likely than Mr. Knightley to do the sort of thing–to do any thing really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent. He is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one; and this, considering Jane Fairfax’s ill-health, would appear a case of humanity to him;–and for an act of unostentatious kindness, there is nobody whom I would fix on more than on Mr. Knightley. I know he had horses to-day–for we arrived together; and I laughed at him about it, but he said not a word that could betray.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Weston, smiling, “you give him credit for more simple, disinterested benevolence in this instance than I do; for while Miss Bates was speaking, a suspicion darted into my head, and I have never been able to get it out again. The more I think of it, the more probable it appears. In short, I have made a match between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax. See the consequence of keeping you company!–What do you say to it?”

“Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax!” exclaimed Emma. “Dear Mrs. Weston, how could you think of such a thing?–Mr. Knightley!–Mr. Knightley must not marry!–You would not have little Henry cut out from Donwell?–Oh! no, no, Henry must have Donwell. I cannot at all consent to Mr. Knightley’s marrying; and I am sure it is not at all likely. I am amazed that you should think of such a thing.”

Emma, who has conjured up a completely fantastic and scandalous romance between Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon, is “amazed” Mrs. Weston should consider Jane and Mr. Knightley? And who is she to provide consent? The conversation continues:

“My dear Emma, I have told you what led me to think of it. I do not want the match–I do not want to injure dear little Henry–but the idea has been given me by circumstances; and if Mr. Knightley really wished to marry, you would not have him refrain on Henry’s account, a boy of six years old, who knows nothing of the matter?”

“Yes, I would. I could not bear to have Henry supplanted.–Mr. Knightley marry!–No, I have never had such an idea, and I cannot adopt it now. And Jane Fairfax, too, of all women!”

“Nay, she has always been a first favourite with him, as you very well know.”

“But the imprudence of such a match!”

“I am not speaking of its prudence; merely its probability.”

“I see no probability in it, unless you have any better foundation than what you mention. His good-nature, his humanity, as I tell you, would be quite enough to account for the horses. He has a great regard for the Bateses, you know, independent of Jane Fairfax–and is always glad to shew them attention. My dear Mrs. Weston, do not take to match-making. You do it very ill. Jane Fairfax mistress of the Abbey!–Oh! no, no;–every feeling revolts. For his own sake, I would not have him do so mad a thing.”

Every feeling revolts? This is about more than Henry’s inheritance. Emma’s notion that she has any say over whether or not Mr. Knightley marries, based on an assumed role of defender of her nephew’s inheritance, is ridiculous. She is not behaving rationally, as is so often the case in regards to Mr. Knightley. 

I see Austen drawing contrasts between the characters of Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill in this chapter. Emma begins it by musing on the differences between the two men, in response to the fabled haircut. She clearly thinks more highly of Mr. Knightley:

“I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.–It depends upon the character of those who handle it. Mr. Knightley, he is not a trifling, silly young man. If he were, he would have done this differently. He would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. There would have been either the ostentation of a coxcomb, or the evasions of a mind too weak to defend its own vanities.–No, I am perfectly sure that he is not trifling or silly.” 

This he proves in his response to the mystery of the pianoforte:

“But they would have done better had they given her notice of it. Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. I should have expected better judgment in Colonel Campbell.”

Mr. Knightley can be almost forbidding in his pragmatism. Emma might find something to excite in such sentiments, at least so far as they prove Mr. Knightley to not be the gift giver, but it isn’t a very merry attitude, is it? He is rather dour compared to Frank, but perhaps merry is overrated? The same consideration that would never lead him to inconvenience the Bateses with a large instrument, and that prompts him to offer them the use of his carriage, is also responsible for his reprimand of Frank, delivered during Jane’s performance, for overtaxing her voice:

Another song, however, was soon begged for. “One more;–they would not fatigue Miss Fairfax on any account, and would only ask for one more.” And Frank Churchill was heard to say, “I think you could manage this without effort; the first part is so very trifling. The strength of the song falls on the second.”

Mr. Knightley grew angry.

“That fellow,” said he, indignantly, “thinks of nothing but shewing off his own voice. This must not be.” And touching Miss Bates, who at that moment passed near–“Miss Bates, are you mad, to let your niece sing herself hoarse in this manner? Go, and interfere. They have no mercy on her.”

The two men almost never interact in the entire book, yet here we see them in nearly direct conflict, with only Miss Bates between them. I think Austen is very deliberate in what she is doing here, forcing the reader to make comparisons between the two. The chapter is also riddled with hints regarding the real mystery of the novel, cleverly cloaked behind the pianoforte. For first time readers, what inconsistencies do you observe in the characters that might reveal some have alternative motives for their behavior? For those who are reading for the second, fifth, or twentieth time, what do you think is the most glaring clue in this chapter that all is not what it seems?

Thanks for participating!

September 28, 2016
11:34 AM
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Great points, Alexa. I think both Emma and Mr. Knightley are being just a tad bit unreasonable in this chapter. Emma rants about how Mr. Knightley needs to leave his estate to Henry, and Mr. Knightley rants about Jane’s fatigue. They are both jealous, though they don’t know it.

The more I read Emma, the more it seems like a young adult novel. Emma is quite immature. She has a crush on Frank, and, because of her preconceptions, she excuses his faults. Frank is so much like a high school boy with his bravado and over-confidence. I think the worst is when Emma catches him staring at Jane Fairfax. How could she not doubt his intentions after that conversation? Then there’s the line about Emma deciding when to put on an air of coldness–it sounds like such a high school stunt. This is probably why Clueless works so well as a modern adaptation.

Nowadays, we picture Austen’s heroines as much older than they actually are. Emma at 20 is actually one of Austen’s older heroines, younger only than Anne Elliot (27) and Jane Bennet (22). Emma should know better than to trust Frank, but Austen makes the point that she’s led a sheltered existence. She’s not as experienced as Elizabeth Bennet (also 20) or Elinor Dashwood (19). In her ignorance, she’s quite a lot like Catherine Morland (17). It’s so strange to think that Marianne Dashwood at 16 was considered ready for marriage, and that Anne Elliot is considered an old maid, but that’s how things worked. Can you imagine marrying a guy like Frank Churchill? Ughh. No wonder Austen’s heroes tend to be older men. (Mr. Knightley is 37.)

September 29, 2016
12:05 PM
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I do apologize for being so late to the party and leaving what will probably be a very short comment. Homeschooling and work (aka editing a novella by the end of the month to send to my first reader) are converging with company set to arrive, and frankly, I am struggling to tread water and keep afloat.

I think you both have covered many of my observations on this chapter as I listened to it this week.  I was struck by the shiftiness of Frank and his opinions as well as the way Emma did not catch it.  I did smile a bit to myself at that fact that although Mr. Know-it-all Knightley (I do like him, really, but the moniker seems appropriate 😉 ) does not like Frank Churchill and does not seem to trust Frank Churchill, he has not picked up on the clues regarding Frank and Jane. There was also one point in the story where I went “Ooh, I wonder if Mrs. Bennet was a bit of an Emma when she was young?”  I can’t remember exactly where it was, but I believe it was around the discussion of walking rather than taking a carriage.  

I agree that Emma continues to strike me as very young. I know in my mind she is about 16.  I am not convinced that Emma is actually crushing on Frank Churchill so much as enjoying the attention and notoriety it affords her. She does like to be the center of attention and his attention to her aids her in that quest.  It also makes her dear Mrs. Weston happy and that is bound to make her feel good as well.  I do think that it is the nurturing that she has received over the years that has produced this immature personality. She is ignorant of many things due to her father’s keeping her so much at his side and Mrs. Weston’s seeming lack of knowledge.  Then there is also the constant praise Emma receives about everything from everyone (except Mr. Knightley) that has to have her believing more highly of herself than she should.  Which is something I like to think about (when I have time) — the circumstances surrounding each of JA’s characters in forming their character — what parents did they have, what society did they travel in, what was their exposure to sensible or silly people, what natural abilities/deficits are heightened or diminished by these things, etc — this is IMO the best part of writing JAFF.  If we are to compare Emma to another heroine, why not ask how Emma would have turned out with a mother like Mrs. Bennet and a father like Mr. Bennet in a community like Hertfordshire that would prefer her older sister above her.  🙂