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Emma Chapters 52 & 53
Emma Volume III, Chapters XVI & XVII
December 20, 2016
3:13 PM
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After all the angst of the past few chapters, humor returns to Emma in todays reading. Austen’s narrative voice is exceedingly playful here, as if she is riding high on the glory of resolving all the characters’ story lines so happily. We have some excessively diverting moments with the book’s funniest figures, and this is where I’d like to focus your attention today. Perhaps I too am in a state of elevated spirits. Three happily ever afters will make one giddy.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, as we haven’t actually secured that final happily ever after yet. Instead, we find Harriet Smith at the beginning of Chapter Fifty-Two suffering a very convenient toothache, providing Emma with ample excuse to ship her off to the Knightleys in London for fun and games. It is not the only instance at the end of this novel where an extremely mundane event act triggers romantic resolution. With Harriet out of sight and out of mind, Emma can now turn to the belated task of befriending Jane Fairfax. I love this scene at the Bates’. Emma is up to her old tricks – imagining herself privy to everyone else’s innermost thoughts and motivations – but on this occasion she seems to be pretty spot on in her assumptions. It is Mrs. Elton who now thinks she knows all and is sadly mistaken: a small but gratifying comeuppance.  

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton were together. Miss Bates was out, which accounted for the previous tranquillity. 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.

She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton’s thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax’s confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady’s replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold reticule by her side, saying, with significant nods,

”We can finish this some other time, you know. You and I shall not want opportunities. And, in fact, you have heard all the essential already. I only wanted to prove to you that Mrs. S. admits our apology, and is not offended. You see how delightfully she writes. Oh! she is a sweet creature! You would have doated on her, had you gone.–But not a word more. Let us be discreet–quite on our good behaviour.–Hush!–You remember those lines–I forget the poem at this moment:

”For when a lady’s in the case,

”You know all other things give place.”

Now I say, my dear, in our case, for lady, read—-mum! a word to the wise.–I am in a fine flow of spirits, an’t I? But I want to set your heart at ease as to Mrs. S.–My representation, you see, has quite appeased her.”

And again, on Emma’s merely turning her head to look at Mrs. Bates’s knitting, she added, in a half whisper,

”I mentioned no names, you will observe.–Oh! no; cautious as a minister of state. I managed it extremely well.”

Emma could not doubt. It was a palpable display, repeated on every possible occasion. When they had all talked a little while in harmony of the weather and Mrs. Weston, she found herself abruptly addressed with,

”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.”

”I have scarce had the pleasure of seeing you, Miss Woodhouse,” she shortly afterwards began, “since the party to Box Hill. Very pleasant party. But yet I think there was something wanting. Things did not seem–that is, there seemed a little cloud upon the spirits of some.–So it appeared to me at least, but I might be mistaken. However, I think it answered so far as to tempt one to go again. What say you both to our collecting the same party, and exploring to Box Hill again, while the fine weather lasts?–It must be the same party, you know, quite the same party, not one exception.”

Soon after this Miss Bates came in, and Emma could not help being diverted by the perplexity of her first answer to herself, resulting, she supposed, from doubt of what might be said, and impatience to say every thing.

”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!”–And from her great, her more than commonly thankful delight towards Mrs. Elton for being there, Emma guessed that there had been a little show of resentment towards Jane, from the vicarage quarter, which was now graciously overcome.–After a few whispers, indeed, which placed it beyond a guess, Mrs. Elton, speaking louder, said,

”Yes, here I am, my good friend; and here I have been so long, that anywhere else I should think it necessary to apologise; but, the truth is, that I am waiting for my lord and master. He promised to join me here, and pay his respects to you.”

”What! are we to have the pleasure of a call from Mr. Elton?–That will be a favour indeed! for I know gentlemen do not like morning visits, and Mr. Elton’s time is so engaged.”

”Upon my word it is, Miss Bates.–He really is engaged from morning to night.–There is no end of people’s coming to him, on some pretence or other.–The magistrates, and overseers, and churchwardens, are always wanting his opinion. They seem not able to do any thing without him.–‘Upon my word, Mr. E.,’ I often say, ‘rather you than I.–I do not know what would become of my crayons and my instrument, if I had half so many applicants.’–Bad enough as it is, for I absolutely neglect them both to an unpardonable degree.–I believe I have not played a bar this fortnight.–However, he is coming, I assure you: yes, indeed, on purpose to wait on you all.” And putting up her hand to screen her words from Emma–“A congratulatory visit, you know.–Oh! yes, quite indispensable.”

Miss Bates looked about her, so happily!–

”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.”

Emma would not have smiled for the world, and only said, “Is Mr. Elton gone on foot to Donwell?–He will have a hot walk.”

”Oh! no, it is a meeting at the Crown, a regular meeting. Weston and Cole will be there too; but one is apt to speak only of those who lead.–I fancy Mr. E. and Knightley have every thing their own way.”

”Have not you mistaken the day?” said Emma. “I am almost certain that the meeting at the Crown is not till to-morrow.–Mr. Knightley was at Hartfield yesterday, and spoke of it as for Saturday.”

”Oh! no, the meeting is certainly to-day,” was the abrupt answer, which denoted the impossibility of any blunder on Mrs. Elton’s side.–“I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”

”Your parish there was small,” said Jane.

”Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”

”But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.”

”Ah! you clever creature, that’s very true. What a thinking brain you have! I say, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could be shaken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection.–Not that I presume to insinuate, however, that some people may not think you perfection already.–But hush!–not a word, if you please.”

It seemed an unnecessary caution; Jane was wanting to give her words, not to Mrs. Elton, but to Miss Woodhouse, as the latter plainly saw. The wish of distinguishing her, as far as civility permitted, was very evident, though it could not often proceed beyond a look.

Mr. Elton made his appearance. His lady greeted him with some of her sparkling vivacity.

”Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance to my friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come!–But you knew what a dutiful creature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till my lord and master appeared.–Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these young ladies a sample of true conjugal obedience–for who can say, you know, how soon it may be wanted?”

Mr. Elton was so hot and tired, that all this wit seemed thrown away. His civilities to the other ladies must be paid; but his subsequent object was to lament over himself for the heat he was suffering, and the walk he had had for nothing.

”When I got to Donwell,” said he, “Knightley could not be found. Very odd! very unaccountable! after the note I sent him this morning, and the message he returned, that he should certainly be at home till one.”

”Donwell!” cried his wife.–“My dear Mr. E., you have not been to Donwell!–You mean the Crown; you come from the meeting at the Crown.”

”No, no, that’s to-morrow; and I particularly wanted to see Knightley to-day on that very account.–Such a dreadful broiling morning!–I went over the fields too–(speaking in a tone of great ill-usage,) which made it so much the worse. And then not to find him at home! I assure you I am not at all pleased. 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 was gone. Perhaps to Hartfield, perhaps to the Abbey Mill, perhaps into his woods.–Miss Woodhouse, this is not like our friend Knightley!–Can you explain it?”

Emma amused herself by protesting that it was very extraordinary, indeed, and that she had not a syllable to say for him.

Do you think Austen is intentionally placing Emma and Mrs. Elton in parallel roles here? If so, what do we learn from this juxtaposition?

Chapter Fifty-Three opens with a great deal of banter between our hero and heroine. Emma speaks rather humbly of herself, obviously still smarting from her many recent blunders, yet she confidently teases Mr. Knightley, revealing how her behavior for many years has been intended to provoke him:

“She has had the advantage, you know, of practising on me,” she continued–“like La Baronne d’Almane on La Comtesse d’Ostalis, in Madame de Genlis’ Adelaide and Theodore, and we shall now see her own little Adelaide educated on a more perfect plan.”

”That is,” replied Mr. Knightley, “she will indulge her even more than she did you, and believe that she does not indulge her at all. It will be the only difference.”

”Poor child!” cried Emma; “at that rate, what will become of her?”

”Nothing very bad.–The fate of thousands. She will be disagreeable in infancy, and correct herself as she grows older. I am losing all my bitterness against spoilt children, my dearest Emma. I, who am owing all my happiness to you, would not it be horrible ingratitude in me to be severe on them?”

Emma laughed, and replied: “But I had the assistance of all your endeavours to counteract the indulgence of other people. I doubt whether my own sense would have corrected me without it.”

”Do you?–I have no doubt. Nature gave you understanding:–Miss Taylor gave you principles. You must have done well. My interference was quite as likely to do harm as good. It was very natural for you to say, what right has he to lecture me?–and I am afraid very natural for you to feel that it was done in a disagreeable manner. I do not believe I did you any good. The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doating on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least.”

”I am sure you were of use to me,” cried Emma. “I was very often influenced rightly by you–oftener than I would own at the time. I am very sure you did me good. And if poor little Anna Weston is to be spoiled, it will be the greatest humanity in you to do as much for her as you have done for me, except falling in love with her when she is thirteen.”

”How often, when you were a girl, have you said to me, with one of your saucy looks–‘Mr. Knightley, I am going to do so-and-so; papa says I may, or I have Miss Taylor’s leave’–something which, you knew, I did not approve. In such cases my interference was giving you two bad feelings instead of one.”

”What an amiable creature I was!–No wonder you should hold my speeches in such affectionate remembrance.”

”‘Mr. Knightley.’–You always called me, ‘Mr. Knightley;’ and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound.–And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what.”

”I remember once calling you ‘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.”

”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;–in the building in which N. takes M. for better, for worse.”

Emma seems to thrive on getting (and maintaining) Mr. Knightley’s negative attention. To what degree were her actions throughout the course of the novel influenced by a desire to goad him? 

My very favorite part of this week’s reading is the role Mr. Weston plays in disseminating the “secret” of Miss Woodhouse’s engagement to Highbury:

The news was universally a surprize wherever it spread; and Mr. Weston had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise 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.

”It is to be a secret, I conclude,” said he. “These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them. Only let me be told when I may speak out.–I wonder whether Jane has any suspicion.”

He went to Highbury the next morning, and satisfied himself on that point. He told her the news. Was not she like a daughter, his eldest daughter?–he must tell her; and Miss Bates being present, it passed, of course, to Mrs. Cole, Mrs. Perry, and Mrs. Elton, immediately afterwards. It was no more than the principals were prepared for; they had calculated from the time of its being known at Randalls, how soon it would be over Highbury; and were thinking of themselves, as the evening wonder in many a family circle, with great sagacity.

And we end with the reliably ludicrous Eltons:

In general, it was a very well approved match. Some might think him, and others might think her, the most in luck. One set might recommend their all removing to Donwell, and leaving Hartfield for the John Knightleys; and another might predict disagreements among their servants; but yet, upon the whole, there was no serious objection raised, except in one habitation, the Vicarage.–There, the surprize was not softened by any satisfaction. Mr. Elton cared little about it, compared with his wife; he only hoped “the young lady’s pride would now be contented;” and supposed “she had always meant to catch Knightley if she could;” and, on the point of living at Hartfield, could daringly exclaim, “Rather he than I!”–But Mrs. Elton was very much discomposed indeed.–“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 him! 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.

I give Mr. E some credit here for holding less of a grudge than his wife, though it is his to bear. I also have to agree with Mrs. E to some extent, as much as it pains me to admit it, in that Mr. Knightley’s moving in at Hartfield really does seem like an awful idea. I understand there are extenuating circumstances, but I also feel like Emma and Knightley are basically indenturing themselves to Mr. Woodhouse’s neuroses for who knows how many years. How do you foresee this arrangement working out? This is a great opportunity for a short, original scene composition. I hope someone snatches it.

In my short story collection, And Who can be in Doubt of What Followed?, I elaborated a bit on the scene at the parsonage above. I’ve posted a snippet of it in the comments for your amusement.

December 20, 2016
3:16 PM
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“The young lady’s pride should now be contented. I suppose she always meant to catch Knightley if she could.”

“This will be the end of all pleasant intercourse with him, you know. A disagreeable wife’s personality will have adverse effects on a susceptible husband.”

“Exactly so, my dear.”

“I am extremely concerned for him, for, though eccentric, he has a thousand good qualities. I do not think him at all in love – not in the least. Poor fellow! It is a sad business for him.”

“Weston tells me they plan on living at Hartfield, at least until the old gentleman dies. Miss Woodhouse would not be parted from her father. A strange arrangement, I thought, but Weston seems to think it a blessing.” 

“A shocking plan! What can they mean, living all together in such a manner? It will never do, Mr. E, mark my words! I know a family near Maple Grove who attempted it, and they were obliged to separate before the end of the first quarter. Poor Knightley! It is worse than I thought! I wonder how she convinced him to agree to such a notion?”

“Rather him than I!” 

Mrs. Elton did not find this response particularly satisfying, as all reminders of her husband’s prior interest in Miss Woodhouse rankled. She turned the discussion to the demerits of the Donwell housekeeper, to which Mr. Elton had little option but to add his assent.

December 21, 2016
1:08 PM
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I have a unique vantage point from which to view Mr. Knightley’s moving in with Mr. Woodhouse because from the time of my birth until I was about 6 or 7 my mom, dad, older sister, and I lived with my grandfather.  My dad was an only child and the farm was to become his — it was his home, his inheritance, and so on. So, naturally, when he married, my mom moved into his home. However, my grandmother had passed away when my dad was still a boy and the farm had been home to him and his father and only he and his father for many years.  To me as a child, it was fun having grandpa around to give you treats and things — not that he was a spoil the child kind of man — he was a bit cantankerous. For my mother, it was more challenging.  

I think it is sweet that Mr. Knightley would care for Emma enough to move into her home, but I think it is going to be challenging.  The good thing is that Mr. Knightley knows exactly what Mr. Woodhouse is like, so he is not moving in with a stranger. Perhaps that will help. Emma is good at knowing how to approach her father — as are most other people, so I guess that will also be helpful — but I don’t think it will be without its frustrations for both Emma and Mr. Knightley. I also don’t think they really had any other choice if they wished to marry — so sometimes you do what you have to do.  

On the point of Mrs. Elton — it made me quite happy to see her disconcerted. I don’t care for either her or her husband. 🙂  

December 21, 2016
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Great little snippet, Alexa. It brings out Mrs. Elton’s jealousy a bit. I hadn’t considered that as her motivation–I was thinking more that she felt snubbed by Emma’s lack of hospitality since she arrived–but it certainly makes sense that she would be jealous. Mr. Elton did propose to Emma after all.

Though she’s criticized Emma for being prideful, Mrs. Elton turns out to be the more prideful woman here. I love the comparison of her to Emma when they both have secrets. Emma doesn’t flaunt her superior knowledge at all, and I admire her for it.

On the subject of Emma wishing to goad on Mr. Knightley throughout the novel, that certainly was a factor. People have a tendency to stick to their opinions even more strongly when a loved one advises them that they’re wrong. Much of the plot revolves around Emma trying to prove herself right, and she wouldn’t have been nearly as determined if it weren’t for Mr. Knightley’s wise counsel.

I think Knightley definitely knows what he’s getting into when he agrees to live with Mr. Woodhouse. He’s spent so much time with the family, and he has given his opinion in various passages that a real man doesn’t easily yield to others’ influences. (I’m thinking of the passages where he and Emma discuss Frank’s relationship with the Churchills.) Yes, it will be a sacrifice for him, but he’s up to the challenge. I also think it’s romantic that he loves Emma and her father enough to make that sacrifice.