Ah, the party at the Coles’! What a meaty chapter I get to introduce to you today. In so many way, chapter twenty-six is a pivotal moment in the book and simply loaded with juicy goodness. There is so much going on.
After some final reflections on Mr. Churchill’s quest for a haircut, Emma arrives at the party (marking the commencement of a broader social life for our heroine) at the same time as Mr. Knightley, both in carriages. This is unusual as Mr. Knightley does not keep carriage horses himself and so went through the trouble to hire them for the occasion. Emma approves, and she begins her evening all complacence. There is a mystery in Highbury: someone has unexpectedly gifted Jane Fairfax a pianoforte. Speculation as to the identity of the giver, generally assumed to be Colonel Campbell, provides the bulk of the evening’s conversation.
Not every one adheres to the Colonel Campbell theory. Emma romantically concludes Mr. Dixon must be the giver, while Mrs. Weston has decided Mr. Knightley is responsible; that he is, in fact, in love with Miss Fairfax. His hiring and offering her the use of his horses and carriage is offered as proof of devotion. Emma is appalled. Not so romantic the notion of Mr. Knightley being infatuated with the impoverished governess. Emma finds Jane much more tolerable as the recipient of a dear friend’s husband’s attentions. That is acceptable. But Mr. Knightley? “Oh! no, no;–every feeling revolts.”
The actions of so many characters are suspicious in this chapter, most particularly Frank Churchill’s. Ironically, his behavior seems to be the only thing his companions fail to question. We will delve deeper into Frank’s conduct in our discussion of the chapter at The Writer’s Block. Please join us! In the meantime, to wet your appetite for debate, here is the Coles’ entire party beautifully portrayed in 1996 ITV production staring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong, with screenplay by Andrew Davies.
Join in the read-along conversation at The Writer’s Block.