Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 13

Isabella Woodhouse Knightley is having a delightful time, gadding about the neighborhood showing off her children and spending quiet evenings with her sister and father at her childhood home. Those of you who've had the dubious pleasure of growing tired of having (or being) company will appreciate this quote, I believe:
"It was a delightful visit;—perfect, in being much too short."

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too . . .

There's to be a dinner party at Randalls - and the total guest list is the Westons, the entire Woodhouse-Knightley clan, Mr Knightley, Mr Elton, and Harriet Smith. In deference to Mr Woodhouse, who does not really like to leave his own home all that much, it is a small affair and will all be done very early.

Alas, on December 23rd, Harriet fell ill, complete with a sore throat, making her attendance at dinner on Christmas Eve out of the question. Emma visits Harriet anyhow, and is certain that Mr Elton will be heartbroken when he learns that Harriet won't be joining them for dinner. Goodness, but I love Austen's comedic timing here, since Emma immediately runs into Mr Elton and is then joined by her brother-in-law, Mr John Knightley, who is an astute observer.

Emma is gobsmacked that Mr Elton doesn't seem to give a fig for Harriet's condition and that he still wants to come to the dinner party. And she completely dismisses John Knightley's observation that he believes Mr Elton (a) is a bit insincere when he speaks to women and (b) has the hots for Emma, adding, moreover, that Emma is a tease appears to be flirting with Mr Elton and encouraging his attentions.

After a few minutes of entire silence between them, John Knightley began with—

"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every feature works."

"Mr Elton's manners are not perfect," replied Emma; "but where there is a wish to please, one ought to overlook, and one does overlook a great deal. Where a man does his best with only moderate powers, he will have the advantage over negligent superiority. There is such perfect good-temper and good-will in Mr Elton as one cannot but value."

"Yes," said Mr John Knightley presently, with some slyness, "he seems to have a great deal of good-will towards you."

"Me!" she replied with a smile of astonishment, "are you imagining me to be Mr Elton's object?"

"Such an imagination has crossed me, I own, Emma; and if it never occurred to you before, you may as well take it into consideration now."

"Mr Elton in love with me! — What an idea!"

"I do not say it is so; but you will do well to consider whether it is so or not, and to regulate your behaviour accordingly. I think your manners to him encouraging. I speak as a friend, Emma. You had better look about you, and ascertain what you do, and what you mean to do."

"I thank you; but I assure you you are quite mistaken. Mr Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more;" and she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgment are for ever falling into; and not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind and ignorant, and in want of counsel. He said no more.
Two carriages depart from Hartfield: In the first, Mr Woodhouse and Isabella. In the second, Emma and Mr John Knightley, who are to pick Mr Elton up on their way. John Knightley is in a sour mood, in part because it is cold and threatens to snow, and in part because he doesn't want to miss seeing his children after dinner. (Is not that rather sweet?) He spends the journey griping about the fact that they're going out - and though many of his reasons are sound, his complaints make me laugh because he's so dour.

And then Mr Elton bounds into the carriage and quickly moves on from any discussion of Harriet's condition to other topics.

I love how Alan Cumming plays Mr Elton in the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow. For yesterday's and today's chapters, start at 2:16 and stop at 4:55; otherwise, watch all the way through:

And yet, the BBC's 2009 version kept things closest to the book. And I adore the cast here. To stop roughly at the end of this chapter, stop at the 6:23 mark:

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