Saturday, May 21, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 18

Mr Frank Churchill is not coming after all.

Roll call of reactions

Mr Weston: Half an hour of disappointment, followed by a cup more than half full of optimism that his eventual visit will be at a much better time, etc.

Mrs Weston: Far deeper disappointment, since she now anticipates that Frank will continue to bait and switch as to the time of his visit.



Emma: Her real reaction is "Who cares if he comes or not?", but, wanting to appear as usual, she feigns disappointment equal to that of Mrs Weston's.

Mr Knightley: Oh, Mr Knightley. Do you understand your own reaction yourself, sir? I rather think you may not, and that were you speaking with anyone but Emma, you might not have gotten quite as riled up. But I digress.

Whatever the reason, Mr Knightley is inclined to be really, truly put out with Mr Churchill.

"The Churchills are very likely in fault," said Mr Knightley, coolly; "but I dare say he might come if he would."

"I do not know why you should say so. He wishes exceedingly to come; but his uncle and aunt will not spare him."

"I cannot believe that he has not the power of coming, if he made a point of it. It is too unlikely, for me to believe it without proof."

"How odd you are! What has Mr Frank Churchill done, to make you suppose him such an unnatural creature?"

"I am not supposing him at all an unnatural creature, in suspecting that he may have learnt to be above his connexions, and to care very little for any thing but his own pleasure, from living with those who have always set him the example of it. It is a great deal more natural than one could wish, that a young man, brought up by those who are proud, luxurious, and selfish, should be proud, luxurious, and selfish too. If Frank Churchill had wanted to see his father, he would have contrived it between September and January. A man at his age--what is he?--three or four-and-twenty--cannot be without the means of doing as much as that. It is impossible."

"That's easily said, and easily felt by you, who have always been your own master. You are the worst judge in the world, Mr Knightley, of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage."

"It is not to be conceived that a man of three or four-and-twenty should not have liberty of mind or limb to that amount. He cannot want money--he cannot want leisure. We know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both, that he is glad to get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom. We hear of him for ever at some watering-place or other. A little while ago, he was at Weymouth. This proves that he can leave the Churchills."

"Yes, sometimes he can."

"And those times are whenever he thinks it worth his while; whenever there is any temptation of pleasure."

"It is very unfair to judge of any body's conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation. Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be. We ought to be acquainted with Enscombe, and with Mrs Churchill's temper, before we pretend to decide upon what her nephew can do. He may, at times, be able to do a great deal more than he can at others."

"There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is, his duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Frank Churchill's duty to pay this attention to his father. He knows it to be so, by his promises and messages; but if he wished to do it, it might be done. A man who felt rightly would say at once, simply and resolutely, to Mrs Churchill--'Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off to-morrow.'--If he would say so to her at once, in the tone of decision becoming a man, there would be no opposition made to his going."
Their argument continues in this vein a while longer, then shifts a bit as Mr Knightley begins to become still more critical of Frank Churchill's manners and conduct. And, in doing so, he invokes something I mentioned back in Chapter 2 about Frank's association with the French. First, there's the association of the word "Frank" with "French", but here Mr Knightley, one of the finest models in all of Austen of what a proper English gentleman is or should be, uses a French word to disparage Frank Churchill:
"No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very 'aimable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him."
Mr Knightley is likely using the now-archaic meaning of the word, which is "admirable" (given the context); he is contrasting it to the French word aimable, meaning likeable or affable. He claims that Frank Churchill may fit the French term - meaning that he's agreeable and well-liked - but that he does not merit the English word, which makes him an admirable person who is actually courteous and kind to others. This drawing of a distinction between English and French is not the last we shall see of a French-related analysis of Frank Churchill's character, nor of Mr Knightley's (dare I say knight-like?) championship of all things English.

Austen leaves us with this somewhat curious conclusion to the conversation - nay, argument - between Emma and Mr Knightley:

"I will say no more about him," cried Emma, "you turn every thing to evil. We are both prejudiced; you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here."

"Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced."

"But I am very much, and without being at all ashamed of it. My love for Mr and Mrs Weston gives me a decided prejudice in his favour."

"He is a person I never think of from one month's end to another," said Mr Knightley, with a degree of vexation, which made Emma immediately talk of something else, though she could not comprehend why he should be angry.

To take a dislike to a young man, only because he appeared to be of a different disposition from himself, was unworthy the real liberality of mind which she was always used to acknowledge in him; for with all the high opinion of himself, which she had often laid to his charge, she had never before for a moment supposed it could make him unjust to the merit of another.
I believe that Emma is onto something here: Mr Knightley is acting a bit out of character in this instance: he has formed an ill opinion of Frank Churchill for his refusal to come and visit the Westons, especially because Mr Knightley sees it as a slap in the face for Mrs Weston - arguing, as he does, that were she a woman of consequence (and not a former governess), Frank Churchill would've gotten his tail over to Randalls for a visit much sooner. He believes Frank will be a bit of a coxcomb and that he is spoiled and rather inclined to be the center of attention. (We shall have the opportunity to find out whether Mr Knightley's assessment is correct or not, of course.)

However, there's something a bit more going on here, too, because Mr Knightley is disingenuous in saying that he does not think of Frank Churchill. After all, he's just spent nearly an entire chapter of the book arguing about Frank Churchill with Emma - and taking an increasingly negative viewpoint in the argument as Emma comes to the young man's defense. Part of his annoyance comes directly from Emma's desire to approve of Frank Churchill, and many readers, myself included, see this as evidence that Mr Knightley is a bit jealous in this instance, and that (moreover) his ire and irritation increase the more Emma defends Frank Churchill.

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