Thursday, May 05, 2011

Emma, Volume I, Chapter 5


Austen's omniscient narrator takes herself off to the parlor at Randalls, where we eavesdrop on a conversation between Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston. As a reminder for first-time readers: Mr Knightley is a neighbor (who lives at Donwell Abbey), and is the elder brother of the man married to Emma's elder sister; Mrs Weston used to be Miss Taylor, Emma's governess-turned-companion, but she has recently married Mr Weston and moved to his estate, which is called Randalls.

Jeremy Northam will be playing the role of Mr Knightley today (YUM!), with Greta Scacchi as Mrs Weston. I reserve the right to switch to both of the other casts I like (Mark Strong as Mr Knightley and Kate Beckinsale as Emma OR Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley and Romola Garai as Emma), though I won't mix casts (one from each, say).

Mr Knightley: This relationship between Emma and Harriet Smith is a bad thing.

Mrs Weston: Say what?

Mr Knightley: They aren't good for each other.

Mrs Weston: Well, of course they are! Harriet will improve thanks to being around Emma, and Emma will improve for having something to do! Being a man who can come and go as he pleases, I don't think you realize how important companionship can be to a woman - especially one like Emma, who has had a female companion her entire life. I get that Harriet is fairly stupid and uneducated, but Emma hopes to improve Harriet's mind through reading, which will be good for Emma, too.

Mr Knightley:
"Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding."
Heck, if you couldn't get her to read, there's no way that Harriet Smith will.

Mrs Weston: I can't remember Emma ever refusing to do anything I asked.

Mr Knightley: That's because you are blinded by Emma's charms. Emma has always been the cleverest person in that family, always quick-minded and assured, and she's been the mistress of the house since she was twelve. She's never been reined in.

Mrs Weston: Thank God I didn't need another governess position - you'd have made a crappy reference!

Mr Knightley: Ah, but you are much better suited to be Mr Weston's wife, even if it's unlikely you'll have to use the skills you developed to deal with difficult people. Although maybe Frank Churchill will prove to be a dick.

Mrs Weston: Don't say such a thing!

Mr Knightley: I hope he will be "a Weston in merit, and a Churchill in fortune." But I digress - the real issue here is Harriet Smith. She's a problem because she idolizes Emma and there's no way Emma can improve herself with someone admiring her every syllable. And Harriet won't improve, either - she'll learn just enough of Emma's airs to be dissatisfied with her own lot in life, and nothing more.

Mrs Weston: Well, either I credit Emma with more sense than you do or worry more about her present happiness. Wasn't she pretty last night?

Mr Knightley: If you want to talk about her person and not her personality, then yes - I've seldom seen a handsomer or more pleasing face and figure. Of course, I'm just an old family friend.

Mrs Weston: *gives Knightley an undetected, knowing look, then eggs him on by enumerating Emma's physical charms* "She is loveliness itself, Mr Knightley, is not she?"

Mr Knightley:
"I have not a fault to find with her person," he replied. "I think her all you describe. I love to look at her; and I will add this praise, that I do not think her personally vain. Considering how very handsome she is, she appears to be little occupied with it; her vanity lies another way. Mrs Weston, I am not to be talked out of my dislike of Harriet Smith, or my dread of its doing them both harm."
Mrs Weston: Pshaw!

Mr Knightley: It's just that I take a particular and strong interest in Emma - even moreso than in Isabella, who is actually my sister-in-law. I am curious and anxious on her behalf.

Mrs Weston: So am I. I just don't think there's anything to worry about just now.

Mr Knightley: Allow me to engage in a combination of foreshadowing and irony:
"She always declares she will never marry, which, of course, means just nothing at all. But I have no idea that she has yet ever seen a man she cared for. It would not be a bad thing for her to be very much in love with a proper object. I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach her; and she goes so seldom from home."
Mrs Weston: Well, I certainly wouldn't want her to get married just know. *schemes to pair Emma with Frank Churchill*

Tomorrow: Chapter Six
Back to Chapter Four

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