Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Emma, Volume II, Chapter 5 (Chapter 23)



Oh, Emma!

Emma's self-absorption here at the start of the chapter is sickening, yes? She deliberately sets out to restrict Harriet from reattaching herself to the Martin family - even to the mother and sisters - and while we are given to understand that the Martins feel snubbed by the shortness of the visit and Harriet feels sad that it was cut off, the narrator focuses on Emma's feelings: how Emma feels badly for what she's doing here, behaving as a sort of puppet-master toward Harriet, who continues to dance to Emma's tune.

Enter Frank Churchill, Stage Left Even

It's wonderful to see how news about Frank Churchill's imminent arrival travels. Emma calls at Randalls to find the Westons are from home, only to meet them in the lane - they're returning from Hartfield, where they've told Mr Woodhouse their news: Frank is coming for a two-week stay. Mr Weston, ever the optimist, is thrilled, since a fortnight is much longer than the two or three days they might have gotten from Frank at Christmas. Even Mrs Weston seems convinced that Frank will actually arrive tomorrow.

Only as it turns out, Frank arrived that very day - something Emma learnt by stepping into the parlour at Hartfield the next day around noon, only to find Mr Weston and Frank Churchill were already there, calling on her father. It's obvious to everyone that Frank Churchill was extremely anxious to get to Highbury after all.

The Frank Churchill so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before her--he was presented to her, and she did not think too much had been said in his praise; he was a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father's; he looked quick and sensible. She felt immediately that she should like him; and there was a well-bred ease of manner, and a readiness to talk, which convinced her that he came intending to be acquainted with her, and that acquainted they soon must be.
Frank immediately ingratiates himself with Emma by praising Mrs Weston in eloquent terms and in expressing happiness over his father's marriage. And while he acknowledges that he knows Mrs Weston used to be Emma's governess, Miss Taylor, he never speaks of her as if she were anything less than a wonderful gentlewoman. I put this here now because I intend to contrast it later with Mrs Elton's words on the same topic:

He got as near as he could to thanking her for Miss Taylor's merits, without seeming quite to forget that in the common course of things it was to be rather supposed that Miss Taylor had formed Miss Woodhouse's character, than Miss Woodhouse Miss Taylor's. And at last, as if resolved to qualify his opinion completely for travelling round to its object, he wound it all up with astonishment at the youth and beauty of her person.

"Elegant, agreeable manners, I was prepared for," said he; "but I confess that, considering every thing, I had not expected more than a very tolerably well-looking woman of a certain age; I did not know that I was to find a pretty young woman in Mrs Weston."

"You cannot see too much perfection in Mrs Weston for my feelings," said Emma; "were you to guess her to be eighteen, I should listen with pleasure; but she would be ready to quarrel with you for using such words. Don't let her imagine that you have spoken of her as a pretty young woman."

"I hope I should know better," he replied; "no, depend upon it, (with a gallant bow,) that in addressing Mrs Weston I should understand whom I might praise without any danger of being thought extravagant in my terms."
Frank's closing line indicates that Mrs Weston is only too happy to hear praise of Emma, and reminds her of her suspicion that the Westons would like to see a match between her and Frank. (And, of course, that is precisely the case, as we've been aware since Mr Knightley and Mrs Weston discussed Emma early on in the book.) Emma believes Frank is aware of their intention as well, and wonders whether he acquiesces in that wish or not. Interestingly, Emma does not at that moment examine her own feelings to determine whether she likes the idea or not; instead, she's aware that Mr Weston is watching, and thankful that her father is oblivious, and that's pretty much it.

When Mr Weston rises to go, he drops a hint that Frank ought to stay, but Frank joins him in departing, saying that he must make a call on Jane Fairfax, whom he has met in Weymouth. After asserting that he must make the call and getting his father involved in discussing Miss Bates, he immediately backs off and says it could wait for another time. I very much love Mr Weston's reply, which is a quote I sometimes use in my daily life:

"What is right to be done cannot be done too soon."

Ain't that the truth? Mr Weston continues on to say that Frank must call at once, explaining the change in Jane's social standing. When Frank met her before, she was his social equal, in the company of the Campbells. Now she is inferior, being the poor relation of poor gentlewomen. Mr Weston is quick to point out that Frank must pay Jane additional attention because of that, so as not to be seen to slight her for having fallen in social status. In that, he is far kinder than Emma was at the start of the chapter when dealing with Harriet and Emma's perception of Harriet's status.

Clever Jane Austen, bookending your chapter in that manner. To say nothing of putting the better advice in the mouth of the kind, but bordering on comical, Mr Weston, rather than in the mouth of the main character, who is seeking to justify snubbing people who are entirely nice and deserving of being treated well.

Mr Woodhouse really is good-hearted, if misguided.

I have to laugh at Mr Woodhouse's solicitousness. He's ready to send a servant with Frank to show him how to get to the Bates's house, since Mr Weston is going to stop across the street from it. And how can one not laugh at Mr Weston's practical rejoinder? "My good friend, this is quite unnecessary; Frank knows a puddle of water when he sees it, and as to Mrs Bates's, he may get there from the Crown in a hop, step, and jump."

With so much going on - Mr Elton off to be married, Jane Fairfax and now Frank Churchill come to Highbury - one gets the sense that things are being shaken up quite nicely. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

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