Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part two

In the weeks following Emma's spat with Mr. Knightley, things remain a bit strained between them. Emma believes that she is succeeding at setting up a match between Mr. Elton and Harriet. Harriet believes whatever Emma does, because that's how she rolls. And Mr. Elton believes that he's successfully wooing Emma. The reader can see it all coming a mile away, even though the heroine cannot - a writing skill that Austen employs throughout this novel, and part of what makes it so delightful.

Eventually, Emma and Mr. Knightley make peace. And then, in chapter 15, Mr. Elton declares himself, and Emma is not only flummoxed, but forced to be extremely blunt in her refusal. Turns out she's inadvertently been a tease the entire time - a point Mr. Elton makes most forcibly during a carriage ride. (I am rather fond of that particular post. I am also rather fond of Alan Cummings's and Gwyneth Paltrow's performance of this scene. But I digress.)

It is in Chapter 16 that I really start to like Emma Woodhouse. Picking up after Mr. Elton's proposal, we learn that Emma is not so much mortified that he proposed to her as she is mortified that he did not propose to Harriet Smith. Her intentions, hopes and wishes were all based in true affection for her friend, and she is devastated to find out that Mr. Elton has no interest in Harriet. At all. She even admits to herself that Mr. Knightley was correct about Mr. Elton having no interest in someone like Harriet, that her brother-in-law, John Knightley, was correct about Mr. Elton being interested in Emma, and that Mr. Elton was right in thinking that Emma led him on, even if that wasn't her intention.

Emma has to tell Harriet what transpired and deal with all the fallout of Harriet's broken heart, and while doing so, the next plot point arrives (or rather, doesn't arrive, at least at first). Turns out that Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, is supposed to visit his father and new stepmother, only his visit is cancelled at the last minute. Thus we reach the end of Volume I of the novel (Chapter 18), with another minor disagreement between Mr. Knightley and Emma, this time over whether or not Frank Churchill is a proper, upstanding, trustworthy sort of English gentleman. Who says Jane Austen didn't use foreshadowing?

Again, a reminder that, should you be interested in reading along and not own a copy of have one readily available, I highly recommend reading the e-text for free over at

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