Jane Austen and the Romantic Movement
I promise we'll get to the "good stuff" in just a minute, but first, I wanted to take a brief moment to appreciate the Romantic nature of the start of this chapter. And I refer here to the movement known as romanticism, defined by Merriam-Webster as:
a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse formsLet's look at the first few sentences of the first paragraph, shall we? (I will assume that you agreed. If not, skip on down to the rest of the post.)
The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield— but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr Perry's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time in hurrying into the shrubbery.First off, we have an emphasis on setting and weather. We are told that the bad weather of the night before continued for the morning. (In the previous chapter, Austen wrote: "A cold stormy rain set in, and nothing of July appeared but in the trees and shrubs, which the wind was despoiling".) The weather is decidedly echoing Emma's emotions in this (and the prior) chapter, as she mopes about realizing that she is in love with Mr Knightley and fairly convinced that he is not only not in love with her, but also possibly in love with Harriet Smith. But suddenly, the weather clears and becomes balmy and summery again, just in time for Mr Knightley to arrive. It's like he brought that wonderful weather with him. Oh symbolism, how do we love thee? (It will surprise some of you to learn that there are readers who don't think that Austen ever uses symbolism. Or foreshadowing. Or any of the other things we've been discussing as we talk about her books. But there it is.)
Secondly, we have an emphasis on Emma's wanting to be outside, to be soothed by nature - a hallmark of the Romantic movement, as anyone who has read Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads can tell you. For a prior post touching on this, in context with discussing Austen, I refer you to this post. It's not entirely surprising to find this level of romanticism in Austen's work, since the novel she completed immediately prior to Emma was Mansfield Park, which has quite a bit to say about using nature as one's guide (and/or quite a bit to say about Nature versus nurture, where Nature means the out-of-doors and natural sense rather than genetics - but we haven't done Mansfield Park here yet, so I digress).
Mr Knightley is back from London!
Moving on to the "good part" of this chapter, we are immediately told that soon after Emma "hurries into the shrubbery" (love that - she's just walking the paths in the garden, but it sounds so funny the way Austen puts it), Mr Knightley arrives. Emma is, of course, surprised almost to the point of shock, since she thought he was still in London. "She asked after their mutual friends; they were all well.--When had he left them?--Only that morning. He must have had a wet ride.--Yes.--He meant to walk with her, she found."
I love how the characters are at cross-purposes here for a while, each of them operating under a serious misunderstanding as to what the other is thinking and feeling. Emma is certain that Mr Knightley has been telling John Knightley that he means to marry Harriet, and is in a serious mood because it didn't go well, and Mr Knightley is sure that Emma is severely disappointed that Frank Churchill is to marry Jane Fairfax, because he thinks Emma has the hots for Frank. So they sort of dance around each other in a (delightful to the reader) way, trying to suss out what's going on.
When Emma confesses that she didn't see the Churchill/Fairfax marriage coming, Mr Knightley assumes that her sinking voice and sigh represent her own loss and disappointment (and he takes her arm in his - *swoon*). He's correct that Emma is disappointed, but she is disappointed in herself and in her own failure to have seen things clearly. And I think it's a HUGE credit to Emma that she owns up to it to Mr Knightley in detail, telling him what her own failings and misdeeds were - in great detail, no less - and making clear that she wasn't attached to Mr Churchill.
It's noteworthy that once Mr Knightley has processed Emma's words, he starts thinking slightly less ill of Frank Churchill, and expresses hope that perhaps he'll turn out well after all. Later in the chapter, of course, he's ready to wish Frank all the happiness in the world. Jealousy is such an interesting emotion, and writers should take note that Austen has never, ever summarized things by saying "Knightley was/seemed jealous" - she has always showed his resentment and jealousy through detailed conduct and statements. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
What Mr Knightley feels at the minute is no longer jealousy, but envy. Frank Churchill has just landed the woman of his (Frank's) dreams, and appears to be set to get his "happily ever after" (though I must report that according to family lore, Austen told family members that Jane Fairfax only lived a few years after he marriage to Frank Churchill, leaving him widowed much as his own father had been. But I digress). Mr Knightley, it turns out, is envious because he, too, is in love, and he doubts that he's in line for a "happily ever after" anytime soon - if ever. He displays his envy vociferously, in this lengthy paragraph where he lays out Frank Churchill's many shortcomings and the many strokes of luck he's encountered. It is only after his recitation that he confirms that it is, in fact, envy that he feels:
"He is a most fortunate man!" returned Mr Knightley, with energy. "So early in life--at three-and-twenty--a period when, if a man chooses a wife, he generally chooses ill. At three-and-twenty to have drawn such a prize! What years of felicity that man, in all human calculation, has before him!We come to the heart of the matter
--Assured of the love of such a woman--the disinterested love, for Jane Fairfax's character vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour,--equality of situation--I mean, as far as regards society, and all the habits and manners that are important; equality in every point but one--and that one, since the purity of her heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase his felicity, for it will be his to bestow the only advantages she wants.--A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt of her regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.--Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favorite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good.--He meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment--and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior.--His aunt is in the way.--His aunt dies.--He has only to speak.--His friends are eager to promote his happiness.--He had used every body ill--and they are all delighted to forgive him.--He is a fortunate man indeed!"
"You speak as if you envied him."
"And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy."
Emma, of course, thinks Mr Knightley has a thing for Harriet and tries to steer the conversation elsewhere. Mr Knightley, of course, like Harriet Smith and Frank Churchill before him thought about Emma, thinks that Emma sees what his romantic intention is, and wants to head him off because she's not interested. But she realizes that she has just mortified and hurt Mr Knightley, so she resumes the conversation "as a friend," which brings us to Mr Knightley's declaration of love, which is terribly romantic (in the love-sense, not the romanticism sense), because it's swoonily sweet and really a bit out of character for practical man-of-action Knightley:
"As a friend!"--repeated Mr Knightley.--"Emma, that I fear is a word--No, I have no wish--Stay, yes, why should I hesitate?--I have gone too far already for concealment.--Emma, I accept your offer--Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend.--Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?"Mr Knightley's talking about how he has blamed and lectured her and she has put up with it is often remarked on and is included in all the film versions, but only the Beckinsale/Strong version includes the extremely romantic second part of the idea, which is that he really wants to declare his love to her in some great detail, and he's hoping that she would put up with that just as much. "Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma" means that he's hoping she won't wig out because he's telling her he loves her. So, so, so, so sweet, once you parse it.
He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her.
"My dearest Emma," said he, "for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma--tell me at once. Say 'No,' if it is to be said."--She could really say nothing.--"You are silent," he cried, with great animation; "absolutely silent! at present I ask no more."
Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.
"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.--"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.--You hear nothing but truth from me.--I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.--Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.--But you understand me.--Yes, you see, you understand my feelings--and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice."(Emphasis is mine.)
Austen then treats us to Emma's thoughts on the matter, which are (as always) lightning-quick. And if you've ever taken a second to figure out your own thoughts in response to something, which can dart it lots of directions really quickly, this rings true, even though textually it's kind of odd to have so very many words between Mr Knightley's words and Emma's response. Here 'tis:
While he spoke, Emma's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able--and yet without losing a word--to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Harriet's hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of her own--that Harriet was nothing; that she was every thing herself; that what she had been saying relative to Harriet had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from herself.--And not only was there time for these convictions, with all their glow of attendant happiness; there was time also to rejoice that Harriet's secret had not escaped her, and to resolve that it need not, and should not.--It was all the service she could now render her poor friend; for as to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted her to entreat him to transfer his affection from herself to Harriet, as infinitely the most worthy of the two--or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and for ever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain. She had led her friend astray, and it would be a reproach to her for ever; but her judgment was as strong as her feelings, and as strong as it had ever been before, in reprobating any such alliance for him, as most unequal and degrading. Her way was clear, though not quite smooth.--She spoke then, on being so entreated.--What did she say?--Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.(Emphasis mine.)Emma demonstrates to the reader how improved her character is here: she thinks of Harriet, and feels badly for her (coming) disappointment, but she also is really pleased with herself for not having told anyone else that Harriet has a thing for Mr Knightley, because she knows it would have been embarrassing for Harriet's feelings to be exposed and mortifying for Harriet if others knew that Harriet had had the temerity to think she could rise so far above her station in life as to marry him. (And yes, that is every bit as snobbish as it sounds, but it represents the way things were at that time, so Austen wouldn't have thought it snobbish much at all.)
Austen glosses over Emma's reply to Mr Knightley and their subsequent conversation (including the fact that he's a bit confused as to how she can be so enthused about his declaration of love when she so rudely cut him off right before he was about to make it, because she never explains that she thought he might be about to tell her he wanted to marry Harriet) much in the same way that she glossed over Darcy's reaction to Elizabeth's acceptance of his proposal in Pride and Prejudice, where Austen tells us that "[t]he happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do."
Mr Knightley, Man of Action, wins the day
I have to say that as Men of Action go, Mr Knightley is the one who wins in declaring his love in person to his beloved, even though Captain Frederick Wentworth usually gets the winning nod for romance from most Janeites for "the letter", in which he declares his love plainly - including his famous "you have pierced my soul" line. Mr Darcy does an admirable job, of course, but much of his declaration of love takes place off the page, in the space created by Austen's indirect discourse. Colonel Brandon's proposal is off-page in Sense & Sensibility, Henry Tilney's is glossed over, and the men of inaction (Edward Ferrars in S&S and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park) don't declare much at all, although Edward Ferrars waxes rather eloquent on his relationship with Lucy Steele. But I digress.
The chapter closes with two long paragraphs of indirect discourse where Austen fills us in on the content of their conversation and their feelings toward one another, followed by a short, comical, omniscient paragraph in which Austen sums up how Mr Knightley's feelings about Frank Churchill changed during the course of his conversation with Emma.
The swoony goodness of film
And now, some clips. The first one is Jeremy Northam (my favorite screen Knightley) - it cuts the scene in parts, but you can click on the scene of them kissing at the end to see most of the remainder:
And here is the full, lovely scene between Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai:
And for yet another take on it, here is the slightly squashed-looking version with Kate Beckinsale as Emma and Mark Strong as Mr Knightley. (The proposal/garden scene ends at 5:25.)
Only a few chapters to go to get to the end of this book!