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Emma, Volume I, Chapter 15

Mr Elton's presumption

Mr Elton presumes quite a bit in the course of this chapter, but for now, I'm talking about his conduct during the party at Randalls.

We are to understand that after dinner, Mr Woodhouse has immediately joined the ladies - cigars and port are not his cup of, er, tea, which is what he's imbibing in the parlor with the ladies. Mr Weston is quite happy to be entertaining the Knightley brothers and Mr Elton, so he's in no rush to rejoin the others; it is Mr Elton who turns up first, proceeding to sit between Emma and Mrs Weston, who had been having a bit of a tête-à-tête on a sofa.

Emma, who (Austen reminds us) has been thinking of Frank Churchill, has pretty much forgiven Mr Elton for being cavalier about Harriet's health earlier in the day - especially since he opens conversation by expressing concern for Harriet.

Emma's shock and indignation when it becomes clear that his mention of Harriet is merely a means of raising the issue of Emma's health is palpable. While endeavoring to claim some sort of right to guide her conduct, Elton is also (a) snubbing Harriet; (b) implicitly criticizing Emma for having visited her; (c) staking a claim to Emma - and doing so publicly by involving Mrs Weston in the conversation; (d) offering unsolicited (and unwelcome) advice. If you answered (e) ALL OF THE ABOVE, then award yourself a gold star.

A bit of etymology

We are told that Emma "had difficulty in behaving with temper", a word which here is used to mean "calmness of mind" or "a suitable balance or proportion of qualities". These days, we might say she is struggling to remain even-tempered, which is close to the meaning of temper as it existed in Austen's day. (To lose one's temper meant to lose one's cool (or evenness of mind), then as now; the word "temper" was not in and of itself a synonym for anger, as it is often used today - e.g., "She's got quite a temper.")

Mr Knightley, Man of Action

Now, those of you who remember my discussions of other Austen novels may realize that I've used the phrase "man of action" to describe Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility, Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Know what they all have in common? That's right - they are all heroes within their books. (Sorry, but Edward Ferrars does not cut it as a man of action, which pretty much suits Elinor just fine. And Lord knows that Edmund Bertram isn't a man of action either, although both of the Eds are also heroes; they also tend to come in last in polls of popular Austen heroes, with some of the "villains" faring better. But I digress.)

Mr Knightley, in the fine tradition of sexy Austen heroes (*wonders if Austen would cringe at that appellation*), is a man of action. Upon hearing that it is snowing outside, he (like everyone else) realizes that Mr Woodhouse and Isabella are likely to panic. While others fret and opine, he walks out the door and all the way down the "sweep" (a curved driveway in front of the house) to the Highbury road to determine how much snow is already on the ground. And he makes observations about how much snow is falling, and whether it looks to continue, and he talks with both of the coachmen to garner their opinions as well.

Mr Knightley's being a man of action bodes well for him as the likely successful love interest in this book. Mr Elton's continued presence on the couch does not.

When he comes in, Mr Knightley recommends that Emma and the rest of her party leave to go back to Hartfield, to which she agrees, and he then rings for the coaches. It shows (a) that he is thinking of what is best for not only Mr Woodhouse, but for Emma, who has to deal with her father's concerns and (b) that he is sensitive to others as well as full of good sense in general and (c) that he is, as we've already established, a man of action.

The Uncomfortable Coach Ride Home

In their haste to be gone, Mr Woodhouse and Isabella take Mr John Knightley with them, leaving Emma in the somewhat untenable position of being unchaperoned with Mr Elton inside a closed carriage. You will note that there's no mention of her being compromised as a result, although not for Mr Elton's lack of trying. [N.B. When Mr Elton is "actually making violent love to her", it means that he is declaring his love for her, accompanied by some hand-holding, and nothing more.]

Mr Elton: *does his best impression of Gene Kelly in the historical film nested in Singing in the Rain and/or of Gomez Addams* I love you, I love you, I love you.

Emma: O_o Are you off your rocker? You love Harriet, not me.

Mr Elton: WHAT? No effing way. It is you that I have the hots for, you whose dowry I want in whom I am interested. Only you.

Emma: O_o Are you off your rocker? I'm sure you love Harriet, not me.

Mr Elton: Um, NO. As if. I only ever thought of her as your friend. I have been assiduously courting you for weeks, AND YOU HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGING ME!

Emma: Yeah, well I only ever thought of you as Harriet's possible husband. Sheesh.

Mr Elton: Me? Marry Miss Smith? Are you off your rocker? I can do much better than a Miss Smith. She seems nice enough and I wish her well. I'm sure there are some mean who don't mind that . . . well, "Every body has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance, as to be addressing myself to Miss Smith!" And you most certainly did encourage me.

Emma: Did not.

Mr Elton: Did too. *seethes*

Emma: Ah. Here we are at the vicarage. Don't let the carriage door hit you in the ass on the way out. Goodnight, Mr Elton.

Mr Elton: *growls at her*

When Emma gets home, she finds that things there have sorted themselves out:

Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill-humour, was now all kindness and attention; and so particularly solicitous for the comfort of her father, as to seem — if not quite ready to join him in a basin of gruel — perfectly sensible of its being exceedingly wholesome; and the day was concluding in peace and comfort to all their little party, except herself. —But her mind had never been in such perturbation; and it needed a very strong effort to appear attentive and cheerful till the usual hour of separating allowed her the relief of quiet reflection.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 19th, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
I loved that version of Emma!
May. 19th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
Me too - it was closest to the book of the three versions I've seen.
May. 19th, 2011 07:26 am (UTC)
Oh Emma, Emma, Emma. It's the world's smallest violin, playing "My Heart Bleeds for You."

I think you're right that it was as well Austen included the scene showing Emma's noblesse oblige, because otherwise she does come across as a bit of a ninny, if a generally sweet-tempered one. After all, it's possible to be sweet-tempered out of pure laziness, so at least we've seen Emma stir her stumps to do some actual good. And she is, except for one notable exception, relatively patient with the Bateses, whatever she might think of them privately.

Every time I feel the urge to be exasperated with Emma's inability to recognize truly worthwhile people from the trifling, I have to remind myself how very self-centered I was at that age.
May. 19th, 2011 03:03 pm (UTC)
I think it's okay to be exasperated with Emma. Of course, I believe she eventually redeems herself. The question I'm asking myself now (on this read of the novel, anyway) is whether Emma as metaphorical creator (being imaginative) is forced to set her creativity aside in order to accept reality and the rational Mr Knightley - in which case it's a bit sad, isn't it?
May. 20th, 2011 09:56 am (UTC)
Oh, surely not. I always thought her progression at the end of the novel was simply towards the increasing maturity to use her creativity for constructive purposes instead of the semi-idle, trifling things she's spent it on before.

I thought the implication throughout was that Emma got into mischief precisely through being clever enough to need something to occupy her mind, without having anything worthwhile to occupy it.

You could say that her instincts are good, but her information bad. Mr Knightley will provide the information & occupation by helping her discover truly worthwhile recipients of her industry and ingenuity, and appropriate ways to help them (as opposed to the inappropriate help she tried to give Harriet, who is a nice enough creature in herself & could benefit from a little real guidance). I think I'd see Mr Knightley as keeping her creativity from going to waste.
May. 20th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
You know, as I thought about it more, I'd arrived at essentially the same conclusion. And Knightley does manage to convince her that she's not "too good" to mix with people like the Coles and the Martins, which is a huge improvement as well - far more rational than her initial position, which is a bit much.

Plus, with Knightley, she'll finally be able to travel to London and elsewhere and mingle with a more varied society, which has to be good for her as well.
May. 19th, 2011 02:54 pm (UTC)
Don't let the carriage door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Oh, LOL! I will now and forever hear this line whenever I read/watch/think of this scene. Thank you! Oh dear, Gwenyth Paltrow's indignant expression fits perfectly with it, too! LOL
May. 19th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad to have tickled your fancy! And the Paltrow/Cumming scene is perfect - he keeps moving back and forth on the benches and then he's so very, very pissy. *love*
(Deleted comment)
May. 19th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, he really, truly is. Just as Emma is insulted that he would ship himself with Emma. (That's in today's post, which just went live.)
Jun. 2nd, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
I felt such embarassment for Emma in this scene(especially in the Paltrow version, which is the only version I've seen). But, just like Mr. Darcy's first proposal, it was just too funny. Only Austen evokes this mixture of embarassment/amusement, for me. I know it is something many other creators strive for, but usually the embarassment outweighs the amusement.

Mr. Knightly is awesome. And lots of other good adjectives.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 03:10 am (UTC)
Agreed on all points. Most heartily.
Feb. 19th, 2013 12:24 am (UTC)
And you most certainly did encourage me.

Emma: Did not.

Mr Elton: Did too. *seethes*


She did too, in ignorance. Ha!
Feb. 19th, 2013 12:35 am (UTC)
Emma Woodhouse: inadvertent tease
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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