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Emma, Volume III, Chapter 10 (Chapter 46)

As established in the previous post, Mr. Knightley is off in London, (where, as my userpic indicates, he "is clearly not reading Jane Austen"). He's been gone for a while, now, - ten days or so, in fact.

Meanwhile, back in Highbury, Emma is summoned downstairs one morning because Mr Weston has come calling. And he really wants her to come with him to Randalls (his house), because Mrs Weston wants to see her ASAP. (And Mrs Weston, for those who haven't been following closely, is reallyreally preggers right about now, so she can't come to Emma.)

Emma immediately expects the worst. She is first worried that something is wrong with Mrs Weston (nope), then concerned that bad news has arrived from London about the Knightley family there (again, nope). Mr Weston has been ordered not to tell Emma what the deal is, and for once, he's keeping his mouth shut. He does mention in passing that Frank has been to see them, but only quickly, but otherwise, mum's the word.

When Emma gets to Randalls, she is greeted by a visibly shaken Mrs Weston, who imparts a most shocking bit of news: Frank Churchill is engaged. To Jane Fairfax. And he's been engaged to Jane Fairfax since they met in Weymouth, months before either of them turned up in Highbury.

If this is your first time reading the book, it is likely that you didn't really see this coming any much more than Emma did, although if you've been reading my posts, you might have cottoned on a bit (especially if you've been reading comments). But truly, Austen has pulled off a tremendous feat here, essentially using the skills used by mystery writers (who came along much later, in all honesty). She has put the clues throughout the book, including hints that Frank spent A LOT of time at the Bates's house, and Mr Knightley's keen observation a few chapters back that he thought he saw a connection between them. (Emma's laughter and assurance that he was nuts were undoubtedly part of his reason for taking off to London . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.)

Mrs Weston is especially concerned because everyone in Highbury knows how much she and Frank were flirting just a few weeks back when everyone went to Box Hill, and because the Westons have been hoping (hard) that Frank and Emma would make a match. Emma is able (after a time) to assuage Mrs Weston's fears and beliefs on that count, but finds herself outraged that Frank has acted so duplicitously the whole time (ending rather high on her horse, I note):

"I have escaped; and that I should escape, may be a matter of grateful wonder to you and myself. But this does not acquit him, Mrs. Weston; and I must say, that I think him greatly to blame. What right had he to come among us with affection and faith engaged, and with manners so very disengaged? What right had he to endeavour to please, as he certainly did--to distinguish any one young woman with persevering attention, as he certainly did--while he really belonged to another?--How could he tell what mischief he might be doing?--How could he tell that he might not be making me in love with him?--very wrong, very wrong indeed."

"From something that he said, my dear Emma, I rather imagine--"

"And how could she bear such behaviour! Composure with a witness! to look on, while repeated attentions were offering to another woman, before her face, and not resent it.--That is a degree of placidity, which I can neither comprehend nor respect."

"There were misunderstandings between them, Emma; he said so expressly. He had not time to enter into much explanation. He was here only a quarter of an hour, and in a state of agitation which did not allow the full use even of the time he could stay--but that there had been misunderstandings he decidedly said. The present crisis, indeed, seemed to be brought on by them; and those misunderstandings might very possibly arise from the impropriety of his conduct."

"Impropriety! Oh! Mrs. Weston--it is too calm a censure. Much, much beyond impropriety!--It has sunk him, I cannot say how it has sunk him in my opinion. So unlike what a man should be!--None of that upright integrity, that strict adherence to truth and principle, that disdain of trick and littleness, which a man should display in every transaction of his life."

(Hmm . . . upright integrity, strict adherence to truth and principle, disdain of trick and littleness . . . whom does that sound like? Again, I digress.)

Emma's reaction explains more clearly than I could what the dangers to society of a secret engagement are. Frank, who was actually engaged to Jane, could have found himself expected to marry Emma if she considered he was serious in her pursuit of her. And, of course, there's the fact that Emma said things to Frank that she ought not to have said about Jane, never expecting there was connection between the two. As Emma later concludes,

"Well," said Emma, "I suppose we shall gradually grow reconciled to the idea, and I wish them very happy. But I shall always think it a very abominable sort of proceeding. What has it been but a system of hypocrisy and deceit,--espionage, and treachery?--To come among us with professions of openness and simplicity; and such a league in secret to judge us all!--Here have we been, the whole winter and spring, completely duped, fancying ourselves all on an equal footing of truth and honour, with two people in the midst of us who may have been carrying round, comparing and sitting in judgment on sentiments and words that were never meant for both to hear.--They must take the consequence, if they have heard each other spoken of in a way not perfectly agreeable!"

Anyhow, it turns out that once Frank got wind of Jane Fairfax's plans to be a governess, he admitted his engagement to his adoptive father (Mr Churchill) so as to get his permission to be engaged, then came to tell Jane NOT to go be a governess, then stopped to tell the Westons what was up. And now that they are certain Emma's not upset, they are well on their way to being thrilled.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 16th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
I wouldn't say Jane witnessed it with all THAT much composure...

You know, sometimes I forget there may be people reading this who are also reading the book for the first time. I will have to remember not to put spoilers in the comments section.
Mar. 16th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
I don't worry about spoilers in the comments. For one thing, we just hit the big reveal, and for another, it's a book that's been out for nearly 200 years, so really, it's fair game for open discussion.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 18th, 2013 01:04 am (UTC)
Your observation about having experience with prior Austen novels is a valid one. Only it would be entirely possible for Mr Knightley to be mistaken, since Mr Darcy certainly was on several counts. And let us say nothing about Edmund Bertram.
Mar. 17th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
They must take the consequence, if they have heard each other spoken of in a way not perfectly agreeable!"

Oh I totally told Frank what I really thought of Jane! >blush<
Mar. 18th, 2013 01:05 am (UTC)
Yeah, I totally implied she was a complete ho . . . oops.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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