Emma Readalong! Part Two: Frank Churchill is the worst

Ah, Frank Churchill. If I were forced to voice an area of dissatisfaction with Clueless (which, why would I ever be?), it would be that some of the characters in Emma who delight me with their dreadfulness are not adequately represented in Clueless. So much of Emma’s character in the books is informed by her trying to avoid being bored. She’s not as attentive to the Bates ladies as she ought to be because of how DAMN BORING they are:

“Thank you. You are very kind. Yes, next week. Every body is so surprized; and every body says the same obliging things. I am sure she will be as happy to see her friends at Highbury, as they can be to see her. Yes, Friday or Saturday; she cannot say which, because Colonel Campbell will be wanting the carriage himself one of those days. So very good of them to send her the whole way! But they always do, you know. Oh yes, Friday or Saturday next. That is what she writes about. That is the reason of her writing out of rule, as we call it; for, in the common course, we should not have heard from her before next Tuesday or Wednesday.”

A few paragraphs of this and you feel like

And that’s just from reading the conversation! Imagine sitting through it! I really feel for Emma when she visits the Bateses, or when Jane Fairfax visits her. Emma starts out with the best of intentions towards Jane Fairfax, but Jane is maddening to try to have a conversation with. Emma’s all “GUESS WHAT SURPRISE MARRIAGE IN TOWN,” and Jane won’t enter into it at all.

Jane’s curiosity did not appear of that absorbing nature as wholly to occupy her.

As for Frank Churchill, I’m a hundred percent with Mr. Knightley on this one: Like most of the antic young men in Jane Austen’s books, this kid’s a dick. I had forgotten how mean he is about Jane Fairfax — I can’t imagine anything meaner than beginning his conversation about her to Emma by saying she’s sallow and sick-looking. If I were Jane Fairfax, I’d have kicked his ass to the curb. A guy who says this about the woman he secretly loves is a worthless guy.

“Thank you for rousing me,” he replied.  “I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way—so very odd a way—that I cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outree!—Those curls!—This must be a fancy of her own.”

Or this:

“Perhaps it is as well [the party ended],” said Frank Churchill, as he attended Emma to her carriage.  “I must have asked Miss Fairfax, and her languid dancing would not have agreed with me, after your’s.

Get a different job, Mr. Churchill.

By contrast, Mr. Knightley, who I am liking so much better on this reread than I ever have before, displays his awesomeness by ordering a carriage for Jane Fairfax and the ladies Bates, and also by saying, “Surprizes are foolish things.  The pleasure is not enhanced, and the  inconvenience is often considerable.”

(I hate surprises)

I’ll have more to say about Mrs. Elton in the third section of this readalong, but for now, I will just say that it’s nice to see Emma taking one of Mr. Knightley’s lectures to heart, and deciding to try to be nicer to Jane Fairfax:

“This is very true,” said she, “at least as far as relates to me, which was all that was meant—and it is very shameful.—Of the same age—and always knowing her—I ought to have been more her friend.—She will never like me now.  I have neglected her too long.  But I will shew her greater attention than I have done.”

Good for you, Emma! Way to grow as a person!

  • The first time I read Emma I almost threw the book across the room, she was even more annoying than in the movie adaptations. But she gets better. Also, I highly recommend the Naxos audio version which is brilliantly narrated by Juliet Stevenson, who played Mrs. Elton in the Gwyneth Paltrow version. She’s just wonderful.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahahaha, I sympathize! I tried thrice to read Emma before I eventually came to love the book, but now it’s my favorite Jane Austen.

  • And don’t forget how boring it must be for Emma at home – especially without Mrs. Taylor – stuck listening to her father maundering on about gruel. It’s no wonder she latches on to Harriet. Though she is just as bad as Frank Churchill about Jane – telling him her theory about the Dixons almost the first time they meet.

    • Also, trying to fit Angel into the Austenverse. I think he’d be Henry Crawford…

      • anna

        ANGEL? Henry Crawford? The one from Mansfield Park? The one who ran away with the married cousin of the main character?

        • Oops, I was thinking un-ensouled Angel.

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, exactly! So much of her character (for good and bad) comes from her trying to escape boredom. (Poor thing.)

  • Ela

    Mr Knightley is awesome! And Austen does that really well, the sense that Emma is easily bored, and, while not thinking that she’s frustrated with life in a small town, really is. Frank is terrible – though he’s probably not the first person to have disguised his real feelings for someone by pretending they mean nothing to him!

    • Gin Jenny

      I suppose not, but still, Frank! Get your shit together!

  • UGH, Frank Churchill. I can only imagine how much more annoying he’s going to get.

    Mr. Knightley is pretty great. I think I’m liking him more (at this moment) than I do Mr. Darcy.

    • Gin Jenny

      I do too, actually. His amiable qualities are more readily apparent, and I like him for hating surprises, and he does nice things for people without wanting a prize for it. (Darcy does too, but not right away.)

  • The other thing I don’t like as much as I want to about the movie Clueless (which I just watched on an airplane flying back from rainy California) is that the Emma character isn’t written to be so massively more intelligent than everyone around her that of course she’s bored beyond belief (to borrow the phrase written on the window in LA Story). I like the sense that the way she’s employed her intelligence heretofore veiled it from Mr. Knightley, but that the more they get to know each other, the more they each see a kindred mind.

  • I’d never really thought about the boredom thing, but you are SO correct. There’s a tendency in Austen to teach her characters to love awful people (whose hearts may be in the right place, but who have some other defining flaw, like being crushing bores) rather than teaching awful people to mix it up a bit and maybe find some more jolly topics of conversation. I am not sure about this. It’s probably because I am a democratic educator and think everyone has something to learn. It wouldn’t do Miss Bates any harm to just try to calm it down a bit, after all.