Emma Readalong part three

The third volume of Emma is best understood as the volume in which all the terrible people are terribling everything up, and even the nice people aren’t at their radiant best. The particular nightmare of volume three is the dreaded Mrs. Elton. State Senator Scumbag Elton’s new wife is unburdened by social graces and makes everyone monumentally uncomfortable in a hundred small ways: overfamiliarity with people she barely knows (Emma is annoyed with her for calling Mr. Knightley “Knightley”, and Frank notices with evident irritation that she calls Jane Fairfax “Jane”); talking about her lofty place in the social structure of Highbury; demanding compliments for her clothes and hair.

Mrs. Elton

(Those gifs would also work if I captioned them Frank Churchill / Mr. Knightley.)

I’ve said in the past that Mr. Knightley isn’t the best of the Austen heroes, as didactic and patronizing as he can sometimes be to Emma. If I were she, I would be all the time

But she takes his scolding in remarkably good grace, even when he’s making her feel terrible, as when he takes her to task (rightly) for teasing Miss Bates in front of the whole picnic party. The light heart that Emma brings to her life, including — usually — the admonishments Mr. Knightley sends her way, make it easier to like her and easier to take Mr. Knightley’s scolding as gracefully as Emma does.

On the up side, it’s nice to see him showing his feelings for Emma:

“Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley.


She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.”


“Will you?” said he, offering his hand.


“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”


“Brother and sister! no indeed.”

By the time I finally read Emma all the way through, I was familiar with its rough outlines, both from Clueless and from the movie adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow, but I think if I hadn’t been, this would be the moment at which I’d have spotted that Mr. Knightley was carrying a torch for his old friend. Well, that, and:

Mr. Knightley, who, for some reason best known to himself, had certainly taken an early dislike to Frank Churchill, was only growing to dislike him more. He began to suspect him of some double-dealing in his pursuit of Emma.

Aw. Actually, if I’m honest, the thing that makes me like Mr. Knightley the most in this book is how much he hates Frank Churchill. For such a level-headed dude, he takes against Frank ferociously and talks smack about him all through the book, without surcease. It’s great. Plus, it is sweet that Mr. Knightley is mad at him in the first place for slighting Mrs. Weston by not visiting, and in the second place for dicking Emma around. Quite rightly! Those are things that Frank Churchill does that are shabby!

Anyway, it all ends well. Emma accepts Mr. Knightley’s proposal, Harriet accepts Mr. Martin’s proposal (duh, he’s the best), and Frank writes an apologetic(ish) letter to Mrs. Weston explaining why he acted like such a jerk. And they all live happily ever after, I suppose, although I think it would be better if Jane Fairfax stayed in town so she and Emma could be friends. Emma doesn’t have enough friends of her own age and station.

11 thoughts on “Emma Readalong part three”

  1. I hadn’t thought about Mr Knightley that way, but you’re absolutely right! I tend to see it as his undiscovered feelings about Emma, but it’s not just that. And he’s the only one who does talk smack – well, doesn’t Mr. Woodhouse complain about him – he opened a window or something? But otherwise, everyone else just loves that Frank Churchill.

  2. Mrs. Elton certainly was…fun… in this installment. I did get a few chuckles out of how ridiculous she acted.

    I’ve said it before but right now Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero. I liked him all the way through the book.

    I decided to watch Clueless for the first time in years after finishing Emma. I liked it a lot better this time around. Mainly because now I ‘get’ what they were doing with adapting Emma and making it modern (plus I’m older now which always helps). You can’t help but love Cher/Emma because you can *see* how hard she’ trying to be good and helpful.

  3. Ah, I just love the way Mrs Elton inserts the name of her sister’s house “Maple Grove” into her conversation at every possible moment! Maybe Mr Knightley appeals more to the more mature reader, who might appreciate a man who is kind and thoughtful rather than someone who’s handsome and rather romantic-seeming?

    I did like the bit where Emma realises, from talking to Harriet, that she herself loves Mr Knightley, and how awful it’s going to be if he asks her friend to marry him, but that she’s just going to have to suck it up – that moment crystallised all the liking I had for her. That’s the worst moment for her.

  4. How I love your writing about books when you are really into them! This is priceless. I completely agree about Mr Knightley, and don’t think it’s a good idea to love someone as a project for education. It’s all a bit superior. And Mrs Elton is utterly ghastly – see Austen never allows for other people to give the sort of cut down that Mrs Elton is in sore need of. Austen can’t have her characters say ‘oh for crying out loud’ and that means the awful people are unchecked in their awfulness. It’s sweet but unliveable, I think.

  5. Dunno about Jane Fairfax staying in town, though. She married Frank Churchill by choice. And stayed silent while Frank Churchill was lying to everyone else. I don’t like her very much.

  6. Love the Aladdin gifs, perfect! I liked the dance party so much I’ve forgotten a great deal of the rest, but I do remember wishing Frank was better. I agree about Mr Knightly’s behaviour towards Emma. He’s not my favourite of Austen’s heroes.

  7. Aah I love Knightley, especially in that scene where he chides Emma. I thought it was brave and nice of him at the same time. He could so easily have looked the other way and not ruffle Emma’s feathers. I really like that about him.

  8. I agree with what Nat says about Jane Fairfax. Perhaps we tend to excuse her because she was in love, but she seems to have the beginnings of a talent for deception.

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