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.
(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.