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Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Engagement of Jane Austen's Emma and Mr. Knightley - on curious terms!

An odd point: a gentleman aged almost 40 proposes to a young lady and is accepted. But a few days later she slaps on the appallingly unreasonable condition that they should postpone the marriage indefinitely - possibly for many years. What on earth is he to make of this? You would expect a flaming row and possibly a breaking off of the engagement.

But that is not what happens in Emma. The heroine accepts Mr. Knightley's proposal. Then she informs him that she will not marry him while her father is still alive. She must always remain with her father. But her father could live another twenty years or more! You can bet he will, too! When they marry, Mr. Knightley could be 60 and Emma herself over 40. In fact, Mr. Knightley stands a fair chance of dying first.

It is no excuse to say that Emma expected Mr. Knightley to move in with them: 'such an alternative as this had not occurred to her'. Also, it is no use saying she expected to take her father with her to settle at Donwell: 'she had tried the scheme and rejected it'.

A possible inference is that Emma really did not want to be in the married state. She once said I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house, as I am of Hartfield.

This is a little disturbing: possibly what she wanted (albeit unconsciously) was not to marry Mr. Knightley but to prevent him from marrying anyone else!