Sophie Andrews is an ambassador for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, which was founded by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s 5th great-niece. The Foundation works to provide free books, writing materials, and writing programs to communities in need. Sophie discovered Austen at the age of nine, when she first watched the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and she tells me she became “a true Jane Austen fan” a few years later when one of her teachers encouraged her to read the novels. She was immediately drawn to the “elegance and eloquence” of Austen’s world, and she’s immersed herself in that world ever since, studying the novels, film and television adaptations, fan fiction, biographies, and literary criticism, and writing for her blog, Laughing with Lizzie.
I’m happy to introduce her contribution to Emma in the Snow, a guest post on the many matches, both real and hypothetical, in Emma. I’ve also enjoyed looking at the photos she sent to accompany the post, and I hope you will, too. Sophie is passionate about sharing her love of Jane Austen and she says she hopes to “encourage people of all ages everywhere to discover the real pleasure of reading.” If you’re interested in talking with her about Jane Austen and the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, you might want to look her up on Facebook and/or Twitter (@laughingwithliz).
Throughout the novel Emma, many different pairings of people are hinted at or hoped for—the book is centred on Emma and her match-making, after all. Now, you’re probably thinking, “yes, I know that,” but I still chose to write about this because it wasn’t until I sat down and remembered each one that I realised just how many matches there are. So, I hope some of you reading this will be just as surprised as I was when I actually thought about it—you’ll have to read to the end to get the final tally. (Or you could count up for yourself and see if your number matches mine at the end.)
First, we have John Knightley and Isabella Woodhouse. This is the first match, and the one that sets Emma off on her match-making schemes, as she believes she was very instrumental in bringing about the marriage of her sister and Mr. Knightley’s brother. This is one of my favourite matches; I do like relationships in which friendship develops into love (not to mention the way this one is linked to the most important match of the novel).
Quite quickly following this, we have the marriage of Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston, which further assures Emma of her match-making talents. Mr. Knightley disagrees with her regarding her influence in this match: “if, which I rather imagine, your making the match, as you call it, means only your planning it, your saying to yourself one idle day, ‘I think it would be a very good thing for Miss Taylor if Mr. Weston were to marry her,’ and saying it again to yourself every now and then afterwards,—why do you talk of success?” (Volume 1, Chapter 1) But Emma is determined it she made it happen, as everyone believed that Mr. Weston would never marry again. She thinks it’s a triumph; Mr. Knightley thinks it’s merely a lucky guess—but have you never known the triumph of a lucky guess? For Mr. Woodhouse, however, this match is not a triumph at all, for it has taken “poor Miss Taylor” half a mile away from Hartfield.
Although she would never admit it, Emma’s triumph is rather lessened when she realises that she has lost something very dear to her—the company of her governess, her dear friend. The matchmaking must continue, therefore, as Emma needs a new companion. And she is clearly enjoying demonstrating her new-found “talent” of match-making. Cue Mr. Elton. Emma decides that the local vicar must be in want of a wife. Cue Harriet Smith. She becomes Emma’s companion and Emma decides to find her a husband. Naturally, Emma decides they would make a lovely couple.
One problem: Mr. Robert Martin and his proposal of marriage. Emma undertakes to decline Mr. Martin on Harriet’s behalf, all the while leading Harriet to believe she isn’t being influenced by Emma at all. With Mr. Martin out of the way, the road is clear for Mr. Elton, and Emma is sure that Harriet and Elton will be married by the New Year. But then, to Emma’s utter amazement, Mr. Elton expresses his love for her, not Harriet. What an embarrassment—all this time he was admiring her, and only being civil towards Harriet because she was Emma’s friend. He doesn’t even care whether Harriet lives or dies? What a shocking thing to say! After the embarrassment of that match gone wrong, and after seeing how poor Harriet suffers because of it, Emma decides she will never match-make again. For a little while, she maintains her resolve, and the next matches that follow are not engineered by her.
Jane Fairfax comes on the scene, shortly followed by Mr. Frank Churchill, the prodigal son. Jane decided not to go to Ireland with the Campbells and the Dixons, for a very particular reason, according to Frank. This next match is only hinted at, but Frank suggests the possibility of an “understanding” between Jane and Mr. Dixon after the incident with Mr. Dixon saving her life—how romantic! A pianoforte arrives for Jane and everyone assumes it must be from Colonel Campbell. However, Frank Churchill says he believes it was Mr. Dixon because of the affection he had for Jane, just after marrying Colonel Campbell’s daughter—awkward!
The next suggested match is from Mrs. Weston. She imagines that Jane and Mr. Knightley have formed an attachment. She mentions this to Emma, who rejects it straight away. (Mr. Knightley and Jane? Never!) Mrs. Weston believes Mr. Knightley sent the piano, and thinks the care he is showing for Jane’s welfare is another sign of an attachment.
Next we have the idea of a match between Frank Churchill and Emma. Mr. and Mrs. Weston have long hoped that Emma and Frank will form an attachment, and the two young people do seem very interested in each other, with Frank appearing to pay particular attention to Emma. Then Mr. Elton comes back on the scene—with his new bride.
Emma now decides to restart her match-making schemes, and once again they involve poor Harriet. Emma is convinced that Harriet is beginning to fall for Frank Churchill, and she likes the idea that this match will help ease Harriet’s disappointment about Mr. Elton. Yet Mr. Knightley believes there may be some sort of attachment between Frank Churchill and Jane. This is ludicrous, as far as Emma is concerned. After all, Frank has told her many times how little he thinks of Jane Fairfax. And Emma is never wrong!
Except she is. All of Emma’s hopes for Harriet, and the hopes of the Westons for Emma, are dashed when it is revealed that Frank is indeed engaged to Jane Fairfax. This match shows Emma how blind she has been, and after the revelation, Emma has to break the news to poor Harriet. But Harriet already knows, and is not very affected by the news, either. Emma does not understand this response, until she realises she has been mistaken—yet again. It was not Frank’s heroic rescue which set Harriet’s heart a-flutter, it was Mr. Knightley’s, when he asked her to dance after she was snubbed by Mr. Elton at the ball. This is not what Emma was expecting and the news is, strangely, very unwelcome, especially as Harriet believes Mr. Knightley returns her affections. This shocking turn of events helps Emma to realise her own feelings, as “It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” (Volume 3, Chapter 11)
Finally—the most important match of all, Emma and Mr. Knightley. Fortunately for Emma, Mr. Knightley is in love with her, not with Harriet. And, fortunately for Harriet, Robert Martin still loves her and wishes to marry her. I think it’s interesting that the most important match, between Emma and Mr. Knightley, is the only one which is never predicted, suggested or hinted at by any other person before it happens. The union doesn’t take place until Emma herself realises her feelings, and then speaks to Mr. Knightley. I think it’s amusing that the most important match, the one for the heroine—a heroine who spends the entire novel match-making for everyone else—is never thought of by anyone else. I suppose just as it’s a surprise to Emma, the match will be quite a surprise to all their friends, even though they all know the two of them are close to each other, and even though the first match in the novel is between their brother and sister.
There really are many matches in Emma, both real and imagined. So what number did you make it? I make it twelve! Marriages: John Knightley and Isabella Woodhouse, Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor, Mr. Elton and Miss Augusta Hawkins, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, Harriet Smith and Robert Martin. Hypothetical matches: Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Elton, Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon, Emma Woodhouse and Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley, Harriet Smith and Mr. Knightley.
My thanks go to Sarah for inviting me to participate in this celebration. I hope you have enjoyed my contribution!
Quotations are from the Oxford edition of Emma, edited by R.W. Chapman (1933).
Thirteenth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow. Coming soon: guest posts by Cheryl Kinney, George Justice, and Gillian Dow.