Kirk Companion is a member of two Jane Austen book clubs in the Boston area, and for one of them, “Austen in Boston,” he also serves as one of the main organizers. The group has met in a variety of places, including Salem, Massachusetts—to discuss Northanger Abbey—and Georges Island in Boston Harbor. They sometimes read books by other writers, including Elizabeth Gaskell and, Kirk says, “Edith ‘I never met an unhappy ending I didn’t like’ Wharton.” I’m happy to introduce his guest post on the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley. Welcome to Emma in the Snow, Kirk, and thank you to you and the members of Austen in Boston for sharing these beautiful photos with us. (Here’s the Facebook page for the group. You can also find them on Twitter: @AusteninBoston.)
Kirk often goes to JASNA Massachusetts meetings and sometimes travels further to attend JASNA Vermont events. In contrast to Austen in Boston, which holds meetings in public spaces, the other Jane Austen book club he belongs to tends to meet in members’ homes. Kirk tells me he has fond memories of visiting Box Hill on a trip to England a few years ago—he says that “even without the Austen connection it truly is lovely”—and he regrets that he has only a few photos from the trip. Here’s one of them.
He also sent me a recent photo of Boston in the snow.
And he sent a photo from an Austen in Boston meeting at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline, where the group talked about Gaskell’s North and South.
These last two photos are from an Austen in Boston picnic at World’s End, Hingham, which featured a discussion of Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence.
And here’s Kirk’s contribution to the conversations about Emma and Mr. Knightley.
She was more disturbed by Mr. Knightley’s not dancing, than by any thing else.—There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing…. —so young as he looked!—He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps any where, than where he had placed himself…. His tall, firm, upright figure among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body’s eyes…. He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble.
“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 shown 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.”
(Chapter 38, from the Anchor Books edition of Emma, edited and annotated by David M. Shapard )
Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero. I wish I were more like him, so well able to tolerate the Mr. Woodhouses and Miss Bateses of the world. (Sadly, I’m more like his grumpy brother Mr. John Knightley—but enough about me). So, it was surprising to me to that several members of one of my two Austen bookclubs can’t stand the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship. One person fixated on the fact that Mr. Knightley—being about 16 years older than Emma—has known her since she was an infant. Also, he’s acted as a mentor or surrogate relative throughout Emma’s formative years, especially since Emma hasn’t had a true active parent, given that Mr. Woodhouse has been too concerned with his own health, or guardian, given that Miss Taylor has always been too easy on her.
I was very curious about what others thought about the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley, so I discussed it at two different JASNA meetings and two different bookclubs. I had thought the reaction to them towards them was overwhelmingly positive. However, I was very surprised to find that it wasn’t. Some of the responses I heard: “I haven’t really thought about the prior relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley”; “I don’t care about that”; and “I haven’t thought about it, but yeah … not thrilled by that.” In a group of five Janeites, the vote was 2½ for the romantic relationship between Emma and Mr Knightley and 2½ against, with one person arguing both in favour of and against the romance.
I’d be interested to know what all of you think of the romance. Does it bother you that Mr. Knightley is so much older than Emma? Do you think their marriage will be a happy one?
Nineteenth 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 Margaret C. Sullivan, Cinthia Garcia Soria, and Carol Chernega.