Jane Austen, Emma: Vol. 2, Ch. 8

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Chapter VIII

Frank Churchill came back againd; and if he kept his father's dinner waiting, it was not known at Hartfield; for Mrs. Weston was too anxious for his being a favourite with Mr. Woodhouse, to betray any imperfection which could be concealed.

He came back, had had his hair cut, and laughed at himself with a very good grace, but without seeming really at all ashamed of what he had done. He had no reason to wish his hair longer, to conceal any confusion of face; no reason to wish the money unspent, to improve his spirits. He was quite as undaunted and as lively as ever; and, after seeing him, Emma thus moralised to herself:—

"I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.d—It depends upon the character of those who handle it. Mr. Knightley, he is not a trifling, silly young man. If he were, he would have done this differently. He would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. There would have been either the ostentation of a coxcomb, or the evasions of a mind too weak to defend its own vanities.—No, I am perfectly sure that he is not trifling or silly."

With Tuesday came the agreeable prospect of seeing him again, and for a longer time than hitherto; of judging of his general manners, and by inference, of the meaning of his manners towards herself; of guessing how soon it might be necessary for her to throw coldness into her air; and of fancying what the observations of all those might be, who were now seeing them together for the first timed.

She meant to be very happy, in spite of the scene being laid at Mr. Cole's; and without being able to forget that among the failings of Mr. Elton, even in the days of his favour, none had disturbed her more than his propensity to dine with Mr. Cole.

Her father's comfort was amply secured, Mrs. Bates as well as Mrs. Goddard being able to come; and her last pleasing duty, before she left the house, was to pay her respects to them as they sat together after dinner; and while her father was fondly noticing the beauty of her dress, to make the two ladies all the amends in her power, by helping them to large slices of cake and full glasses of wine, for whatever unwilling self-denial his care of their constitution might have obliged them to practise during the meal.—She had provided a plentiful dinner for them; she wished she could know that they had been allowed to eat it.

She followed another carriage to Mr. Cole's door; and was pleased to see that it was Mr. Knightley's; for Mr. Knightley keeping no horsesh, having little spare money and a great deal of health, activity, and independence, was too apt, in Emma's opinion, to get about as he could, and not use his carriage so often as became the owner of Donwell Abbey. She had an opportunity now of speaking her approbation while warm from her heart, for he stopped to hand her out.

"This is coming as you should do," said she; "like a gentleman.—I am quite glad to see you."

He thanked her, observing, "How lucky that we should arrive at the same moment! for, if we had met first in the drawing-room, I doubt whether you would have discerned me to be more of a gentleman than usual.—You might not have distinguished how I came, by my look or manner."

"Yes I should, I am sure I should. There is always a look of consciousness or bustle when people come in a way which they know to be beneath them. You think you carry it off very well, I dare say, but with you it is a sort of bravadow, an air of affected unconcern; I always observe it whenever I meet you under those circumstances. Now you have nothing to try for. You are not afraid of being supposed ashamed. You are not striving to look taller than any body else. Now I shall really be very happy to walk into the same room with you."

X [d] Frank Churchill came back again

Writing & Reading

Coming at the novel's mid-point, this is also its longest chapter (some fourteen pages in the Chapman edition) and a decisive unfolding. Dinner parties can be: there are spectacular ones in Dickens' Our Mutual Friend and Trollope's The Way We Live Now, and then in Joyce's "The Dead" and the dinner Mrs. Ramsay presides over in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse.

X [d] Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is…

Manners & Morals

A continuation of the debate with her internalized moral interrogator, Knightley.

Wickedness is absolute, folly relative and subjective. At the worst, the thirty-two mile haircut harms no one except possibly Frank, whereas wickedness harms others.

Once more she opposes her sympathetic relativism to Knightley's sterner, morally simpler absolutism, leaving the reader to decide if Emma's sentimental thinking is preferable to Knightley's judicial and even prosecutorial reasoning.


X [d] seeing them together for the first time

Emma is narcissistic in that she wishes to be assured she's the focus of everyone's vision (the "seeing" is important) and not at the periphery; the acknowledged doyenne of Highbury life. 

Her presumption here is that shortly Frank will be so taken with her as to require her being cool enough to diminish his ardor.

X [h] keeping no horses


Meaning carriage horses. He rents those.

It's difficult to know what Austen is suggesting, for Knightley may be fiscally prudent but hardly strapped, unless an earlier generation mortgaged his house and land. 

X [w] bravado

Exaggerated display to compensate supposedly for his lack of accoutrements. This and the prior paragraph include a perfect repartee.