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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mr. Knightley the Great DICTATOR (in both senses) of Highbury & Hartfield

Diane Reynolds responded as follows to my most recent posts re Knightley as Ghostwriter:
"Arnie. Great catch on Mr. Knightley hypothetically dictating wording to Frank. it does add to the atmospheric of behind the scenes dictations--and shows how bombastic Mr. Knightley can be. And it shows that Mr. Knightley is conscious of his discourse and how to use male power to intimidate: "tone of decision becoming a man ... no opposition." Emma, I'm afraid, is in for it with this one. I also can't believe Austen wrote this unconsciously--the novel is all about the awareness of male privilege." 
  Thanks! I have a couple of quick PS's:

I've known since mid 2007 that the strongest evidence that Knightley ghostwrote Frank's Chapter 50 letter to Mrs. Weston is that Knightley, in Chapter 49 (i.e., suppposedly BEFORE Knightley has seen Frank's letter) mutters under his breath THREE different things which each echo a passage from Frank's letter:
"Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent,'The feelings of THE WARMEST FRIENDSHIP--INDIGNATION-ABOMINABLE scoundrel!"
Here are the respective passages in Frank's letter-you tell me what are the odds that these three distinctive words and phrases would be anticipated by Knightley--I'd say, ZERO!:
...With the greatest respect, and THE WARMEST FRIENDSHIP, do I mention Miss Woodhouse... soon as she found I was really gone from Randalls, she closed with the offer of that officious Mrs. Elton; the whole system of whose treatment of her, by the bye, has ever filled me with INDIGNATION and hatred....
...In short, my dear madam, it was a quarrel blameless on her side, ABOMINABLE on mine.. I pointed out in 2011, even Knightley's referring to an abominable SCOUNDREL also indirectly connects back to Knightley, via Samuel Johnson:
In "Jane Austen's Englishness: Emma as national tale", Persuasions (2008), the late Brian Southam acutely picked up on the applicability of Johnson's (perhaps) most famous line to Emma thusly: "The ghost of Johnson is glimpsed once more in the scene--in technique, a travesty--in which Churchill sets out to establish his credentials as "'a true citizen of Highbury'" with a "'burst,'" as he puts it, "'of my amor patriae,'" purchasing gloves at the village shop. Emma responds half jokingly, expressing her admiration for Iris show of "'patriotism'" (200). But the joke is more than double-edged. As Boswell reminds us, Johnson dismissed "Patriotism" as "the last refuge of a scoundrel" (2.348), a sentiment much repeated and fresh in the mind of Regency England. As for amor patriae, resisting Churchill's suave plausibility, readers of Jane Austen would feel perfectly at home with Hazlitt's recently-delivered formulation, Johnsonian in tone, "the love of liberty, of independence, of peace, of "social happiness." END QUOTE
So....when you read Knightley debriefing Frank's letter with Emma in Chapter 51, you see him conning Emma exactly the same way Harriet conned Emma--i.e., Knightley pretends not to be particularly interested in the letter, and acts as if he is doing Emma a favor by going over it with her, even though the whole point of Knightley's ghostwriting the letter was that it had an intended audience of one--Emma!!! Just read Chapter 51 with that idea in mind, and you tell me if you don't LOL over and over again, as you marvel at how expertly Knightley leads Emma down the garden path.

And finally, as my new Subject Line suggests, I will henceforth call Knightley the Great Dictator, as he fits both senses of the word---he is a dictator in the sense of being the boss of Highbury, and in particular the boss of Hartfield, as he totally controls both Mr. Woodhouse AND Emma. But he is also a 'dictator' in the punny sense that he has been a kind of ventriloquist, dictating words to others to speak or write as if they were their own words. Knightley does it with Robert Martin, he does it with Frank, he does it with Mr. Woodhouse (with the legal papers he gets the old fool to sign without reading them). These meanings are inextricably linked, as his turning other human beings into wooden dummies like Charlie McCarthy is one of Knightley's most powerful methods of controlling the behavior of others.

I only thought of this pun yesterday because I was listening to a very interesting NPR interview with a female talking head (I didn't catch her name) in which she drew the parallel between the controversies swirling around the Sony film "The Interview" in 2014, and those which occurred when Charlie Chaplin was making "The Great Dictator" in 1938.

Because of this recent thread about Knightley, I immediately thought of the pun, and then when I got home, on a hunch, I searched the word "dictate" in Emma, and would you believe, this is where I found the single usage of it in the novel--in the penultimate sentence of Frank's Chapter 50 letter!:
"A thousand and a thousand thanks for all the kindness you have ever shown me, and ten thousand for the attentions your heart will DICTATE towards her."

Did Knightley dictate those words to Frank, as a way of saying to Mrs. Weston, in code, "I dictated this letter"? Or did Frank sneak this in at the end as a way of taking back authorship of the letter at the very end, as if to say, "The second half of this letter was dictated to me"? Either is possible, but what I know for certain is that Jane Austen put that word in to confirm to readers like myself that Knightley was indeed the Great Dictator of Highbury and Hartfield.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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