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

Friday, December 19, 2014

"You did behave very shamefully. You never wrote a truer line." –No, KNIGHTLEY never GHOSTwrote a phonier line!

Apropos the recent thread about whether Knightley ghostwrote Robert Martin's proposal letter (a claim first made by Barbara Mann in 2002), and my significant extension thereof suggesting that Knightley ALSO ghostwrote the second half of Frank's letter to Mrs. Weston (shown in full in Chapter 50), I just experienced a moment of pure serendipity.
I.e., while getting ready to post about the significant usages of variants of the word "sacrifice" in MP and Emma, I serendipitously came upon DRAMATIC evidence right there in the text of Emma, that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Knightley is the very sort of  presumptuous person who has no scruples about REwriting letters written by others, in order to conform those letters to Knightley’s own standards.
Recall first that Knightley gets really red in the face in Chapter 8 when he realizes that Emma has ghostwritten Harriet’s letter rejecting Robert Martin’s proposal, a proposal letter which Barbara Mann, Diane, and I all believe was ghostwritten by Knightley himself. That’s why Knightley turns beet red, because it’s half that he’s feeling anger at Emma for her secret meddling, but the other half is his acute  embarrassment, because he knows, but he’ll never confess, that HER secret meddling has undone HIS secret meddling! He may be red-faced, but he’s not honest enough to confess to having been caught red-handed!
Now, let’s move ahead 10 chapters---which actually covers less than a month of elapsed time in the chronology of the novel----and check out what Knightley says to Emma in Chapter 18 as they discuss Frank’s letter of excuse to Mrs. Weston for his failure to visit Highbury as promised:
For the present, he could not be spared, to his "very great mortification and regret; but still he looked forward with the hope of coming to Randalls at no distant period." “
The Westons rationalize Frank’s flaking at the last minute, and Emma joins in their willingness to give Frank a great deal of the benefit of the doubt. However, Mr. Self-Appointed Righteous Wise Man, Knightley, is having none of that, and he launches into the following famous tirade, as if he were a prime minister addressing his wayward countrymen  in a moment of national crisis, telling them all to grow a pair and Do The Right Thing:
"There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty; not by manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution. It is Frank Churchill's duty to pay this attention to his father. He knows it to be so, by his promises and messages; but if he wished to do it, it might be done. A man who felt rightly would say at once, simply and resolutely, to Mrs. Churchill—'Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off to-morrow.'—If he would say so to her at once, in the tone of decision becoming a man, there would be no opposition made to his going."
When you take Knightley at face value as a bluntly honest man, those are good words, and he is indeed correct that Frank could have done exactly as Knightley says. However, what I never noticed before, and now I am LOL’ing at it, is how slyly and brilliantly JA has snuck in, under cover of Knightley’s great enunciation of the Gentleman’s First Commandment, if you will, how Knightley has also unconsciously  given away the game, by assuming the hypothetical role of ghostwriter for Frank.

In case you missed it in that speech, here are the very words Knightley would put in FRANK’s mouth, to be spoken to Mrs. Churchill:

'Every sacrifice of mere pleasure you will always find me ready to make to your convenience; but I must go and see my father immediately. I know he would be hurt by my failing in such a mark of respect to him on the present occasion. I shall, therefore, set off to-morrow.'

Now, does anyone think that a writer like JA, who consciously wove together a thousand different threads across vast stretches of each of her novels, as if she were doing literary needlework of the most intricate complexity, would accidentally or unconsciously toss in this sort of evidence of Knightley’s penchant for putting words in other people’s mouths (or pens)? Of course not! The memory of ghostwriting letters in Chapter 8 is still quite fresh in an alert reader’s mind, especially upon rereading.

But this passage in Chapter 18 is ten times more supportive of my more audacious claim that Knightley ghostwrote the second half of Frank’s letter shown in Chapter 50. Why? Because in both cases Knightley is responding to a letter written by Frank to Mrs. Weston in which Frank is making excuses for having failed to do his manly duty. This is a striking parallelism, and, again, impossible to see as accidental or unconscious on JA’s part. This is sheer perfection and genius in fictional story construction, pure and simple. The “Aha!” of readerly discovery is inevitably succeeded by the “Ah!” of readerly appreciation.

Back to Frank’s two letters to Mrs. Weston. While Knightley was not in a position to intervene in Chapter 18, because he was not there physically with Frank to strongarm him into writing the right thing, he was, I claim, there in Richmond to strongarm Frank into doing so in Chapter 50!

But I have left the very best for last. If it is true that Knightley ghostwrote the second half of Frank’s
Chapter 50 letter, then JA ought to also have given us additional textual winks to confirm to us that, yes,
she really did this on purpose. And, in fact, she did, with her usual wit, cleverness, and humor.

Go ahead and compare the language of the two halves of Frank’s letter in Chapter 50, and the hidden hand of Knightley is clearly revealed by the change of tone and verbiage. In the first half, Frank, writing his own thoughts without any third party “guidance”, and not feeling half as guilty as he says he feels, is having way too a good time tossing off narcissistic bon mots like “It is hard for the prosperous to be humble”—all his apologies, such as they are, are half-baked, and he undoes them every step of the way with excuses, rationalizations, and witticisms.

But now look at the striking change that occurs in the second half, and note the ghostly hand of Knightley behind the ALL CAPS words:

“I have been walking over the country, and am now, I hope, RATIONAL ENOUGH to make the rest of my letter WHAT IT OUGHT TO BE.—It is, in fact, a most mortifying retrospect for me. I behaved SHAMEFULLY. And here I can admit, that my manners to Miss W., in being unpleasant to Miss F., were HIGHLY BLAMEABLE. ….[then an enormous amount of specific detail about Frank’s “ABOMINABLE” behavior toward various people but most of all toward Jane, and with a minimum of the jocular excuse-making of the first half of the letter]…If you think me in a way to be HAPPIER THAN I DESERVE, I am quite of your opinion.—Miss W. calls me the child of good fortune. I hope she is right…”

And it gets even better. Not only does Knightley mutter the words “abominable scoundrel” BEFORE he (supposedly) reads Frank’s letter. No, when Knightley debriefs Frank’s letter with Emma in Chapter 51, and he pretends that he has never read it before, that makes the following comments by him particularly funny, in a sharply ironic way that show how much he is enjoying duping Emma in concealing his authorship:

“When he came to Miss Woodhouse, he was obliged to read the whole of it aloud…”

Yes, “he was obliged” because that was EXACTLY where Knightley started dictating the words of Frank’s letter!!!

“….Fancying you to have fathomed his secret. Natural enough!—his own mind full of intrigue, that he should suspect it in others.—Mystery; Finesse—how they pervert the understanding! My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?"

How Knightley must have laughed inside, to be giving Emma a lecture on truth and sincerity at the very moment he is concealing from Emma that he is reciting his own words—and more important, that he is concealing that he used Frank’s murdering his aunt to blackmail Frank in to writing what Knightley dictated!

“…After this, he made some progress without any pause. Frank Churchill's confession of having behaved shamefully was the first thing to call for more than a word in passing. “

Yes, again, it called for more than a word in passing because that was Knightley’s goal, to make sure Emma thought badly of Frank, whom Knightley is well aware that Emma was very attracted to.

"I perfectly agree with you, sir,"—was then his remark. "You did behave very shamefully. You never wrote a truer line."

At which point, Knightley is thinking to himself, “I never wrote a truer line.”, which is a perfect echo of  what Knightley famously says to Emma in Chapter 8 about HER short ghostwriting career:

[Knightley] “…Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning of this? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken."
[Emma] "I saw her answer!—nothing could be clearer."
[Knightley] "You saw her answer!—YOU WROTE HER ANSWER TOO. Emma, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him."
[Emma] "And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet's equal; and am rather surprized indeed that he should have ventured to address her. By your account, he does seem to have had some scruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over."

I mean, really.

I am in fresh awe of JA’s achievement in this regard, as I was always certain of the rightness of my identifying Knightley as the ghostwriter of Robert Martin’s and Frank’s letters, respectively--but now I have found the rich and varied textual evidence which proves my intuitions have been 100% correct!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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