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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More Knoxly Perfection

The essence of John Knox's outrageous misogyny is centered on the phrase "greatest perfection" which he repeats THREE times within the space of a few paragraphs:

“Woman in her GREATEST PERFECTION was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him….woman in her GREATEST PERFECTION should have known that man was LORD above her…in her GREATEST PERFECTION, woman was created to be subject to man.”

Three things very dull (as in unintelligent) indeed!

It is beyond coincidence that only ONCE in ALL of JA's novels does she elect to modify the word "perfection" with some form of the word "great", and that is in the following passage, which--as with the mention of Scotland and "the old prejudice"---pertains to John "Knoxly" Knightley:

"He was not an ill-tempered man, not so often unreasonably CROSS as to deserve such a reproach; but his temper was not his GREAT PERFECTION; and, indeed, with such a WORSHIPPING WIFE, it was hardly possible that any natural defects in it should not be increased."

If you think about it, JA has perfectly turned Knox's dull-elf formulations on their head. Instead of woman finding her greatest perfection in submitting to man, Emma's narrator makes it clear that when a woman submits to a man, it almost always will result in the man's temper becoming extremely IMPERFECT! And, given my reading of the shadow John Knightley as an adulterer who cannot stand his worshipping wife, it’s really interesting that JA would make John Knightley a representation of John Knox, the sanctimonious marital-submission-meister./ /

We really see three marriages in action in Emma, two others besides John and Isabella.

First we have the Westons, as to whom Knightley jokes about Mrs. Weston's willingness to submit being thrown away on Mr. Weston because he is not the dictator-type and won't expect wifely submission.

But second and most hilarious, we have another distinctly satirical allusion to Knox's doctrine of wifely submission in marriage---i.e., the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Elton, where everyone knows who really wears the pants, and so we can safely dismiss Mrs. Elton's phony claims that she is ruled by her husband:

"My dear Jane, say no more about it. The thing is determined, that is (laughing affectedly) "as far as I can presume to determine any thing without the concurrence of MY LORD AND MASTER. You know, Mrs. Weston, you and I must be cautious how we express ourselves. But I do flatter myself, my dear Jane, that my influence is not entirely worn out....Very pretty, sir, upon my word; to send me on here, to be an encumbrance to my friends, so long before you vouchsafe to come! But you knew what a DUTIFUL creature you had to deal with. You knew I should not stir till MY LORD AND MASTER appeared. Here have I been sitting this hour, giving these young ladies a sample of TRUE CONJUGAL OBEDIENCE, for who can say, you know, how soon it may be wanted?"

And I conclude by pointing out that perhaps Frank Church Hill had John Knox in the back of his mind when things got a little too "hot" for Frank at Box Hill--was he remembering that when things got too "hot" for Knox in Scotland, Knox went abroad with his wife and settled for a period of years near his friend and fellow misogynist zealot John Calvin in (where else?)...................... Swisserland!

Cheers, Arnie

P.S.: It's also curious that Francis Hutchison had one other thing in common with John Knox besides famously writing about love and marriage--they were both Scottish!

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