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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Two Mysterious Horsemen of Emma & Their Startling Connection to the Death of Mrs. Churchill

Diane wrote: "…That is not objective narration. Nor, I think is the  statement: "after a pretty long speech from Miss Bates, which few  persons listened to--" The "few persons listened to" is classic Emma  editorial, meaning she didn't listen ( and probably missed something important). Thus when get "Mr. Perry passed on horseback," that almost certainly is a continuation of the conversation as subjectively received by Emma. It is not (necessarily) what has happened, anymore than Frank and Jane meeting "by accident" is what happened." END QUOTE

No one couldn't have said it better, Diane, brilliant! I only add that my post yesterday about "The lovers were standing together at one of the windows"  really nails it, because, per the standard understanding of Emma, Harriet and Mr. Elton are not lovers, yet the narrator says they are. That sort of passage is a wormhole straight into the shadows of Emma.

Some readers never entertain the possibility that JA might have deliberately avoided debriefing all that happens of importance in the novels—disregarding hundreds of coordinated textual hints in each novel that point toward alternative readings of every major character except the heroine. That’s the ultimate begging of the question of whether JA wrote shadow stories. A reader waiting for Jane Austen to confirm their existence explicitly, is a reader waiting for a literary Godot.


Diane: "As for the parallel passage, my interpretation would be that is IS in fact Frank that Mr. Weston sees--but he doesn't want Emma to know that, so he says it is Mr. Otway. He lies, in other words, and the reader is supposed to know that because of the repetition of the denial--"Not Frank;—it is not Frank, I assure you."  Emma, of course believes him."

That is brilliant, Diane, it has just the ring of topsy-turvy ironic reversal of meaning, which was JA’s trademark--finding them has provided the peak moments of my research, when suddenly realizing (with the speed of an arrow) why JA inserted a particular hint or mystery.

The narrative context provides considerable support for your claim:  "...something just come to light, of a disagreeable nature in the circumstances of the family,—something which the late event at Richmond had brought forward. Her fancy was very active. Half a dozen natural children, perhaps—and poor Frank cut off!—This, though very undesirable, would be no matter of agony to her. It inspired little more than an animating curiosity.
"Who is that gentleman on horseback?" said she, as they proceeded—speaking more to assist Mr. Weston in keeping his secret, than with any other view.
"I do not know.—One of the Otways.—Not Frank;—it is not Frank, I assure you. You will not see him. He is half way to Windsor by this time."
"Has your son been with you, then?"
"Oh! yes—did not you know?—Well, well, never mind."
For a moment he was silent; and then added, in a tone much more guarded and demure, "Yes, Frank came over this morning, just to ask us how we did."

So Frank is in Emma’s thoughts right then, which would make her seeing, but not recognizing,  him a brilliant example of JA’s depiction of unconscious experience. I.e., Emma subliminally recognizes Frank, hence her thoughts turn to him at that instant. Plus, there’s the  exquisite irony, in your reading, that Emma speaks “more to assist Mr.Weston in keeping his secret” and yet what she does is precisely the opposite—by her noticing the rider, whom Mr. Weston sees is Frank, that is a sudden, huge obstacle to his keeping a secret! That forces Mr. Weston to divert Emma’s attention and tell her a quick lie. But he’s a bad liar, he’s not sure what Emma knows or not, so he gets confused and changes his story when he sees Frank riding by, exactly where Frank is not supposed to be. Then we read "For a moment he was silent"—and that is JA telling us that Mr. Weston needs a moment to compose himself, and figure out exactly what to say to Emma about Frank, so that he won't get caught in a lie when Emma starts talking to Mrs. Weston. And what he comes up with, in his nervousness, is too much information. He says  that Frank came back from Windsor (where he went in Chapter  43) “just to ask how [the Westons]  did”, and already was back on his way to Windsor yet again! Very fishy, indeed! Just the sort of lie that people, throughout  human history, have made up under pressure, not really thinking their cover story all the way through.

So, Diane, I suggest you’ve given a compelling explanation as to why Mr. Weston would be protesting too much about it’s not being Frank on that horse in Chapter 46. He’s scrambling to cover up, because the whole plan to deceive Emma about what's really going on might fall apart if Emma realizes that Frank never left town. But as usual Emma is so clueless, she doesn't realize! The secrets held from Emma are never disclosed to her, and that is why the straight-ahead reader also never knows.


But what are those secrets that Mr. Weston had to work so hard to preserve? What was really at stake? Diane, let me now return you the favor you just did for me, all in mutual service to our greater cause of insight into the mysteries of Emma, and  in turn extend your extension. I now see that it being Frank on that horse in Chapter 46 is not just a literary parlor trick, it is significant. And the significance of Frank still being there in Highbury at that moment in Chapter 46 would be that FRANK NEVER LEFT HIGHBURY when he was supposed to have left in Chapter 43. And that goes to the heart of the shadow story of Emma!

Until today, I was long been a subscriber to Leland Monk’s 1990 theory that Frank Churchill murdered his aunt. But today I changed my mind---because today I realized that if Frank never left Highbury as was reported by Miss Bates to Emma (third) hand!) in Chapter 43, then it couldn’t have been Frank who smothered Mrs. Churchill!

But then who could it have been? The JA I know would not have gone to all the trouble of hinting so broadly at Mrs. Churchill being murdered, only to have it turn out to be a mere red herring without significance. That would be authorial bad faith, breaking the cardinal rule of crime mystery writing (which I believe is a “natural” law of such writing). So we must ask, whodunit?

We merely have to ask the question to realize who it is who leaves Highbury—suddenly—in Chapter 45, i.e., right before Mrs. Churchill dies:

“Mr. Knightley immediately got up, and in a manner decidedly graver than usual, said, "I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you any thing to send or say, besides the 'love,' which nobody carries?"
"Nothing at all. But is not this a sudden scheme?"
"Yes—rather—I have been thinking of it some little time."

Now we finally know why Knightley was “decidedly graver than usual”, and had “no time to spare”, and had to be “gone directly”. He had decided he was going to murder Mrs. Churchill, and he had to move very fast. So that’s why he at first indiscreetly acknowledges this to be “a sudden scheme”, but then immediately covers his tracks in claiming he had “been thinking of it some little time.”

If you think this is all completely crazy, just go read Chapter 45 as if I am correct, and you will see, it fits so perfectly, it now seems completely obvious. Knightley has just enough time to get to Windsor and do in Mrs. Churchill before proceeding on to London.

And why would Knightley do this? Because it would vest Frank’s inheritance immediately, and set the stage for the final grand bargain, under which Jane receives the Churchill family jewels, Frank gets Enscombe, and neither of them has to actually marry the other, since neither really loves the other!  


Diane: "So in the Mr. Perry passage, if it is not Mr. Perry on horseback, who is it?"

Brilliant question once again, Diane! That is precisely the question that we should be asking--JA loved giving hints by having these kinds of scenes repeated. I pointed out that the two horseback sightings are connected, and you have now extended that point in a very interesting direction! 

My answer to your question—just  as Frank is a man who is significant in the story who is NOT supposed to be in Highbury in Chapter 46, there is another man significant in the story who is NOT supposed to be in Highbury in Chapter 41---and that man is John Knightley, who has come back to Highbury to be there while Jane gives birth to their baby!
In my 2009 et seq. presentations about Emma, I have claimed that John returns to Highbury (a fact obviously concealed from Emma), and it’s he who is there at the Bates residence when Emma shows up unexpectedly in Chapter 43, because she feels guilty for how she humiliated Miss Bates at Box Hill. That accounts for at least part of the frantic scrambling that Emma hears, which occurs before the door is opened to Emma. So, it would fit perfectly with that reading for him to be spotted on a horse by Mr. Weston even earlier than even I realized.  

And that reading would also better explain Frank's bizarre dream-story about Mr. Perry. My initial explanation was that Frank was just being a provocateur, deliberately mentioning Mr. Perry because he wanted to stir the pot, and make the Perry Squad squirm. But now I see that in addition to that, he had a serious motive as well. I.e., if Frank does indeed spot John Knightley riding by, it would make sense for Frank, who thinks very fast on his feet, to take advantage of the fact that Emma is the only one present who does not know Mr. Perry is not alive, so that he may therefore safely speak about John Knightley IN CODE without Emma ever suspecting!

And why would Frank do that? Because he wants to inform the others present that HE knows that John Knightley is the father of Jane’s baby, and that Frank is now fully onto the scheme to trap him into marrying Jane. Seeing John there would have been the last clue Frank needed in order to fit all the puzzle pieces together (echoed by the jumble word game at Box Hill), and make sense of Jane’s behavior toward him since their first encounter in Weymouth. She was looking for a husband/dupe to be the official father for her otherwise illegitimate child, because her lover was a married man who could not therefore marry her.

And that in turn would explain why it is right after that, at Box Hill, that Frank tells Jane he is not going to marry her after all. He’s not a jerk, he just refuses to be a dupe! Now it all makes perfect sense!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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