Tall Dark and Handsome: On the Appeal of Mr. Knightley

I know that Jane Austen’s works are literature to be discussed analytically in academic discourse, so as such I will attempt to analyze- objectively and academically- why Mr. Knightley is such an appealing man (appealing, yet not ideal).

1. He finds faults in her– Emma says, “Mr Knightley loves to find fault with me” (9). The narrator tells us that he was “one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse.” He never flatters her.

Why this is appealing:

Flattery, or gallantry, is a norm of behavior in Emma. Mr. Elton uses it in his attempt to woo Emma and Frank Churchill uses it to deflect suspicion of his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax by encouraging all to assume he is courting Emma. Flattery is easy- once you learn the rules. However, flattery can often assumed to be a false statement intended to sway ones affections. False statements, when recognized as such, cannot but be a turn-off. Of course, genuine admiration, when vocalized appropriately, is always appreciated.

What’s intriguing about Mr. Knightley is that he does not flatter Emma. Many people in love tend to overlook the faults of the object of their admiration. Then, they are unhappily surprised when the veneer of love fades slightly and the faults appear on the surface. Mr. Knightley knows Emma and her faults. Instead of ignoring them, out of love, he encourages her to improve herself. He criticizes her behavior when he deems it necessary. Yet, implied in his criticism is his appreciation of her. To me, the most romantic moment of the novel is when Mr. Knightley tells Emma that her joke at Miss Bates’ expense was “badly done.”  In society, one does not tell people one cares little about what their faults are. He knows that his criticism is likely to upset Emma and endangers his hopes for attaining her affections, yet, he must do it because he loves her.

I do not mean to say that in order to be appealing, one should criticize. The criticism is only possible because of their close family relationship and his having known her for her entire life. Beware of overestimating your relationship.

2. He’s a gentleman without being too overbearingly nice- Unlike Frank Churchill or Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightley’s manner is not one of excessive familiarity or overbearing niceness. Yet, he is unfailing in his goodness of character. When Harriet Smith is slighted by Mr. Elton, Mr. Knightley, though not inclined to dance, asks her.

Why this is appealing:

His sensitivity to the feelings of others is unparalleled by any of the other characters. Some people are “nice” and overbearing. He is sensitive to the feelings of others, and as such, most of his goodness comes from the desire to prevent people from feeling neglected or ill-used.

3. As part of his sensitivity- his sensitivity to her family- ie. her father.

4. His love grows out of friendship. There’s something appealing about someone appreciating you as a person and then growing to love you as opposed to “lust at first sight.”

5. He is universally admired. There is no character in the entire free-indirect-discourse of the novel who imparts any negativity on his character.

Perhaps, however, it is not just the man himself who is appealing, but their relationship. The intimacy of their relationship that arises from years of friendship and then realizing that “that’s just love sneakin’ up on you” (Bonnie Raitt).

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 3:51 am Comments (0)

From Answer to Question

Some questions that may have preceded Dillon’s essay:

1. Why does the novel give little importance to the events of the Haitian revolution and intersperse short snippets of the horrors into the more emphasized daily gossip and scandal of the colonial society?

2. Why was the novel ignored for such a long period of time?

3. Does the novel fit Cathy Davidson’s critical model- novel as metonym for national conflict?

4. What other model might replace it?

5. What is the meaning behind the military diction in the novel?

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 12:51 am Comments (0)

Clara as Sansay’s Transgressive Self and Mary as Sansay’s Moral Conscience

Michael Drexler, the editor of the critical edition of Leonora Sansay’s Secret History; or The Horrors of St. Domingo we read, informs us that the letters in the novella are based on actual letters written from Leonora Sansay to Aaron Burr. A few epistles of their correspondence were reproduced in the appendix of the critical edition and a brief comparison yields some interesting insights.

Drexler writes that “Clara” of Secret History was at least in part an invention to allow Sansay to write about herself” (223)

I argue that Clara is not only a fictional character meant to take the place of Sansay to save face or for any other artistic purpose because Clara appears already in the letters Sansay writes to Burr- she writes, “and here commences the adventures of Clara—do you recollect her? that Clara you once lov’d—She came to St domingo about the time I did…” Clara is a persona Sansay creates in her letters to Burr for one of a few possible reasons:

1. Clara is a nickname Burr used for Sansay during their affair.

2. Sansay uses the name “Clara” to save her reputation in the event that her letters are seen by the public (which they are today).

3. And this is the one that I’ll be using for my analysis-  that Sansay created Clara as a persona for her transgressive self.

To begin with, Sansay says to Burr “that Clara you once lov’d”- she uses the transgressive persona to discuss her relationship with Burr because it continued on after Sansay was already married- hence it was an adulterous transgression.

With regards to the experiences of St. Domingo, Sansay writes “[the captain general] came, and here commences the adventures of Clara” (225) That is, once the general arrives, once Sansay becomes involved with him, it is necessary to invent Clara. It is Clara, not Sansay who “was almost naked” (226) and who answers the general’s letters (228) (though according to Mary in Sansay’s epistolary novella, Clara does not answer these letters- interesting change I won’t dwell on here).

Mary, however, does not appear in Sansay’s letters. In Sansay’s letters it is Leonora Sansay who describes “Clara’s” exploits and defends her or passes judgment. However, she creates a new persona, Mary, to serve this purpose in her novella. Mary takes on a different character- more extreme in her criticism and defense; she becomes the embodiment of Sansay’s conscience.

Against the supposed criticism of Burr that Mary shares only stories relating to Clara, Mary writes, “I have no adventures” (89)- implying that those who adhere to morality do not have any fun.

Most interesting in this analysis is the exchange at the end between Mary and Clara- between Sansay’s moral conscience and her transgressive persona. In leaving her husband, a major transgression, Clara abandons Mary, the “conscience” who is now stuck with her husband. Clara and her conscience are separated because Clara has done something incredibly transgressive. The letters between the two are the reconciliation of the conscience to the transgressive character, the struggling between the transgression and the conscience- and the attempt to reunify them, to restore the balance.

Works Cited

Sansay, Leonora, and Michael J. Drexler. Secret History, Or, The Horrors of St. Domingo; And, Laura. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2008. Print.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 1:29 am Comments (0)

Religion in Plague Society

The trigger for this next blog came from reading Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year over the Jewish New Year. One of the passages in the day’s liturgy comes from a poem thought to have been written in the 11th century:

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning…”

Religion and the Plague

The narrator suggests that many people understood the plague to be a Divine Judgment- “a Messenger of his Vengeance,” “…a loud call… to Humiliation and Repentance” (166) – and that at the height of the misery, “good people began to think, that God was resolved to make a full End of the People in this miserable City” (88). The narrator himself decides to remain in London, despite the opportunity to flee, because of a belief that he would receive divine protection (11).  Yet, the narrator often regrets his decision, not out of rejection of Divine providence, but out of a growing realization while God has caused the Plague- people are the ones through whom it spreads (166).

The book was written in the 18th century about events in the 17th century and along with all of its other purported goals:

a) “represent the Misery of these Times” to the Reader (152),

b) give all manner of suggestions in the event of a future Plague,

it seems to have as well,

c) a religious agenda.

Generally, religious thought pervaded the society conveyed in the narrative and was part of explaining all phenomena. Yet, the narrator addresses atheistic persons both anecdotally and in the body of his text; this points to the existence of atheistic tendencies. The Renaissance and Scientific thought have spread in England. The occurrence of a calamity of as great a magnitude as the Plague invites questions of God- Is there a God? If there was a God why didn’t he stop it? If there was a God, how could he be so cruel? Etc. Etc. It seems that the narrator has taken it upon himself to convey the role of religion and God in bringing about the Plague but also describing the role of religion in the Plague Society. This is to affirm his own faith and also to show how religion remained strong throughout the plague and that defiant atheists were struck down for their blasphemy (58-60), albeit amongst many believers.

Religion in Plague society

Religion plays an essential role in the Plague Society. It provides comfort to individuals- like the Narrator, who spent his time shut up in his house writing “meditations on Divine subjects” (67). Churches provide places of refuge where people come to pray and religious leaders provide comfort. Belief in God provides an explanation for the misery (Divine retribution, wake-up call etc.)

Yet, religion plays a negative role as well. The narrator laments that belief that “God is able to keep us in the midst of Danger” led many to stay in London whose lives would likely have been saved had they fled (170). In Muslim Turkey, where the Plague had earlier hit, predestination led many to forgo precautions that could have saved their lives (11,12). In addition, the narrator criticizes some of the religious leaders for heightening the fear of the people and not encouraging them to pray for mercy (23). Also, gathering in Churches, like any public gathering during that time, served to further spread the Plague.

Like any system of thought or way of ordering the world- Religion provided both Answers and Questions. In a world where Plague was a constant fear, belief and reliance on institutions like Religion and State (of which the narrator also speaks highly for its involvement in maintaining whatever order remained in London) served as constants that the people could rely on.

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 2:59 am Comments (0)

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