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).

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


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