The Editrix’s affection for the Rev. Mr. Henry Tilney is well-documented, but we must confess to an occasional fling with Mr. Knightley of Donwell Abbey (and have been known to sit adoringly at Captain Wentworth’s knee whilst he tells sea-stories, but that is neither here nor there). Conceive our delight, then, when we were informed that Amanda Grange has followed up Darcy’s Diary with Mr. Knightley’s Diary. Such anticipation for Austen paraliterature titles has been dashed in the past, but we are happy to report that in this case, our anticipation was not excited in vain.
The squire of Donwell Abbey is fond of his country life: looking after his estate with the assistance of the redoubtable William Larkins, attending his whist club, dining at every house in the neighborhood, teaching his nephews to ride their first pony; and his fondest enjoyment is visiting his neighbor Mr. Woodhouse and his daughter, Emma. For a crusty old bachelor, Mr. Knightley spends an awful lot of time thinking about marriage, and an awful lot of time thinking about Miss Woodhouse. With so many concerns to distract him, a generous public must forgive that it takes him half the book (and the intercession of a dispassionate friend) to realize that this is not a coincidence.
Fortunately Ms. Grange does not indulge in any creepy suggestions of Knightley having fallen in love with Emma as a girl; as Jane Austen tells us, “Mr. Knightley had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other.” Mr. Knightley had loved Emma all of her life, certainly, and cared about her welfare, but had no suspicion that his heart harbored anything more serious towards her until he witnessed her flirtation with Frank Churchill. Emma has a journey, without a doubt; but Mr. Knightley, despite his charms and perfections, has one as well, and it is not forgotten in this retelling.
Like all Austen heroes before him, Mr. Knightley is brought low and humbled by his affection for his heroine; is there a sillier object in nature than a man just learning his heart? Or anything more thrilling?
“I think it an excellent plan,” she said gravely. “We must all have donkeys. I am sure Miss Bates would enjoy the experience, and Mrs Goddard would look very well in the saddle — if, indeed, donkeys wear saddles. I mean to purchase a donkey this afternoon, and I hope I may not disgrace you by my seat when you walk next to me, Mr. K.”
“Oh, Emma!” I said. “Don’t…” marry Churchill, marry me, I was going to say. The words were on the tip of my tongue…
*swoons in fever of fangirl delight*
There is that strange sense of deja vu that come from reading the sort of book that tells a well-known story from a different perspective. The anticipation of certain events, indeed, makes it that much more enjoyable, and that the author has clearly studied the original carefully and not employed out of place embellishments sharpens the reader’s pleasure. If we found the original unsatisfactory, why in the name of Jane would we be reading paraliterature about it? Ms. Grange manages the tricky balancing act of satisfying the reader and remaining respectful of Jane Austen’s original at the same time, and like Miss Woodhouse herself, we are given the privilege of falling for Mr. Knightley all over again.
She teases me and bedevils me, she exasperates and infuriates me, but what would I do without Emma?
Spoken like a man in love!