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John and George Knightley in Jane Austen's Emma

Categories Character, Literature, Novels

Essay, Pages 4 (936 words)

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Essay, Pages 4 (936 words)

‘The Knightley brothers embody all that is good in society. They are well-meaning characters who fulfil their responsibilities admirably, yet the reader may find them dull. ‘ In the light of this statement, examine Austen’s presentation of John and George Knightley. Every novel requires a dastardly villain and a shining hero, who falls for the heroine at the end of the story. Mr and Mrs Elton seem somewhat villainous in their treatment of others, with the Knightley brothers – George, the elder, especially – representing such a hero and symbol of good.

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However, since the Eltons aren’t really evil, and the Knightleys are so ‘agreeable’ and ‘cheerful’, it can certainly lead to some people considering Emma a dull read. As well as his personality and position, we are informed of Mr Knightley being the hero by his name: George, patron saint of England, twinned with the idea of a ‘Knightley’ man in shining armour, clears all doubt. As a Jane Austen hero, his purpose is to marry the heroine in the final chapters, after a novel’s worth of witty banter.

George Knightley has been a close friend of the family for almost all of his life, through land ownership: ‘he lived about a mile from Highbury’ and also through familial ties, being as he is, ‘the elder brother of Isabella’s husband. ‘ Since the departure of Miss Taylor, Emma has been Mr Woodhouse’s sole form of entertainment, and while he can find little complaint with that, for Emma it would no doubt become tiresome.

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Yet Mr Knightley visits frequently, with a warm welcome, as his cheering visits ‘always did him [Mr Woodhouse] good’.

Emma, who has known him since her birth, appears to consider Mr Knightley as an uncle, or some such figure, and takes to him all the more for his being one of the few people to not find her perfect, as well as the only person who will tell her so. As the novel progresses, he chides and compliments her in turn, causing Emma to build up confusion as to his feelings about her, until finally he delivers an exceptionally nervous and heartfelt proposal, which is graciously accepted. John Knightley, ‘a tall, gentleman-like, and very clever man’, is a more sombre character; equally as serious, yet lacking the cheerfulness George possesses.

The fact that ‘his temper was not his great perfection’, it occasionally causes friction with the eternally ‘easy, cheerful tempered’ Mr Weston, and at their Christmas gathering, while the party becomes greatly excited at the sight of ‘Christmas weather’, John merely complains that: ‘I cannot wish to be snowed up a week at Randalls. ‘ This reliably bad temper allows John to seem a more impressive character than George, whose humour only fails when Emma upsets anybody, but he is still a figure of heroism and wholesomeness.

While many of Jane Austen’s heroes have fairly similar traits, the Knightleys appear to be the most angelic and show the fewest imperfections, although faults do become apparent. They both have the gift of astute judgement, displayed by George throughout, and by John when he observes Mr Elton with Emma: ‘he seems to have a great deal of good-will towards you. ‘ George Knightley, as a perfect gentleman, is very understanding and sensitive towards the needs and feelings of others, particularly the Woodhouses, and therefore never blunders or offends; such a skill can create an uninteresting character.

He watches over Emma as a father figure – admiring her diligence, such as when he describes her reading lists drawn up at the age of fourteen: ‘very good lists… very well chosen, and very neatly arranged’. Many see him as the model of an ideal man, and even Emma later realises she has been using him as a yardstick by which to measure the other men she encounters. He has another talent, inasmuch as he seems to be able to predict the future. His opinion is highly valued, particularly by Emma, and his judgement rarely wrong.

He is also brave enough to reveal his true feelings towards Emma, despite the belief she has fallen for Frank. John Knightley, a seemingly gruffer version of his brother, lacks George’s sensitivity and can often slip up at social events and make rude remarks (such as ‘nobody ever did think well of the Churchills’), which appears contrary to the belief that he upholds all that a hero requires, but at the Christmas event he manages to maintain his peace, much to the reader’s disappointment.

However, neither of the brothers is especially jolly, neither enjoying the Christmas atmosphere nor the accompanying dances. Yet despite his displeasure in dancing, George rescues Harriet from Mr Elton’s ill manners and Emma notices ‘Mr Knightley leading Harriet to the set’. George’s greatest flaw is his thinly veiled jealousy for Frank Churchill (read also Frank Churchill Emma essay), whose open flirtatiousness with Emma greatly annoys him; thus at every opportunity, he criticises and condemns the young man: claiming that Frank should perform his ‘duty to pay… ttention to his father’ not by ‘manoeuvring and finessing, but by vigour and resolution’. He tends to put part of the blame on Frank’s young years, which produces the effect that George is old before his time, condemning the youth for their foolishness. In short, a well-mannered person can sometimes be misconstrued as a dull person, and the lack of dark secrets in the Knightleys can create a boring image indeed, but since the heroine and her sister are so greatly flawed themselves, Mr Knightley and his brother are suitably matched to them, in order to finally restore balance in Highbury.

Cite this essay

John and George Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/john-and-george-knightley-in-jane-austens-emma-essay

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