Reading Volume II, I was, yet again, amazed at how adeptly Ms. Austen juggles her numerous plots and sub-plots. She sure knows how to seamlessly weave together an entire town’s worth of story lines: marriages, gossip, deceptions, schemes, secrets – really, Austen’s awesome. For a novel to work (at least for me) all the characters must be well developed, interesting, and meaningful to the plot. Volume II accomplishes this wonderfully – not just in advancing our initial townsfolk, but brilliantly adding several new characters into the mix – most notably, Mrs. Elton and Mr. Frank Churchill.
Two of my favorite scenes occur – Mr. Churchill’s escape to London for a mere haircut (or perhaps some super secret mission to be uncovered later!) and the anonymous gifting of Jane Fairfax’s pianoforte. Frank’s haircut (I feel improper calling him his Christian name – does anyone else ever feel this way when reading classic literature?) with its silliness is worthy of several genuine chuckles (who knew classic literature could be so amusing!). And the mysteriously appearing pianoforte much discussed at the dinner party hosted by the Coles adds intrigue worthy of any well constructed detective novel, but also begins to reveal Emma’s true feelings towards Mr. Knightley she’s still very much unaware of. I love how Austen does that – revealing truths while creating secrets.
I think my biggest revelation so far in this re-read is how much I’m enjoying knowing everything that happens in advance. Being spoiled allows me to pay attention to the intricacies cleverly woven by Ms. Austen so much earlier on than a first reading would allow. I particularly love this in respect to Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill.
Another striking matter is how little Mr. Knightley has actually been in the story thus far. He’s far too often holed up in Donwell Abbey seeing to his farming and whatnot. I find myself pining for his attendance at Emma’s little social dalliances because I am a fangirl. And fangirls should never be denied. Despite his solitary nature, Mr. Knightley does fulfill his social engagements, keeping him from hermit status, and his presence is always pivotal to the story and never needlessly wasted. He may not say much, but what he does say can not be ignored.
Excited to embark upon Volume III where our hero and heroine will finally find their way to one another and all will be well in Highbury!