Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary by Amanda Grange

One of the most unfair accusations against Austen is that she presents only women’s feelings and thoughts. Any reader truly intimate with Austen’s work knows this claim to be false; we can see what Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley, for instance, feel, through their words, the descriptions of their behavior, and their interactions with others. Nonetheless, I found it a most pleasing experience to be taken into the heads of Austen’s leading men, directed by Amanda Grange in two purported diaries: Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Knightley’s.

In Mr. Darcy’s case, the journal begins with information we already know (principally from Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth after the first proposal): his history with Wickham, especially with respect to Georgiana. Though at first the reader may be troubled by why Darcy would explain details he already knows to his diary, the story quickly distracts from any preoccupation with form.

We actually see the moment of Georgiana telling her big brother the truth about the planned elopement (very differently portrayed than in the BBC, and equally interesting and valid, given that Austen doesn’t provide the details, other than that Georgiana tells him). Also enlightening are Darcy’s first impressions of Mr. Bennet and Darcy’s plans to interest Bingley in his sister, which, in the text, Austen never lets us know for sure. According to his diary, Darcy really believes Bingley will quickly recover from Jane, just as he has from all his previous flirtations—a history which helps the reader, to some degree, excuse Darcy’s interference on behalf of his friend.

Darcy is early annoyed by Caroline (whew! It’s hard to tell at places in Austen’s book if he can see how annoying she is), who is as snippety about Charlotte Lucas’ unmarried state and looming spinsterhood (odd, given Caroline’s own status) as she is about Jane’s low relations. Caroline, in fact, is more wholly to blame for the mess between her brother and Jane. Darcy’s account reveals that he checked his own judgment about Jane’s lack of love for Bingley (thus he did NOT assume he knew all about “reading” women), and Caroline lies to him. The separation, then, is her fault. Bingley is similarly cleared of fault because, as Darcy explains, Bingley wanted to write directly to the Bennets from London and was stopped by his sister, who promised to send his regards in a letter she planned to write, but then of course never did. Darcy’s diary thus nearly clears Darcy and Bingley and slams Caroline (which is A-OK by this reader).

A tip, by the way: I re-read Pride and Prejudice (I was teaching it at the time) at work as I read Darcy’s account of the same events at home—such a treat. Any curiosity I had about what was going on with Darcy when we read about Elizabeth was cleared—and brilliantly, too. The scene with Mr. Collins approaching Darcy without a proper introduction is hilarious—this time, we get to hear Darcy’s thoughts about this episode. Similarly, it’s fun to observe how Lizzy creeps into Darcy’s thoughts the winter after they meet—while she has no idea that she is being thought of in this way. Darcy’s information fills in gaps: how was it, for instance, that he happened to visit Elizabeth in the parsonage in that awkward solitary visit before the first proposal? Why does Colonel Fitzwilliam wait longer than Darcy does after she receives the transformative letter? What does Darcy do when he tries to forget Elizabeth? Grange addresses all these questions and more.

We also see Darcy “learn” of his own errors, just as Austen gives us Elizabeth’s realizations in the novel. He works on a new social policy: to pretend he’s known strangers all his life in order to be agreeable. The modern reader, who wants Darcy to reach out and hug Elizabeth as she cries upon recounting the news of Lydia and Wickham, is touched by his explanation of how badly he wants to buck social conventions and hold her—but why, ultimately, he doesn’t.

In addition to Darcy, Anne deBourgh gets some fleshing out in this journal; we see Anne, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Darcy playing together as children before she was sick, and we learn how devastating her father’s loss was to her. We see Anne a bit tougher than we ever do in P & P, and we learn that sometimes the quiet characters have strong, unspoken feelings. And of course we get to see how Darcy learns about the Lady Catherine visit to Longbourne and Darcy’s gratitude toward Mr. Bennet for fostering such spunk in his daughter. The first Christmas together as a family extends the story a bit—with funny results—and after a delicious payback to Lady Catherine, Darcy is hopeful for the future.

 In Mr. Knightley’s case, too, Grange fills in gaps in our knowledge. Why wasn’t Mr. Knightley at the Westons’ wedding, for instance? Now we learn that he had business in London. How does it happen that John and Isabella come with all their children for Christmas at Hartfield, despite John’s pressing business in town? Now we learn that it is Mr. Knightley who ensures that Mr. Woodhouse and Emma will be surrounded by family at this important time. What was Mr. Knightley thinking about Elton, other than that he would “act rationally,” as he pursued Emma? We see here that Mr. Knightley—and other people in Highbury—assume Elton is trying to raise his status by marrying Emma. Elton’s excessive—and ridiculous—flattery seemed closer to that of Mr. Collins here than it did when I have read both original works. And of course, in Mr. Knightley’s story, there is a lot more information we don’t know from Emma because the emphasis is on her, rather than on both protagonists, as it is in P & P.

Unlike Darcy, whose “working”s on Bingley in matters of love made the reader say “ick” (even if his journal justifies his interference a bit), Mr. Knightley is right when he advises Robert Martin. Both heroes, however, are oblivious to their own feelings about the heroine, but, much to Grange’s credit, it takes Mr. Knightley much longer to understand himself.

This reveals, of course, a problem readers often have with Emma: if Mr. Knightley was 16 was Emma was born, and if he finally professes his love to her at 37, this means he may well have had sexual feelings towards a child. This journal eliminates that possibility. We see her through his eyes right away—he admires her devotion to her father, he is concerned that all her associates are much older than she is, or simply inappropriate friends for her, and he encourages her to do what is right—but he is unaware of being in love with her for much of the novel. Emma’s name pops up often in his thoughts—so we know what he is about—but as for Mr. Knightley himself, for much of the time, and certainly until Emma is an adult, he is “doomed to blindness” of his own desires. Though he calls her “my Emma” in his journal, he makes no romantic comments about her for the first half of the text, and in his quest for a wife, does not consider her. At the same time, it just feels right to him to be with her.

Mr. Knightley, like Mr. Darcy, tries to interest himself in other women. For Mr. Knightley, it’s because he desperately wants to have the life his brother John has but can’t seem to work up feelings of love for any woman, and he does not intend to marry without love. For Darcy, it’s because he knows he is in love with a woman it would be impractical—or impossible—to take to wife. In Darcy’s case, the pursuit is amusing because he is matched with a woman of inferior intelligence, a woman who doesn’t “get” irony (I’m familiar with the feeling). In Mr. Knightley’s case, it’s just sad. He tries so hard to find love, unaware that the woman he loves is right in front of him. The reader, however, can savor the irony: we know what Emma will do and think very soon, and it’s interesting to see Mr. Knightley experiencing similar confusion just before she does. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley also share the decision to get away from the heroine when marriage seems hopeless—Darcy, after the first proposal; Mr. Knightley when he thinks Emma loves Frank—and to visit the heroine before so doing to take formal leave.

The build-up to the happy resolution here is particularly fun and cleverly handled, with even an allusion to the hen-house! Mr. Knightley plays often with his nephews and nieces, foreshadowing his own success as a father, and the passion he feels for Donwell Abbey reflects well on his character, too, as do his understated generosity to the poor and his skill managing Mr. Woodhouse. Even more telling: he loves his home so much; yet we know he will voluntarily leave it to make Emma and her father happy in just a few months. The reader gets truly to savor Mr. Knightley’s goodness.

As soon as he realizes what he is feeling for Emma—boom—he plans to propose, and, according to this text, wants to do so at strawberry picking at Donwell and, when that fails, at Box Hill. We, who well know what will happen at Box Hill, can again enjoy irony—just as the hero wants to claim the heroine forever, she distances herself from him in a way that could ruin everything. Grange also elucidates how Harriet could imagine that Mr. Knightley returns her affection, and though he misinterprets what he’s seeing as affection for Robert Martin, we see that a woman in love could easily interpret Mr. Knightley’s new familiarity with Harriet as love. Mr. Knightley, in this version more than in the original, has flawed judgment; he, after all, completely misreads Frank Churchill and even his own feelings once Frank arrives, but that kind of flawed judgment, in a good, generally well-judging character, is often what draws us to an Austen heroine. It seems fitting, then, that the hero shares it at last.

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Published in: on August 3, 2009 at 7:57 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Natasha,

    I agree with your point about the unfair criticism of Austen. Read closely and well one can see she provides the deepest insight into the HUMAN condition. Maybe it’s all those dreamy watercolor book jackets that turn guys off. 🙂

    I like your blog!


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