‘As you are so much older and wiser than I am, I must of course defer to your judgement.’
‘Not so very much older,’ I said.
‘And not so very much wiser,’ she said saucily.
I smiled, but I would not give her the satisfaction of laughing.
‘I may be allowed to be a little wiser, I suppose,’ I said.
‘You may. But not where bonnets are concerned.’
She teases me and bedevils me, she exasperates me and infuriates me, but what would I do without Emma?
(from Mr. Knightley’s Diary, pages 179-180)
Of course, after I finished Emma, I immediately searched for books inspired by Jane Austen’s novel, which is now among my all-time favorites. I wasn’t ready to let go of the fascinating characters that inhabit the small village of Highbury, so you can image how delighted I was to come across Mr. Knightley’s Diary. I enjoy reading Amanda Grange’s retellings of Austen’s novels through the eyes of her heroes (read my reviews of Captain Wentworth’s Diary and Henry Tilney’s Diary), and this one didn’t disappoint.
Emma Woodhouse is George Knightley’s much younger sister-in-law, a spoiled young lady who is constantly told how beautiful and clever she is…by everyone except Mr. Knightley, of course. Mr. Knightley is a bachelor who thinks it’s high time he found himself a wife, but he’s just not captivated by any of the women of his acquaintance. None of them have the open countenance he so desires in a wife, and he hasn’t yet found a woman whose company delights him like Emma’s does. When a good friend asks him why he doesn’t just marry Emma, he seems appalled at the notion. She is 21, and he is 37, and he’s known her for what seems like forever! Moreover, her attempts at matchmaking people obviously unsuited for one another — namely the reverend Mr. Elton and Miss Smith, a recent acquaintance of Emma’s who lacks a fortune and whose parentage is unknown — has caused nothing but arguments between them.
However, it doesn’t sit well with Mr. Knightley when Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s former governess and dear friend, Mrs. Weston, comes to Highbury and begins flirting with Emma. One might think there’s something untoward going on, especially when he observes secretive glances between Mr. Churchill and Jane Fairfax, a woman he thought might be a suitable wife, or one might think that Mr. Knightley is jealous.
Mr. Knightley’s Diary stays true to Emma when it comes to the characters and the plot. While readers aren’t sure the truth about Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice given the misinformation Elizabeth receives from Wickham and might see Captain Wentworth as being a bit harsh toward Anne for much of Persuasion due to his anger over their broken engagement, Mr. Knightley is presented as a perfect gentleman from the very beginning. Well, as perfect as one can be when having to scold the heroine for her bad behavior. He doesn’t appear to have a tale of woe, so I thought it might be difficult to tell the story through his eyes.
I love how Grange lets Mr. Knightley express his frustration with characters like Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Elton through his diary while acting very polite toward them. Those characters in particular are annoying, so this makes Mr. Knightley seem more real to me. Grange also enables readers to see Mr. Knightley’s flaws. Although I may wish to think of him as perfect, it’s kind of hard to impress the woman you love when you’re always pointing out her flaws and refusing to flatter her.
However, the word “saucily” is overused in describing Emma’s remarks to Knightley, though their bantering is great in developing the romantic tension. While I really enjoyed Mr. Knightley’s Diary, I do have a hard time believing that Austen’s heroes would have kept diaries that depict conversations in so much detail. I understand there are some challenges to telling a story through diary entries, though. It also might be hard for readers to completely follow the story if they haven’t read Emma, but why would you even want to read this one without first reading Austen’s masterpiece?
I enjoyed the afternoon I spent with Mr. Knightley’s Diary, and I appreciated Grange’s take on one of my favorite literary heroes. I only recently finished Emma, but this book made me want to re-read it very soon.
Disclosure: I borrowed Mr. Knightley’s Diary from the public library.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.