Can a retelling of “Emma” from Mr. Knightley’s point of view deliver similar delights as Austen’s own story?
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
“Emma” has been one of my favorite stories by Jane Austen, ever since I read it nearly seventeen years ago and no matter who plays George Knightley in an adaptation, I love him too! Last year was the 200th anniversary of the publication of “Emma” and this year is the 200th anniversary of the American publication of “Emma.” Actually, “Emma” is the only book that Austen wrote that was published in America during her lifetime.
As Austen sculpted Emma into a character that she claimed readers wouldn’t like very much, I believe Knightley serves as her counterpoint. Responsible, loyal and serious, George Knightley, a wealthy gentleman in his late thirties, serves throughout the story as an upstanding citizen, friend, and family member who easily rivals any of Austen’s other beloved heros. As in “Emma,” he also comes across as charming, relatable and struggling with his emerging feelings for the much younger Emma Woodhouse. So, when I embarked on this blog event, Beyond Pride & Prejudice, “George Knightley, Esquire, Charity Envieth Not” presented itself as a must-read from my TBR list. Lucky us that in a separate post today, author Barbara Cornthwaite has also joined us here at Just Jane 1813 for an interview!
It’s important to note that this book, “George Knightley, Esquire, Charity Envieth Not” is the first in a two-part series, which follows George Knightley’s POV through the story of Austen’s “Emma.” Thankfully for us, the second book, “George Knightley, Esquire: Lend Me Leave,” is already in print and as an ebook version for readers to enjoy right after they finish this book.
In this retelling, Barbara Cornthwaite has done for Mr. Knightley many of the things that Stan Hurd did for Mr. Darcy in his beautifully written “Darcy’s Tales” series. Here, Mrs. Cornthwaite tells the story of “Emma” through George Knightley’s POV, while inserting lots of terrific historical information about the life and responsibilities of a landed gentleman, along with plenty of plausible insights into the trajectory of Mr. Knightley’s slowly evolving physical and emotional attraction towards Emma and his deepening realizations that he no longer views her solely as his youthful, self-absorbed, matchmaking sister-in-law.
Unlike Darcy’s involvement with Elizabeth in “Pride and Prejudice,” George Knightley spends a lot of time in Emma’s company and has known her since she was a very young girl. Since his brother married Emma’s sister, the two families have only grown closer together, making his frequent involvement with Emma a part of his routine life. Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, views Knightley as a close friend and the two gentlemen have a deep respect for each other. Therefore, the two spend a lot of time in each other’s company, which I find quite enjoyable!
It’s clear from this story that Mrs. Cornthwaite is an astute researcher. The details that she meticulously weaves throughout this variation are delightful to learn as they enhance not only our knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of the landed gentry, but they also allow us to feel immersed within the small town life of Highbury, which adds another great layer to this story. It becomes very clear while reading this story that Mr. Knightley takes his role as the magistrate, and as a leader amongst the Highbury society quite seriously, and through learning about his responsibilities, we come to understand his character with greater depth. He also displays a humorous side that wasn’t as apparent in Austen’s story. Mrs. Cornthwaite has a talent for writing about the daily interactions of her character’s lives, while moving the story along at a moderately steady, without getting too bogged down in the smallest details.
Just like in Austen’s “Emma,” Knightley is demanding towards Emma and upholds his expectations for her behaviors to the stringent standards that he has for himself, and yet at the same time, the faults and difficulties within her behaviors aren’t magnified or made to feel villainous. His reflections about Emma and the way that they interact with each other feels very true to the way that Austen developed their emerging romantic relationship.
As Knightley comes to understand what he is feeling for Emma is more than their long-held friendship, he also comes to the achingly difficult decision that since she isn’t in love with him, and perhaps is in love with another; therefore, he must refrain from expressing the growing affection that he is developing for her. It was fascinating to read such a well-developed side of Knightley’s own personal struggles because I felt like I connected more with him as a character and I gained an even deeper respect for him as a member of the Highbury community. This story ends when Frank Churchill leaves Highbury, so you’ll probably be anxiously looking to read the follow-up book right away.
This book offers all fans of “Emma” the opportunity to gain a realistic and skillfully developed look at Austen’s story from Knightley’s POV, while at the same time retaining much of the same feel and tone of Austen’s story. I highly recommend this book for all JAFF readers who love “Emma,” as well as to all JAFF readers who enjoy reading Austen’s stories through the eyes of her irresistible heroes. Ceri’s blog, Babblings of a Bookworm, has a lovely review of book two in this series.
Our Goodreads Austenesque Lovers TBR Pile Reading Challenge 2016 group read this book together and you can view all of the discussions that took place around this story.
This post by Austen Only Emma Season: Mr Knightley, Magistrate, provides some wonderful information about Mr. Knightley’s role as a magistrate.
JASNA has an article titled, “A Hypothetical Map of Highbury,” where they share (see map above) how Highbury may have been designed during this era.
I also had the pleasure of visiting The Morgan Library & Museum on 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016, where I enjoyed a viewing of a first edition of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”
The plaque below the book says, “Debut Of Emma: Among the many Austen manuscripts at the Morgan are accounts of the composition and publication of this novel, here displayed in its original boards, uncut – just as it appeared on its first day of publication. Austen decided to publish it at her own expense along with a second edition of Mansfield Park. Unfortunately, the market could not absorb two of her novels at the same time. Emma turned a profit, but the publisher deducted from it the losses incurred by Mansfield Park, leaving the author a pittance for one of her most accomplished creations.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) Emma: A Novel, in Three Volumes. By the author of “Pride and Prejudice,” London: Printed for John Murray, 1816. (Purchased in 1928)
I would like to offer one Just Jane 1813 reader an opportunity to win an ebook of “George Knightley, Esquire : Charity Envieth Not.” Please leave a comment below this post, to enter this giveaway, by midnight ET on June 16th. The winner of this giveaway will be announced on this blog on June 17, 2016.
I’d like to thank Barbara Cornthwaite for writing such a carefully researched and thoughtful story based on Mr. Knightley’s POV. This book has been a JAFF favorite for several years, and it’s easy to see why it remains a fan favorite!
Visit Amazon to add these books to your shelf. “George Knightley, Esquire, Book Two” is available through KindleUnlimited.
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