Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC's Emma
Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley in BBC’s Emma

Having agonized- that’s hyperbole- over whether I will be so bothered as to ever review Jane Austen’s more acclaimed novels, I have concluded that the answer is no. We may certainly at some point visit one or two that have not been adapted by a major Hollywood studio. However, there isn’t much that an average reader and novice writer with scant literary knowledge or insights into life in 18th century England can say about those books that hasn’t already been said. I have recently read a few posts from other bloggers which present a well rounded exploration of Jane Austen’s works:

From Escoffier at Just Four Guys:

Why Jane Austen is Not Chick Lit

Three perspectives from Adventures at Keeping House:

The Real Villain of Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice:The Most Unrealistic of All Jane Austen’s Love Stories

The Inherent Liberalism of Pride and Prejudice

I trust that there you will find plenty of food for thought and controversy to mine for die hard Austen fans. Not to mention the aforementioned are much more articulate and knowledgeable than I.

I do however, have a very strong opinion on one matter that I want to address in an Waiting+For+Mr.+Darcyattempt at cathartic release after seeing yet another woman wearing an insufferable t-shirt. It is with this business of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice extolled as the most manly and admirable leading man in all of Austen’s works. I patently disagree.

The most alluring male lead in all of Jane Austen’s works that I have read is without question Mr. Knightley from her 1815 published work, Emma. While the title character and leading lady is often very hard to take, Mr. Knightley is a breath of fresh air among male characters of any era.

He is confident, direct, and never fails to call Emma to account and a higher standard of behavior when she gets out of line. In other words, he is exactly the kind of  man we post-modern sassy women need in a husband rather than a steady dose of  Darcy’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

Contrast with this description of Mr. Knightley, the man to whom Emma is eventually wed:

Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them: and though this was not particularly agreeable to Emma herself, she knew it would be so much less so to her father, that she would not have him really suspect such a circumstance as her not being thought perfect by every body.

“Emma knows I never flatter her,” said Mr. Knightley.

While Emma may not be Austen’s most acclaimed work, it is in my opinion certainly the most entertaining and humorous, and the one book in which she provides us an example of a man, stalwart, and unafraid to confront folly in the life and actions of his intended.

That in my opinion, makes Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy, Jane Austen’s most iconic male character.

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8 thoughts on “Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

  1. Exactly! I really love Persuasion. Have always loved the “second-chance” trope anyway. One of my absolute favorite books is Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffries which tells the story from his perspective. Just an excellent read.

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  2. I had a couple more thoughts (of course, LOL).

    I’m OK with a man who “has guts and spills them” as long as the object of the “spillage” is worthy and I actually do find Elizabeth to be worthy. She doesn’t whitewash her own shortcomings and she doesn’t play coy with him when he reiterates his feelings at the end. I actually do like the counterbalance each provides the other and I love their ongoing growing awareness of the truth of each other.

    I like Lizzy Bennett and I don’t like Emma and generally want to slap the daylights out of her holier than thou self; and I get annoyed with Mr. Knightley because I actually do believe he could do sooooooo much better and he settles for her. She never quite rises to meet him the way Lizzy rises to meet Darcy.

    Now, Sense and Sensibility just ticks me off from start to finish. of the four main characters, three are weak and the other is an annoying brat; I guess they all deserve each other and if Colonel Brandon is happy to attach himself to a woman who doesn’t love him, well, I guess I can’t feel all that sorry for him (but I still kind of do).

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  3. Okay, have a few minutes. I suppose I see your point about gut spillage worthiness, LOL. Lizzy often however, strikes me as somewhat over-indulged and entitled. She doesn’t whitewash her shortcomings but seems to think her wit makes up for them. That said, she does certainly rise to meet Mr. Darcy as the book progresses. On that we can agree.

    I don’t like Emma either, and agree that Knightley certainly could have done better. But consider Emma is a considerable bit younger than he is, and she listens to him. He doesn’t have to fawn to earn her love, he earns it on the strength of who he is. Not that Darcy didn’t with Lizzy, but he’s no Mr. Knightley.

    I don’t know that Marianne would be such a bad wife to Brandon, nor am I sure that she doesn’t love him. Is she passionately in love with him? Not at all, and you know my thoughts on that subject have been spilled all around the web. What I do believe is that unlike many, she has a keen sense of not really deserving Brandon after the fool she made of herself. She is grateful for him, and not a little bit fond of him as well. The question begs then: Is that enough?

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  4. “The question begs then: Is that enough?”

    And therein lies the rub. It’s probably enough for her. But for him? Not so sure.

    I have other thoughts, and work is, unfortunately, hogging my time, but will post some more later on. You know, I could carry on about this stuff forever, LOL

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