A bit of Jane Austen fanfiction this week. Set after the end of Emma, it is a slightly provocative offering on how Emma’s and Jane’s marriages might have turned out.
Spoilers, darlings, spoilers.Were they happy together, though, that peculiar pairing of cool, collected, Jane Fairfax and confident, extrovert Frank Churchill? After all, how may one judge the happiness of married couples? People find contentment in so many different ways; how is one to decide, arbitrarily, that these two have found true love; that this other couple have not? A marriage is like a book: no two are the same, although there may be similar themes running through many. Certainly it is true to say that Mr and Mrs Churchill’s happiness was not in the same vein as that of Mr and Mrs Knightley.
For Emma Knightley, there were no real surprises: she had known George Knightley all her life, and the biggest shock had come before their marriage, when she had realised the nature of her feelings for him. Their life was not plain sailing: many were the times when Mr Knightley would fervently wish that he had not suggested sharing his father-in-law’s house; many, too, the times that Emma would rant about her husband’s absolute values, which could not be bended even for a second. But they had known, had expected, these trials: Knightley admired his wife the more for the way she dealt so patiently (and Emma was not a naturally patient lady) with her father; Emma relied on her husband’s strict morality to help guide her life, as he had ever done, even before their union.
But the Churchills. Ah, the Churchills. One might, perhaps, have expected the blazing outbursts from Frank Churchill, who had inherited his Aunt’s pride and temper alongside his father’s extroversion. To have Jane question his way of interacting with pretty young ladies – “flirting,” she called it; “friendliness,” said he – was enough to set light to Mr Churchill’s anger. But she – Jane. She who had ever been thought unemotional, almost staid. Who would have thought that she could blaze as strongly as her husband; that her cold, icy, fury could burn more painfully than heat? How many times had the servants below stairs listened to the sound of fierce arguing, the crash of a vase as Mr Churchill flung it to the ground in his temper, the slam of a door as Mrs took refuge in her own room, rejecting the marriage bed? Yet an hour later, the two would be entwined in passion, Jane Churchill’s lovely serene smile flashing out as if they had never exchanged a word of disagreement.
How may one judge the happiness of a marriage? The Knightleys and the Churchills would both described themselves as devoted couples, each pitying the other for the relationship they shared. Happiness comes in many guises: let every man be happy in his own way.