“A man must have a very good opinion of himself when he asks people to leave their own fireside, and encounter such a day as this for the sake of coming to see him. He must think himself a most agreeable fellow … Here we are setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man’s house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be heard again tomorrow. Going in dismal weather to return probably in worse – four horses and four servants taken out for nothing but to convey five idle, shivering creatures into colder rooms and worse company than they might have had at home.”
What a daunting indictment of hospitality! It’s enough to make anyone think twice before sending out invitations. This statement, from Emma, is made by Mr. John Knightley in complaint of having to leave the warm fireside at Hartfield and travel through snow to a Christmas party at the Westons‘. For this man, the glass is definitely half (or even three-quarters) empty! His lengthy diatribe, which I have taken the liberty of abbreviating, proves the character Jane Austen has already described for us: he’s not altogether ill-tempered, but sometimes out of humor, sometimes acting ungraciously, and capable of saying a severe thing.
Part of the problem, of course, was purely logistical. Traveling to an evening party in those days was not a simple undertaking – no paved roads, no cars with headlights and heated leather seats. As mentioned, getting to the Westons‘ involved a cold carriage with horses and servants to operate it. And the party would have had to be scheduled (as all evening balls and parties were then) for a night with a tolerably good moon so they could find their way after dark. These things were taken as a matter of course by everybody except the guy with the bad attitude.
I suspect there’s a little bit of Mr. John Knightly in me. He’s far too harsh, but I can relate to some of what he says. I’m basically a homebody, not a party animal. Although I know I’ll probably enjoy myself once I arrive at the gathering, my natural tendencies tempt me to forgo the inconvenience of going out and stay comfortably in front of my own fireside. Especially if I am tired, the idea of curling up with a thick book or a good movie may sound more appealing at that moment. Making the extra effort is worth it, however. And, lest I be omitted from all future guest lists, let me be clear. I appreciate any invitation as a sign of favor and of generous hospitality, not (as Mr. John Knightly does) as proof that the host has too high an opinion of himself.