Call me ‘George’

Progress continues on Mr. Knightley in His Own Words! I’m happy to report that I’ve now arrived at the 2/3 done point with 31 chapters, 208 pages, and 62K words.

So today I’m celebrating by sharing a newly written excerpt with you, one that leads off with a scene based on this bit of dialogue between Mr. Knightley and Emma towards the end of the original book, after they had reached their good understanding:

“You always call me, ‘Mr. Knightley;’ and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound. And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what.” “I remember once calling you ‘George,’ in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but as you made no objection, I never did it again.” (Emma, chapter 53)

Well, he makes no serious objection anyway. Here’s how I see that scene playing out, as told by Mr. Knightley himself:

I have put off thinking about Emma for as long as I can. But since I have now transcribed all the significant events of my past, I can delay confronting the current dilemma no longer.

While she was only a child in my recollections it was easy enough to sidestep the conflict Emma now poses in my mind, for she was just a minor character at the periphery of my consciousness, the young offspring of my friends and nothing more. The girl I knew then seems like a different person altogether from the woman she is now become.

She no longer represents a minor presence in my life. She will not be kept to the periphery of my consciousness anymore. In truth, it has been some time since that was the case. Ever since Isabella married and removed with John to London, Emma has been moving to the forefront – both in my notice and at Hartfield. It was she who claimed the position of mistress of the house. It was she to whom I spoke more and more when I visited Hartfield. Although there had never been a conscious thought of anything like romance until recently, I could not have denied that I looked forward to seeing her nearly every day. She was a friend who was becoming ever dearer to me, a person who had at some point without my knowing it become absolutely essential to my happiness. A day without a word and a smile from Emma seemed sadly lackluster.

Although my musings have now brought me nearly to the present, I cannot help relating one more incident from days gone by – one of my earlier recollections of Emma – because it seems to have established the manner in which Emma and I related to each other ever after, how we got into the habit of saying whatever we like to each other.

Emma must have been twelve at the time – on the very cusp of adolescence – and I had been trying to correct some bad behavior on her part. What she had done on that particular occasion, I do not even recall, for she seemed always to be straying into error of one kind or another. No, “straying” implies accident, whereas Emma’s youthful transgressions were usually of a more willful nature. Boundaries had to be tested. Her strength must be proved.

I just remember saying, “As your friend, Emma – and one older and more experienced – it is my duty to correct you when I see you doing wrong.”

“Oh, so we are friends now, are we? The way you preach at me sometimes, I might have mistaken you for a rector.”

“I have one thing in common with Mr. Bates, Emma – and with your father and Miss Taylor as well. We all care for the development of your character. We all care that you should learn to govern your fancies and do what it right. But believe me, I had much rather you gave me no cause to correct you. Then indeed, I could simply be your friend.”

“I see. Well, although I cannot at present guarantee the first, I will help you with the second. If we are to be friends, and as you already call me by my given name, I will return the favor by calling you George.”


“That is your name, I believe.”

“Yes, of course it is, but you know you should address me as Mr. Knightley,” I said mildly. “Even your father does.”

“Then why do not you address me as Miss Woodhouse? Or Miss Emma, when my sister is by?”

“That is entirely different, and you know it. You are a still a girl, Emma. A mere child.”

“I am nearly thirteen! I shall soon be old enough to dance at balls. And so please do address me as Miss Woodhouse, George.”

“Emma!” cried Miss Taylor, coming into the room. “Apologize to Mr. Knightley at once.”

“So sorry,” she said in an affected way and with a roll of the eyes. “Please do forgive me, George.”

“Now you are simply being impertinent,” I returned, trying to hide my amusement. “I cannot speak to you when you are like this.”

“Very well. Since we obviously cannot yet be friends, I may as well leave you. Good day, George!” And she gaily skipped from the room.

When I was sure she had gone, I laughed and turned to Miss Taylor, who stood with her arms crossed. “Cannot you do anything with the girl?” I asked.

“I try, but you know her disposition, Mr. Knightley.”

“Yes, I do. She is entirely too full of herself. Always has been.”

“One can hardly blame her. With all her faults, she is an excellent creature – so very bright and lively.”

“The trouble is, she knows it,” I grumbled.

“Soon she will be pretty too, I’m afraid.”

“That may be, for she indeed has the look of it, so much like her mother. We must sincerely hope she does not add vanity of person to her list of conceits.”

Miss Taylor shook her head and gave a little laugh of chagrin. “I used to think what a good governess I was, when I had only dear, tractable Isabella in my charge, for she always did everything I said. She has the gentle spirit of her father. But Emma…”

“Yes, ‘But Emma!’ That is the beginning of every sentence. ‘But Emma, you should not say such things.’ ‘But Emma, please do as you were told.’ ‘But Emma, why cannot you be more like your sister?’”

“For all of that, I do love her so, and I must admit admiring her indomitable spirit too, much as it vexes me at times.”

I sighed. “There is a great deal of truth in what you say, Miss Taylor, though I hate to admit it. I suppose we would not like Emma so well as we do if she were nothing more than a mere copy of her sister. She has the wit and vivacity of her mother, but she has not yet learnt to rein in her self-will. I fear what will become of her if she never does. And her father is no help, of course, for he can never find any fault in her.”

“Do not worry, Mr. Knightley,” Miss Taylor said with a more cheerful tone. “Between the two of us, we will see her right, and her own good sense will assist us. I believe Emma will turn out very well.”

I hope you enjoyed this little scene! As I wrote at the beginning of it, this probably will be the last of Mr. Knightley’s flashbacks to the past. From this point forward, he will be covering events during the time span of the original novel. It’s been fun to create an interesting backstory for him, but I’m glad to be finally moving into the period where Emma comes front and center in his life!

Any thoughts about what’s absent from Emma that you’ve always wanted to know? Intriguing blanks for me to fill in? Missing scenes you’d like to see me include? At this point, there’s still room to add, and I’d love to hear more of your ideas!

About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
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4 Responses to Call me ‘George’

  1. wendym215 says:

    I’m really excited about this book. SHANNON….ITS GOING TO BE GREAT

  2. Glynis says:

    I can’t say that I’m Emma’s greatest fan! Of the versions I’ve seen I’m not fond of Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, Romola Garai and Anya Taylor-Joy are good but my favourite is Kate Beckinsale. However if I had to choose between that and P&P then either the 1995 or the 2005 P&P would win hands down!
    I can’t think of any other things I’d like to know, perhaps why she takes the credit for Miss Taylor marrying Mr Weston?

    • Yeah, we’re not supposed to like Emma herself very much at the beginning, although I do like that she admits the error of her ways and changes for the better by the end. That makes her more deserving of Mr. Knightley’s love.

      If I was writing this book from Emma’s point of view, I would definitely take your suggestion, Glynis! It would be fun to get inside her head and see how her mind works, at least for a little while. Maybe I’ll do a short piece (like a blog post) about exactly that! 🙂

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