Before the arrival of Frank Churchill in Jane Austen's Emma, Mr. Weston, Frank Churchill's father, happens to meet Emma on the road, and he says this to Emma:

Emma could imagine she saw a touch of the arm at this speech, from his wife.
'We had better move on, Mr Weston,' said she; 'we are detaining the girls.'
'Well, well, I am ready;'—and turning again to Emma, 'but you must not be expecting such a very fine young man; you have only had my account, you know; I dare say he is really nothing extraordinary:'—though his own sparkling eyes at the moment were speaking a very different conviction.
Emma, chapter XXIII

Keeping in mind that Emma is an unreliable narrator, I can't trust Emma's interpretation of Mr. Weston's words and expression; but I'm also having trouble seeing what he's hoping to accomplish by telling Emma this.
From the readers' perspective, also, what does this accomplish? What does this tell us about Mr. Weston, Emma, and Frank Churchill, in the way that this is told and interpreted by the characters?

What purpose does this little speech serve from the perspective of the characters, and what purpose does it serve for us as the readers?

1 Answer 1


Mr. Weston is a loving father and proud of Frank, which is obvious from the first instance hear about him:

He saw his son every year in London, and was proud of him; and his fond report of him as a very fine young man had made Highbury feel a sort of pride in him too.

Although Emma is an unreliable narrator, it does seem that Mr. and Mrs. Weston had actually hoped for a connection to be formed between Emma and Frank. At the end of the novel, when it comes to light that Frank is secretly engaged, Mrs. Weston says to Emma:

“Mr. Weston will be almost as much relieved as myself,” said she. “On this point we have been wretched. It was our darling wish that you [Emma and Frank] might be attached to each other—and we were persuaded that it was so.— Imagine what we have been feeling on your account.”

It seems that in this case, at least, Emma was correct in thinking the Westons saw a potential match between her and Frank. A stopped clock is right twice a day, and an unreliable narrator sometimes gets it right, too.

In light of this, I think we can interpret Mr. Weston's conversation as the speech of a proud father trying to temper his praise of his son. The sparkle in his eye suggests that he does believe his son to be a very fine young man, and maybe reveals his hope that Emma will come to believe the same.

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