Mr. George Knightley, Groomer

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September 25, 1817

Reverend Sir,

I am mindful, as always, of the great debt that we owe to your eminence, and we are as well grateful for the spiritual oversight you so graciously provide for your people.

In the two years since the marriage of Mr. Knightley to Miss Wodehouse, my husband and I have spoken together with some regularity about the need to inform you of the intractable situation that has been developing on the vestry. The only question for us was when this would occur, not whether. As you know, Mr. Knightley has been a vestryman for some years now, but has become increasingly difficult since his marriage to Miss Wodehouse. The most recent conflict had to do with some much needed repairs and improvements at the parsonage, which Mr. Knightley refused to see as most drastically needed. The wallpaper is so desperately out of fashion, and still Mr. Knightley refused his consent, and carried Mr. Bingham with him.

I never would take it upon myself to intrude into the affairs of the church, being of a modest disposition, but my friends have all urged it upon me. Even my lord and master, Mr. Elton, when first apprised of the suggestion that I write to you, was entirely supportive.

Even so, I would not ever presume to speak directly about any of the vestry business, for that does not concern me, and from which the limitations of my sex exclude me. My sole concern is to speak to the issues of character which, I believe, I may have been in a better situation to observe. Many of those men whose attention has been excessively diverted by the great concerns of the church have not had the vantage of close observation that others in a more humble station might have.

I hesitate to mention my next point, but feel I must do so because of a certain malicious bit of gossip that has gotten about, and may even have reached your ears. It is possible that you might have heard that Mr. Elton, before he and I were acquainted, had presented his suit to Miss Wodehouse and was refused. I myself heard this from our cook, and when I asked Mr. Elton about it, he just laughed carelessly, and said that Miss Wodehouse had actually tried to match him up with one Miss Smith. A totally unsuitable match, of course. Mr. Elton laughed that concern away with ease, and I mention it to you here only so that you may know that our motives for raising this most distressing subject are motives that intend the good of our parish only. There is no pique or jealousy in any of our concerns.

I write as a close observer of human nature, and as one convinced that any particular defects of character I may have observed in the realm of what providence intended to be domestic felicity are defects that would affect, quite naturally and negatively, the deliberations of the church. How could it not? Character will out, and what is seen in one arena will eventually make an appearance in another.

With so much said, allow me to proceed to the particulars. After reviewing what I say, I believe that you will conclude, along with us, that Mr. Knightley should most certainly be removed from his position as vestryman, and perhaps even reported to the Commission on Untoward Behavior Between the Sexes (CUBBS), so recently established by his grace, the archbishop. This would be a grave step, certainly, but I believe the facts will support me.

As you perhaps know, Mr. Knightley is sixteen years the senior of his wife, and he has confessed to watching her grow up from infancy, and with a great deal of concentrated attention. He has confessed this, repeatedly. I have heard it from his own mouth, and in mixed company. This suggests, to us at least, a disordered temper. And when these two first made their match, he was overheard by a servant to say that he had been in love with her since she was thirteen. Thirteen! When she was thirteen, he would have been twenty-nine. This simply must be reckoned, as a cousin of mine lately returned from America put it most pointedly, as “creepy.” One doesn’t like to resort to slang from the frontier, but sometimes it does provide the mot juste.

This is not the worst of it, however. According to all who knew her, Miss Wodehouse, when under the indulgent care of her father, was vivacious, pert, lively, and gay. She was full of life, and could always be counted on to enliven any party. As I reviewed the material Mr. Elton recently brought back to Highbury from London—material he obtained from the CUBBS offices—I became acquainted with a term that I believe to be most essential as we seek to understand this situation. That term is grooming.

From at least the time she was thirteen, Mr. Knightley was at great pains to groom her. This is when it would have begun on his accounting, but I suspect that it began even earlier. He did this in a most calculating way, one designed to put her back on her heels, and in order to make her—impressionable girl!—eager and desirous of pleasing him. How was she supposed to resist his age, his maturity, his manners, his sophisticated mien? This he did for the next nine years, practically haunting the Wodehouses at Hartfield. I do not know that Mr. Elton and I were ever at Hartfield when he was not also there.

But the perfidy grows. He did not just wile away his hours at Hartfield, he took it upon himself to engage in something else that the material from CUBBS described, a practice called “gaslighting.” The grooming was what he was doing, the gaslighting was how he was doing it.

All who knew Miss Wodehouse, as she then was, can testify to her ebullient spirits. And Mr. Knightley was her constant critic regarding those spirits. I heard of many such episodes, for servants have ears, but I was myself an eye witness to a good portion of one such episode. We were all together on a picnic, and there was a Miss Bates in our company. She is quite a tiresome woman at the best of times, but on this occasion she was being extraordinarily tedious, at least as far as my ears were concerned. Miss Wodehouse put her in her place, deftly, with a mild witticism, and you will scarcely believe me when I say that I saw, at a distance, Mr. Knightley roundly rebuke his future bride for it. She, poor girl, thought it her duty to accept such patriarchal condemnations.

What this sort of gaslighting does is convince an innocent party that they are the one who is at fault, that they are always the offender. Badgering such as this is intended as a way of making the object of the badgering extremely desirous of getting back into the good graces of the accuser. I am sad to say that Mr. Knightley pursued his quarry well, and he obtained what he sought.

Because my heart does go out to Mrs. Knightley, as she now is, I have on several occasions dropped broad hints that Mr. Elton and I stand ready to help, if ever she needs it. And I even made it a point once to speak directly to her, offering to assist her if she ever needed to get away. Do you know what she did? She laughed, and said, “You are too kind.” She then turned and looked at Mr. Knightley across the room, and laughed out loud again.

She may be beyond help, but my husband and I do not believe the parish is beyond help, and so I write, remaining . . .

Most sincerely yours,

Mrs. Augusta Elton

One hates to do this, of course, but it needs to be pointed out that the above is a satiric send-up, which all will surely understand. What some might not understand, however, is what the target is. It is not, I assure you, Jane Austen, Mr. Knightley, Emma Wodehouse. Nor would it be the propriety of courtship customs in the early nineteenth century. The object of this needlepoint lies a bit closer to home. In a high wire move, I am leaving comments open on this one.—DW.

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Ariel
Ariel
1 month ago

I am appalled, simply appalled, at Mr. Knightley’s conduct. Mrs. Knightley should be rescued posthaste, whether she wants to be or not!

Adrian Gaty
1 month ago

Brilliant, thank you. My favorite Austen when it comes to highlighting our own moral madness is Mansfield Park. You don’t even have to make a satiric send up of it, just a straightforward read is mystifying to moderns.

David Douglas
David Douglas
1 month ago

When I came upon the words “mot juste”, my eyebrow arched an near-imperceptible 1/16th inch as I noted what you had done at that juncture.

Last edited 1 month ago by David Douglas
Melody
Melody
1 month ago

I couldn’t help but think of my husbands wonderful grandparents. They married when she was fifteen and was thirty-eight. Nine girls were born to them of which my mother-in-law was number five. Those girls adored their parents and it was, by all accounts, a very happy marriage.

Tionico
Tionico
1 month ago
Reply to  Melody

My Mother’s paernal grndmother mrried at fourteen, to a man in his mid-fifties. SHe had ;literallly been orphaned at nine, floated about from one relative’s household to another. Her husband had noticed her when she was thirteem, shocked to learn she was so young as she in every respect comported herself as if she were in her late teens. They had a long and very happy and full life, had I believe six children, she awas a gifted and published poet and music composer, an avid reader and sudent, self-directed. No one ever looked askance at their union nor on… Read more »

Mark Coolen
Mark Coolen
1 month ago

I love it! I’m passing this on to my wife, who is a big fan… of Austen. ;-)

Nicole Coolen
Nicole Coolen
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Coolen

And she got a major kick out of it! Thanks. :)

Kristina
Kristina
1 month ago

Nice! But please tell ol’ Cara Sposa that Emma’s maiden name was Woodhouse. Emma is not related to that esteemed gentleman. I’m very surprised to learn that Sposa knows who he is. She must have talents I’d never suspected.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago

Beautiful. The only thing that doesn’t ring true is Mrs. Elton allowing the bishop to think she is anything other than a model of generous charity toward Miss Bates.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

Oh, also, she would have styled herself Mrs.William Elton or Mrs. Rev. William Elton, not sure which. But NEVER Mrs. Augusta Elton.

Zeph
1 month ago

Anyone who has not read Jane Austen is going to go, Huh? I have not read Jane Austen. I don’t know which book you are spoofing.

D. Beach
D. Beach
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph

Why, what an easy remedy there is to this conundrum! ;) (The book is Emma.)

David P Chew
David P Chew
1 month ago
Reply to  Zeph

But I have seen the movie; you must see it, it is quite delightful. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116191/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
1 month ago
Reply to  David P Chew

I haven’t seen that one, but I have a hard time imagining the runtime of a movie can handle an Austen script. The Sense and Sensibility movie was carried by the immense talent of Thompson and Rickman but feels like speedrunning through the plot points. Characters have merely a single 2 minute scene together inbetween relationship transitions.

Mitch
Mitch
1 month ago

Not one mention of Bath??

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Mitch

Mrs. Elton was always talking about being from Bristol, I assume that’s what you mean?

Kristina
Kristina
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

Persuasion was allll about Bath… maybe someone’ll get offended on Louisa’s behalf next!

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristina

Yes, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were the Bath stories.

Valerie (Kyriosity)
1 month ago

Pretty please have the folks at Canon contact Juliet Stevenson to do the audio for this one!

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Rini Stephenson
1 month ago

Although, my friends do say, my perspicacity is acute.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
1 month ago

Using the word #gay as in happy….

Elliot Spear
Elliot Spear
1 month ago

An excellent highlighting of the silliness that results when we depart from Biblical (or even sensible) language and try to make meaningful statements using words provided to us by pop psychology.

Chris
Chris
1 month ago

This man’s taste is in a state of permanent WASP grandmother.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

Thinking that Jane Austen is “a thing that grandmothers like” instead of one of the greatest — possibly the greatest — novelist in the English language says a lot about you.

Kristina
Kristina
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

right?! I fell in love with P&P in high school. In the ‘90s.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristina

Same only 80s. ;-)

Jill L Smith
Jill L Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

She is discovered anew by every generation. I doubt that much of the Jane Austen fan-fic scattered all over the internet was written by grandmothers.

Valerie (Kyriosity)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jill L Smith

There’s some of it that could do with some censoring by a sensible grandmother! 😉

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

Nothing against Austen. I have to slam on this old sots proclivities being pretty much that of a Victorian dandy, when he has so much concern about the masculinity of boys.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

If you think Fitzwilliam Darcy or Col. Brandon are not masculine characters, you do not have any business teaching anyone on issues of masculinity.

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

These names 🤣 Have we another fancy lad? How I do love the machinations of the upper class.

I did say nothing against Austen. I can withstand plenty of humor against any of my favs. Come at Cormac McCarthy, please. I just love the idea of the “men” on crosspolitic saying any of those character names or plot details out loud.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris

Yes, so so fancy. Saying the name “Brandon” does indeed make you fancy, as you suggest.

This isn’t at all a bottom tier attempt at trolling that has gone horribly awry.

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Lighten up. Fitzwilliam Darcy? Cmon bro.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

Austen villains usually are not without some good qualities but I don’t remember any in Mrs. E.

Jill L Smith
Jill L Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

A perfect wife for the vain, shallow, and mercenary Mr. E. One must hope they were not blessed with children. People who can love only themselves make dreadful parents.

Lynda Britz
Lynda Britz
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob

‘Very elegantly dressed’ according to Emma.

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Lynda Britz

:)

Jerry Everitt
Jerry Everitt
1 month ago

If the target is not Jane Austen, why is everyone talking about Jane Austen?

Nathan Tuggy
Nathan Tuggy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Everitt

Jane Austen’s work is used as a literary device to make it clear how much of history and the classics are mangled by the unwarranted and boundless cynicism of postmodern critical theories, therapy-first worldviews, and much of the discourse about “grooming”, etc.

Similarly, see Pastor Wilson’s older essays on “cyber-archeology” of Potiphar’s wife (“survivor”) and Amnon ben-David. Since we know how they are supposed to be interpreted, the falsities so easy to produce with late-stage modernist methods are much easier to spot.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan Tuggy

I think the therapy worldview itself is the target more than the use of it in literary criticism, in this case.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Everitt

The target is busybodies who assume that abuse is present in relationships simply because of the demographic details of those relationships, and aggrandize themselves by “just being helpful” while meddling in other people’s business. Using Austen, and particularly a character whose busybodyness forms a central part of her character and even drives much of the plot, is just a device.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jane
Robert
Robert
1 month ago
Reply to  Jane

This the explanation I was looking for… I think I get it now. Thanks!

Kristina
Kristina
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Everitt

We saw a chance to talk about Jane Austen, and we took it. ;)

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Kristina

Yes.

Nathan
Nathan
1 month ago

Is the name Knightley a reference to Keira Knightley who was in a movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, or is this a reference to a different Austen book I haven’t read?

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan

Mr. Knightley is the hero of the Austen novel Emma.

Lena Marie
Lena Marie
1 month ago

My favorite Austen novel, but didn’t realize PJ was her progeny.

John Melton
John Melton
1 month ago

Ah yes, the rise of the Me 1822 movement.

Marissa Burt
1 month ago

*Woodhouse*

Laughing at victims and advocates and dismissing the reality of grooming enables abuse.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Marissa Burt

We can’t laugh at self-styled advocates who make up abuse of non-existent victims in their own heads? Doesn’t that enable real abuse to be dismissed more easily? There are lots of people out there who call Emma a book about grooming precisely because of the unwarranted assumption that if man knows and is friendly to a child from a young age, that child is incapable of growing into an adult woman with agency. It’s all over the Austen fandom. That’s a direct result of a poisonous attitude that sees all relationships between adults and children as grooming without any attempt… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jane
Nick Turner
1 month ago

Ezekiel 16 baby! Yeah.

Jennifer Mugrage
1 month ago

For those who are concerned… Mr. Wilson is fully aware that gaslighting exists IRL. It has been used on him, and he has addressed it head-on, usually without calling it gaslighting. He is also aware that abusive husbands exist, as he and Nancy have counselled many difficult marriages and I believe he has even advised some women to flee when it was warranted. He has also dealt with actual groomers, even sent them to prison. If this essay were the only thing you’d ever read by him, you would have no way of knowing that.

Jane
Jane
1 month ago

But it would be an extremely foolish way of dealing with life to simply assume it to be the case because you hadn’t read anything else.