I’ve just finished re-reading Jane Austen’s Emma, which I first read while studying it for A-level in 1967. It’s a sparkling and thoroughly enjoyable novel, full of moral wisdom. But I was struck by something I have not heard commented on: Mr. Knightley confesses to Emma that he first fell in love with her when she was thirteen! Since he is quite a bit older than her (maybe fifteen years older) that makes the chronological situation similar to that of Dolores and Humbert: the latter would no doubt describe Emma as a nymphet at that age. And yet Mr. Knightley is depicted as the most moral of men. Austen herself appears to have no qualms about this early infatuation. How times have changed! The difference, of course, is that Knightley Knightley has no designs on the young Emma, while Humbert Humbert is all designs. But remember that sex before marriage was taboo in Austen’s time anyway: what if KK had proposed marriage when he first fell in love with Emma? The stab of queasiness is hard to dispell.
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