"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every feature works."
-Emma, Chapter 13
My Dear Reader,
In my continuing endeavor to read twelve classics in 2014, I decided to read one of the few Jane Austen novels I hadn't gotten to yet: Emma. And you know what? Jane is still right on the money when it comes to men. (And women, really.)
A while back, I wrote a series of posts outlining the male characters in Pride and Prejudice. Today, I'm going to add an Emma entry to that collection: Mr. Elton.
In Emma, Mr. Elton is the local vicar, a man of God who is well-liked by everyone. And while Emma is not interested in any romantic endeavors for herself, when she wants to find a match for her dear friend Harriet, she thinks that Mr. Elton perfectly fits the bill. After all, Mr. Elton is liberal with his time and attention. He knows when to give compliments. He provides service at the slightest hint of a need.
Indeed, Mr. Elton is quite gallant. At least, he is if he wants something from you.
The problem is that a Mr. Elton only uses kindness as a means to an end. If he wants to you like him, he will act nice when you are around him, or when he is around people who are close to you. It is only when he is safely alone that he reverts to his usual, selfish self.
So, you may be deceived by him. Lots of people may be deceived by him, actually. But really, this guy is going out of his way to deceive you, so I don't think you should beat yourself up about it.
An Elton is distinct from other masters of deception, such as Wickhams, because Eltons manage to deceive themselves. If they had to describe themselves in one word, that word would be "gallant," or "selfless," or something like that. They might even label themselves as "heroic." Man, those Eltons put themselves on a pedestal. And when they see that you have something they want, they put you on a pedestal, too.
They praise you. They help you. They do daring deeds in order to impress you. They even do these things to your friends, because they know that you will never like someone who is mean to your friends. Everything is about getting you to like them. Everything they do is about building up an image that you will not be able to refuse.
But this can be confusing, because if he's being excessively nice to everyone, including your friends, it can be hard to tell where his true desire lies. But if you have any misconceptions about him, they will not hold for long. Eventually, he will come to claim his desire, and he will not allow you to misunderstand exactly what it is that he wants. He will do everything in his power to convince you that he deserves the object of his desire. After all, you owe him, because he's been so nice.
And if you do refuse to give him what he wants, you will be surprised at how quickly your world changes. This kind, chivalrous, pleasant person is gone. Maybe even literally. Maybe he goes somewhere else to find someone who will feed his desires. But either way, you will see a dramatic change in him. You will see, finally, the person that he really is. You will see how he despises people that can't benefit him. You will see how he views himself as better than anyone else, and how he truly believes that he can treat people badly because of how superior he thinks he is to them. And really, the worst thing that you will discover is how much he despises you. You will see that he blames you for refusing him. Because you did not give him what he wants, he has taken you off of that pedestal, and he is even now trying to crush you under his foot in any way that he can. He is only sorry that your own personal dignity is preventing him from doing more damage to you.
But if he can damage you, he will. If he can hurt your friends, he'll do that, too. But he won't do anything that will hurt his image, because after all, he still has things that he needs. So his damage to your and your friends will be limited. The real sting comes in the lack of warmth, and the realization that any previous warmth was fake. The real blow is realizing how wrong you were to trust him.
In the end, I find Mr. Elton to be a very fascinating character. I feel lucky that to date, I have never been the object of one. But I have been the friend of someone an Elton objectifies, and that is no fun at all. Lots and lots of ice cream is requisite for healing from the damage an Elton does. I'd advise you to keep your distance.
In my opinion, and in my experience, it is much better to be around someone who is honest with you, even if that honesty is not always flattering. And if you can find an honest person who also respects you, don't you ever let that person go. I think that's what Jane Austen would say, if she were still around today. That's what she was saying when she wrote Emma. Flattery is nice, but honesty and respect are far more valuable.
Regards, best wishes, and maybe a Mr. Knightly,