Frank Churchill. In the pattern of casting a Jane Austen novel, Frank is “the rake/rogue” in Emma, joining the company of Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, and William Elliot. He isn’t the hero, he isn’t the hero’s best friend, so that’s the spot allotted to him.
And certainly, after the despicable Eltons he is the least admirable character in the book. He’s selfish and self-centered, and his lies form the basis for the mystery at the centre of the plot.
But the first time I read Emma, I had another one of those moments when the voices in my head started saying, “What if…” (Long time Indie Janeites will remember I got the idea for my first Austenesque novel while reading P&P–Darcy spoke up as I was reading and started giving me his point of view. I call him the Darcy in my Head.)
You see, there’s something else interesting about Frank: Jane Fairfax loves him. Jane Fairfax, who is never portrayed in anything less than a flattering light. (Except by Emma, who is–frankly–jealous.) She is good and wise, as well as being exceedingly talented in almost all the ladylike virtues.
So why would a wise young woman fall in love with a feckless young man who never seems to give thought to anyone’s comfort but his own? Now, the cynic might say that even the Janes among us make mistakes. However, if you follow the course of the story, Frank eventually repents of his selfish behavior and comes back around to realising his own failings.
The answer, to me, is that Jane saw something in Frank that he didn’t even see in himself. She saw a seed of goodness, something she could relate to. But what was it?
I’m planning a novella about Frank Churchill called To Be Frank. Hopefully I’ll figure out some of the answers in the course of writing his story.