George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite – A Review

George Knightley Esquire: Book One, by Barbara Cornthwaite (2009)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

The fact that he was in love with Emma had been confronting him for some time, but he had pushed it away and given other names to the emotions that ought to have enlightened him. He had blundered on, deaf to the pleadings of his heart until the revelation of them burst on him in a surprising and, it must be said, inconvenient way.  No doubt he had appeared as a complete imbecile tonight, standing there in a trance and unable to do anything but watch Emma as he acknowledged to himself for the first time that it was not because he was a partial old friend that he admired her dancing and her figure and her liveliness—it was because he wanted her for himself.

Ever prudent, inner-directed and thoughtful, George Knightley struggles with his feelings for Emma.  Is she more like a little sister or a girlfriend?  Can he really handle her conceited and sometimes impudent ways?  Would marriage with her be a constant string of reprimands and eye-rolls for being so precocious?  Boy oh boy Mr. Knightely is confused, and probably more so than you thought from your Emma readings.  George Knightley, Esquire, by Barbara Cornthwaite, is a delightful re-telling of Emma that gives Mr. Knightley a chance to shine.

Truth be told, I went into this review kicking and screaming.  Emma is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, mostly because it seems like a story that happens in high school (and as the movie Clueless shows us, I’m not entirely wrong).  Emma herself seems an over-inflated child of idle pleasures to me, a quality which might really lend itself to a story if only something would happen!  It plods along with the pace of a turtle walking through molasses.  Despite the work being from the lovely Jane Austen and therefore commanding instant respect, Emma gets a big ‘ol “meh” and a dismissive hand wave from me.  I tell you this only so you can fully understand the breadth of my meaning when I ask, is it a crime to like the re-telling better than the original?

Because well, I did.  SURPRISE!  George Knightley, Esquire was a delight.  Written from the perspective of the oft-unexplored quiet life of the neighborhood bachelor, it makes the reader privy to all kinds of mindful musings, delicious realizations (WOW!  I LOVE EMMA!), and even bouts of loneliness spent in front of the fire in the soft gloom of Donwell Abbey’s library.  George Knightely goes about his business keenly aware of his surroundings and indeed, of all Emma’s schemes and shortcomings while he moves about his lands.  It was wonderful to see the rarely-exposed work life of a gentleman, with all his account balancing, estate visits, charity donations, and efforts to rebuild a cottage for one of his residents.  It was even more wonderful to point and laugh at Emma, whose actions seem positively absurd when seen through the clear mind of Mr. Knightley.  I found myself laughing more than once.

George Knightley, Esquire is but half the story of Emma and her silliness, leaving off at the moment when Frank Churchill heads for the hills instead of the dance floor and leaves Mr. Knightley to muse about whether he should be open with Emma about his feelings.  He’s consumed with love for her but won’t say it.  How very English.  Hope remains, however, and it becomes obvious that Knightley and Emma are truly great friends with a mutual adoration for one another (despite the fact that many days go by where one is ignored by the other or haunted by japes and snarky comments).  It’s really quite adorable, made only better by Barbara Cornthwaite’s mastery of prose and storytelling.  The book is teeming with interest and intrigue and will leaving you grumbling when it’s over, especially when you realize that the sequel isn’t available until August 25th.  No matter, though!  This will keep you entertained until then!  This is Emma, but better!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite
CreateSpace (2009)
Trade paperback (260) pages
ISBN: 978-1449587079

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

17 thoughts on “George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, by Barbara Cornthwaite – A Review

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  1. Thanks for the review! This is in my Kindle to be read list. Glad to hear you liked it, I may have to move it up the list!


  2. “the rarely-exposed work life of a gentleman” “it becomes obvious that Knightley and Emma are truly great friends with a mutual adoration for one another”

    You have hit on exactly why I love this book. :)


  3. It’s been on my tbr list since released. Emma is my least favorite novel by Austen. Mostly for the reasons you listed. So I am even more looking forward to reading this now.


  4. Thank you for the update on volume two! I have been stalking Barbara Cornthwaite’s blog since reading – and enjoying – ‘Charity Envieth Not’ last year, but only to find that she was still in the process of writing. I am so giddy to find out that the next instalment is now ready (even though I have already been reading the chapters as they come out on her website …), and – even better – due out when I have a full day off work to savour the text!


  5. Emma was my baptism into the wonderful world of Miss Austen and is still my very favorite of her stories. Unlike some readers, I have ALWAYS loved Emma and see her as a “diamond-in-the-rough,” full of limitless potential as mistress of Donwell. I have never read a sequel, prequel, or “what if” of Emma but this one will be a good start. Thank you, Ms Dewees, for this enticing review.


    1. Jeffrey – From a fellow devotee of Emma, can I also recommend ‘Anna Weston’ by Brenda Finn (traditional ‘sequel’ about the children of the Knightleys, Westons, Eltons, etc.), and ‘The Intrigue at Highbury’ by Carrie Bebris (murder mystery with the Darcys as detectives – part of a series slated by most Janeites, but well written, sympathetic, and kind to both Emma and Mr Knightley). I also enjoyed ‘The Importance of Being Emma’ by Juliet Archer, which is a modern, racier take on Austen’s novel, but very much chick lit – you might not want to go there ;) If Barbara Cornthwaite’s books whet your appetite for spin-offs, however, definitely give Brenda Finn’s novel a try. I’ve read a whole bunch of similar titles, because I cannot get enough – and can only re-read the novel so many times – but some are either poorly written or downright poisonous about Miss Woodhouse/Mrs Knightley.


  6. I found it difficult to like Emma’s character on first reading also. However, the more I read it, the more I appreciate the entire book and Emma’s character. I also think seeing the adaptation with Kate Beckinsale endeared me to the character in a way that just reading the book didn’t. I look forward to reading this book as I have always loved Mr. Knightley’s character. Thank you for the review.


  7. I”m off to a rather slow start on my challenge….but then again, all Jane Austen fans know that real life does have a way of altering even the best intentions. But mother is better and a routine re-established and all these lovely books can finally be opened. Have to say, Emma isn’t (or wasn’t) my favorite character but thinking about my own recent experience with a more “constricted” life I’ve begun to rethink my estimation and this book actually helped in that process. Emma is not just “youngish” as so many other Austen heroines, but really young. The cosseted and sheltered child in a very constrained society. Now, her imprudent interference and impulsive imaginings begin to look more like the signs of a native intelligence seeking employment. Mr. Knightley’s own contemplation of Emma and her circumstances ignited my own re-consideration. Another reviewer called Emma a “diamond in the rough” and my mother made the observation that she “sounded” as though she was a child playing at “dress up” and trying out different versions of herself…for yes, dear compatriots, “mama” still prefers Jan Karon and biographies to our dear Miss Austen…I’ve always had a “good feeling” about “dear Mr. Knightley” and gave Emma the benefit of the doubt because of his good opinion. This book gave me evidence (or rationale) to accept my orginal favorable opinion of Mr. K and provided far better insight into how he came to his “most favorable opinion” of confusing, confounding and frustrating Emma. In “Emma”, I now see her as being on the cusp…searching for who she is (or should be). It now seems more “right” and “appropriate” that she and Mr. K could and should find happiness as equals as to a depth of feelings and innate good temper and temperment.


  8. While Emma isn’t one of my top favorites of Jane Austen’s books, it’s also not my least favorite. Emma, to me, is the story of a spoiled girl with nothing better to do than to meddle in people’s lives. She does finally turn around a bit (or does she really?), and Mr. Knightley makes his feelings known to her. I really liked Mr. Knightley, and enjoyed your review. Putting this on my to-read list ;)


  9. I just finished this book and can’t wait for the 2nd. This really helped me understand how Knightley viewed Emma and how both characters changed. The story also brings insight to several new characters and John Knightley who brings more life and understanding to George. I recommend this to Austen fans but to those who are “iffy” on Emma especially.


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