One detail of Loraine Fletcher’s introduction to Emmeline stood out to me more than any other: Emmeline “delighted” and influenced a young Jane Austen (9, 35). After reading this, I began to see Austen nearly everywhere in Smith’s novel—nearly everywhere, that is, except for in Smith’s cast of male characters.
If Austen is well-known for her plucky and admirable female heroines (something she acquired from reading Smith?), she is perhaps just as famous for penning leading men who deserve such ladies. It seems doubtful, however (at least thus far in my reading), that this is also something she learned from Smith: while Smith writes virtuous and engaging female characters (Emmeline herself, Mrs. Stafford, Augusta Delamere, and even to an extent Lady Adelina), nearly all the men who have made an appearance in Emmeline are rakes (Mr. Stafford, Mr. Trelawny), wimps (Mr. Elkerton), of questionable character (Fitz-Edward), or just downright unlikable (Mr. Rochely, the three Crofts men). Emmeline might as well be subtitled something like “Good Women and the Men Who Don’t Deserve Them By a Long Shot.” In fact, the only two men who seem worthy at all of the beautiful and virtuous women they marry are scarcely mentioned and are never even allowed to speak: Lord Westhaven, who marries Augusta Delamere (211), and Lord Clancarryl, who marries Lady Adelina’s older sister (217, 224).
There is undoubtedly a crisis of male virtue in Smith’s novel, which is evidenced by a brief exploration of any of the aforementioned men (with the exception of the last two). However, this portrayal of unworthy, vicious, and ridiculous men becomes somewhat complicated as we become more acquainted with Fitz-Edward and Mr. Delamere. Mr. Fitz-Edward, though at his initial introduction the narrator assures us that “his heart was not originally bad” (68) comes across as a rather slimy and ingratiating character, easily willing to be two-faced if necessary for his own purposes (99-100, 132) and too pleased with his own ability to be pleasing to be truly sincere (87). The account of his adulterous involvement with Lady Adelina (225-231) confirms any suspicion about his character not being wholly virtuous. And yet, the remorse he feels for his part in the affair (243-45), his willingness to atone for it by delivering himself to her brother, whom he does not doubt with act harshly though with perfect justice towards him (245-46), and the plans to provide for his illegitimate child as well as the joy with which he receives his son (245, 286) seem somewhat to redeem him. Whether this redemption of character will be of a permanent nature is yet to be discovered.
Mr. Delamere, on the other hand, seems to be regressing rather than progressing in virtue. Introduced as spoiled, impulsive, passionate, and quick-tempered (68), he is nevertheless the closest thing the novel has to a “hero” for much of the story. Moreover, his sudden and unassailable attachment to Emmeline (whose virtue, beauty, and understanding make her admirable) seems to be evidence of his good taste—as does his disdain for his mother’s excessive pride (117, 170) and for the scheming of the Crofts (117). Once I was assured that Delamere’s love for Emmeline is indeed sincere, I wanted to believe that he could grow to deserve her. But affront after affront (intrusion into her bedroom while at the castle, 71; tracking her to Swansea, 83, and then to Mrs. Ashwood’s, 121; most of all his abduction of her from Mrs. Ashwood’s, 167), though made in the name of his passionate love for Emmeline, represent chance after chance he has had to reform and fails to do so. The brief time he spends under a false identity raised my hopes that, being under necessity of assuming a new identity, he might reflect on his “old self” and change his behavior. He even makes the decision to reform following the advice of Emmeline (184-85), yet repeatedly finds himself “unable to adhere to the good resolutions he had made” (188; also 257). This, indeed, seems to be his reigning vice: an inability to master his passions and execute the resolutions he makes while in a more reasonable frame of mind. One can only hope that for the sake of our heroine, he finds the strength to reign in his temper and his imagination, or that he eventually realizes he can no longer abide by his resolution to marry her.