Sofie and Frank Churchill, ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen


Frank Churchill is the golden boy of Highbury. He is Mr Weston’s son from a first marriage. He was brought up by his very rich uncle and his wife. He grows in comfort with all the luxury of the very rich.

A charmed life. What can anyone ask for more.

He none the less forms a secret engagement with a Jane Fairfax a young woman of no consequence and no fortune. He insists on keeping this engagement secret from everyone.

Why is that? 

For a definite answer let’s step back and chronologically go over Frank Churchill’s life.

At a very age his Mother passes away. His father abandons him under the excuse that he is too poor and too busy to take care of him. So he gives Frank Churchill away to his wife’s rich family. A family that never approved of him and disavowed his wife after the marriage.

So Frank grows up in an environment that despises his father and thought his mother foolish for marrying such an insignificant man. He grew up not knowing wether to love his parents, despite them or pity them. And add to the mix a lot of unconscious anger for his parents absence that he saw as abandonment.


He grows  up with all kinds of luxury but knowing that a move can take all of it away. He knows he is dependent on his aunt and uncle for everything. They genuinely love him but at the same time make him feel beholden to them very day of their lives. And he goes up with that knowledge. He took their name but they never officially adopted him.

There is a poignant scene where give reign to his frustration about his situation as financially dependent and beholden to the benevolence of his relatives.

While making the tour of Highbury with Emma. He stands in front of the pastor’s modest house.

“if it were to be shared  with the woman he loved, he could not think any man to be pitied for having that house.”

It surprises Emma knowing that he has lived with the Churchills in a very fine mansion.

He does not see his father during his formative years and is completely under the influence of his aunt who  is a strong and controlling woman and his uncle who is a passive man always under the influence of his wife.

All these events shaped his character.

He meets Jane Fairfax on the seaside and there is an instant connection. They both come from the same village. They are insecure in their future having lived from the charity of their family connections.

They understand each other and sympathize which brings them closer. On an impulse Frank Churchill asks Jane Fairfax to marry him. She accepts. He then realizes that his aunt will never agree to the match because she has in mind a richer and more connected wife for him. Being a gentleman he cannot go back on his word. So he does the next best thing. He uses his charm to convince Jane Fairfax to keep the whole thing secret from everybody even her aunt and grandmother. And that way he does not jeopardize his rich lifestyle.

He has no problem lying. He keeps his engagement secret form the Churchills. He lies about his relationship with Jane Fairfax to his father and every one in Highbury. He make them believe that he had fleetingly met Jane Fairfax in Weymouth. He exudes so much charm that everybody believe him. Mr Knightley is the only person who is suspicious.

Frank Churchill is impulsive. On a whim he leaves Highbury and travels to London to buy Jane Fairfax a piano without thinking about the consequences of his actions. A piano arrive at the Bates without a note and the whole village is in a tizzy wanting to know who gifted the piano.

Things don’t go his way, Frank Churchill gets irritable.

He quarrels with Jane Fairfax when he sees her walking away from Donwell Abbey during the strawberry picking party.

He was late and the party was underway. Mrs Elton was nagging Jane Fairfax to accept a governess position with a friend of her rich brother in law. To escape the relentless pressure Jane leave the party unnoticed and walk back too Highbury. Frank Churchill sees her on the road and try to convince her to come but she refuses. He arrives at Donwell Abbey in a black mood. The first person he sees is Emma and is almost rude to her when she answers him back curtly , he checks himself and reverts to his charming ways.

For Frank Churchill this is all a game. He is absolutely irresponsible. He comes to Highbury and lies to every one.

He flirts unashamedly with Emma. Knowing that his father’s wish is to marry Emma and he so secure in Jane Fairfax’s that he doesn’t even worry that he is hurting her feeling by paying attention to another woman in front of her.

He makes the sly suggestion that the piano might have come from Mr Dixon, Miss Campbell’s fiancee and now husband. Mr Dixon being musical and Jane Fairfax is very accomplished in playing the piano and singing. He does not care that the news can travel to the newly weds Mr and Mrs Dixon and might create a problem between them. He does not care who he hurts as long as he accomplishes his aim at deceiving the whole village.

He even convicts his aunt to move to Richmond to be closer to Highbury without worrying that the move might harm her health. In fact she passes away soon after the move.

Frank Churchill feels no remorse about his actions. At the Box Hill picnic , he involves Emma in his sarcastic whit. And we she makes the blunder about the “only 3 dull things” remarks he lets her get the fall for it and the stern lecture from Mr Knightley without coming to her rescue.

He feels no remorse for putting Jane Fairfax through the farce of the secret engagement convincing her that it is necessity and flirts unashamedly with Emma in front of her.

He doesn’t even care that by paying so much attention to Emma can ruin her reputation and break her heart.

Frank Churchill’s characteristics

  • Liar
  • Impulsive
  • Irresponsible
  • No remorse

Jane Austen has a soft spot for bad boys. Her heroes are of impeccable character. She makes the villains so charming. The reader cannot help but like them and make excuses for their bad behaviors and try to exonerate them.

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