Graphs – Volume 2, Chapter 8, About

A manually interpreted graph of gossip in Volume 2, Chapter 8. Each edge begins with the character speaking and terminates at the character being spoken about. Female nodes are pink, and male ones are blue. The nodes are sized by out-degree, so characters who talk more appear as larger nodes.

In this chapter, we watch Frank Churchill use gossip to his advantage to deflect attention from his engagement to Jane Fairfax.  His relationship with her is simultaneously obscured and front and center; the gift of the pianoforte is all anyone can talk about, but no one suspects that the donor could be Frank Churchill.  Frank uses the mystery surrounding the gift and the other characters’ desire to gossip to deflect attention from himself.  He allows Emma to form her own suspicions, then simply follows her lead in his own contributions to the conversation.

Considering Frank’s motives and methods of achieving them, I hypothesized that, in this dynamic graph, Frank would talk about whomever Emma talks about.  Emma, then, would initiate a conversation about Mr. Dixon, and Frank’s node would immediately point there as well.  If you watch the above animation, you will see that this is indeed what happens.  As Emma brings more characters into her suspicions, Frank reflects her thinking, allowing Emma to deceive herself without any obvious guidance from Frank.  This pattern reveals Frank’s mirroring of Emma’s language in order to keep his own secret.

However, this pattern also occurs in the conversation between Emma and Mrs. Weston.  Mrs. Weston introduces a potential match between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax, and Emma soundly contradicts her speculations.  However, Emma does something that Frank does not in his imitation, which is introduce another topic to the conversation.  While Frank is content to follow Emma’s lead, Emma contradicts Mrs. Weston’s ideas by posing the problem of Henry Knightley’s inheritance.  Whereas Frank is encouraging Emma’s speculations, Emma refutes Mrs. Weston by diverting the conversation to another character.  In all likelihood, it is merely standard for a gossip-driven conversation to follow this pattern of lead and follower, which would explain the structural similarities between two conversations of vastly different motives.