Mr Elton belongs to Highbury society. As a vicar and gentleman he is socializing with the prominent families: the Knightleys, the Bates´, the Westons, and the Woodhouses. At this time the clergy was a career opportunity to younger sons from the gentry or even the aristocracy. The eldest son would inherit the family fortune, estate, etc. Younger sons could join the army or the clergy. (Trade was still regarded as unsuitable an occupation for a gentleman.) Mr Elton has had his position but a few years, and we are informed that his family resides in London. (A mother and sisters are mentioned when he rides to town to have Emma´s drawing framed in Bond street.) This indicates, in my opinion, that Mr Elton orders his tail coats, waistcoats, boots, etc, in town. Even more so when he later in the story weds the formidable but annoying Miss Augusta Hawkins of Bristol.
“Mr. Elton’s situation was most suitable, quite the gentleman himself, and without low connexions (…) He had a comfortable home (…), and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property; and she thought very highly of him as a good-humoured, well-meaning, respectable young man…”“Elton is a very good sort of man, and a very respectable vicar of Highbury, but not at all likely to make an imprudent match. He knows the value of a good income as well as any body. Elton may talk sentimentally, but he will act rationally. (…) He knows he is a very handsome young man, and a great favourite wherever he goes; and from his general way of talking in unreserved moments, where there are only men present, I am convinced that he does not mean to throw himself away. I have heard him speak with great animation of a large family of young ladies that his sisters are intimate with, who have all twenty thousand pounds apiece.”Emma Woodhouse:“That Mr. Elton should really be in love with me,–me of all people, who did not know him, to speak to him, at Michaelmas! And he, the very handsomest man that ever was, and a man that every body looks up to, quite like Mr. Knightley! His company so sought after, that every body says he need not eat a single meal by himself if he does not chuse it; that he has more invitations than there are days in the week. And so excellent in the Church!”
Well, I have a lot to live up to! But we also learn that Mr Elton is not altogether agreeable. He turns out to be sly and resentful. Remember when he snubs poor Harriet Smith at the ball? Some qualities for a vicar, ey?
Next post takes a closer look at the various screen versions of Mr E.