It doesn't surprise me that Frank Churchill garnered only 2% of 426 votes for Jane Austen's Most Dastardly Villain title in my recent poll. He is a weak man, to be sure, and his behavior towards Emma was ungentlemanlike, pretending to court her and letting her think that Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon were interested in each other, when all the while he was secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax (see image below of the two characters in the 1996 movie version of Emma). When Emma speculates about the benefactor of Jane's new piano at the Cole's, Frank (who is anything but frank or honest) Churchill deliberately steers the conversation to Mr. Dixon: Frank: "If so, you must extend your suspicions and comprehend Mr. Dixon in them."
Emma: "Mr. Dixon.—Very well. Yes, I immediately perceive that it must be the joint present of Mr. and Mrs. Dixon. We were speaking the other day, you know, of his being so warm an admirer of her performance."
Frank: "Yes, and what you told me on that head, confirmed an idea which I had entertained before.—I do not mean to reflect upon the good intentions of either Mr. Dixon or Miss Fairfax, but I cannot help suspecting either that, after making his proposals to her friend, he had the misfortune to fall in love with her, or that he became conscious of a little attachment on her side. One might guess twenty things without guessing exactly the right; but I am sure there must be a particular cause for her chusing to come to Highbury instead of going with the Campbells to Ireland..."
One wonders how happy Jane Fairfax will be with such a husband, one who is willing to flirt with another woman in front of her eyes, one who has fallen in love with her but not so much as to risk everything and announce their engagement, and one who can so easily bend the truth to suit his interests. His attentions to Emma even as Jane Fairfax looked on were inexcusable and in extremely bad form.
Frank Churchill might not be a dastardly villain, but as far as I am concerned, this cad is no great catch for a husband. Unfortunately, Jane Fairfax has no choice. Either she marries him, or she must seek employment as a governess. She chose the lesser of two evils, but one suspects her marriage to Frank will be an uneasy one.
Read a number of informative articles about Emma in the Winter 2007 edition of Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal Online.