The Passionate, Evocative Passages
in Jane Austen's Novels:
First up - Emma
A Male Voices Web Page
October 26, 2000
Last Updated: May 20, 2001
By Linda with contributions
from Ashton Dennis
Many people will explain to you that Jane Austen wrote nothing about romance or passion; the worst examples of this view are the petty remarks of Charlotte Bronte. We disagree, we believe that there was a deeply passionate side to Jane Austen. Perhaps Jane Austen's oldest brother, James Austen, said it best when he wrote this about his sister:
On such subjects no wonder that she shou'd write well,
In whom so united those Qualities dwell;
Where 'dear Sensibility', Sterne's darling Maid,
With Sense so attemper'd is finely portray'd
Fair Elinor's self in that Mind is exprest,
And the Feelings of Marianne live in that Breast,
Everyone points to the humor in our Lady's novels - the humor and the intricate logic. These seem to fuel the enduring interest in Jane Austen's novels, but the passionate feelings and the range of emotions are important too. This sensibility is not noticed as often as the other qualities, but its pull is as strong because it is closer to our hearts, and so it controls our tides and provides the mixing so that the more obvious qualities are better blended. This web page is devoted to those passages in the novels that evoke our strongest feelings. We purposely allow the sensibilities to eclipse those other qualities, to shade our view from the extreme brightness of the humor and the good sense in order better to view the passion and the sensibility.
You can move from here to the evocative passages of Emma, or advance to the "passionate passages" of
Park | Northanger
| Persuasion | Pride and Prejudice | Sense and Sensibiliy |
If we were to vote for the most romantic chapter in literature, surely Chapter 2, Volume 3 of Emma would receive some votes.
Emma was so very happy that the ball had finally been arranged, and she was beginning the first set of dances with the highly popular Frank Churchill, when she began to notice and reflect upon her good friend, Mr. Knightley.
"... Emma was smiling with enjoyment, delighted to see the respectable length of the set as it was forming, and to feel that she had so many hours of unusual festivity before her.-- She was more disturbed by Mr. Knightley's not dancing than by any thing else.--There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing,--not classing himself with the husbands, and fathers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in the dance till their rubbers were made up,--so young as he looked!-- He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, than where he had placed himself. His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body's eyes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him.--He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble.--Whenever she caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. She wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Frank Churchill better.-- He seemed often observing her. She must not flatter herself that he thought of her dancing, but if he were criticising her behaviour, she did not feel afraid. There was nothing like flirtation between her and her partner. They seemed more like cheerful, easy friends, than lovers. ..."
An unpleasant event, and its resolution, are described in that same chapter. Everybody seemed as happy as Emma had been before she noticed that, during the two last dances before supper were begun, Harriet had no partner, she was the only young lady sitting down. Before, the number of dancers had been equal, so how there could be any one disengaged was a wonder. But Emma's wonder lessened soon afterwards, on seeing Mr. Elton sauntering about without a partner. Emma knew that he would not ask Harriet to dance if it were at all possible to be avoided. Indeed, in spite of Mrs. Weston's best efforts, Elton managed to stiff Harriet, all the while receiving amused and encouraging glances from his wife. Emma saw it all and was angered.
"Mrs. Weston said no more; and Emma could imagine with what surprize and mortification she must be returning to her seat. This was Mr. Elton! the amiable, obliging, gentle Mr. Elton.--She looked round for a moment; he had joined Mr. Knightley at a little distance, and was arranging himself for settled conversation, while smiles of high glee passed between him and his wife.
She would not look again. Her heart was in a glow, and she feared her face might be as hot.
In another moment a happier sight caught her;--Mr. Knightley leading Harriet to the set!--Never had she been more surprized, seldom more delighted, than at that instant. She was all pleasure and gratitude, both for Harriet and herself, and longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, her countenance said much, as soon as she could catch his eye again.
His dancing proved to be just what she had believed it, extremely good; and Harriet would have seemed almost too lucky, if it had not been for the cruel state of things before, and for the very complete enjoyment and very high sense of the distinction which her happy features announced. It was not thrown away on her, she bounded higher than ever, flew farther down the middle, and was in a continual course of smiles."
Chapter 2 of Volume 3 then concludes in this wonderful way.
"Emma had no opportunity of speaking to Mr. Knightley till after supper; but, when they were all in the ballroom again, her eyes invited him irresistibly to come to her and be thanked. He was warm in his reprobation of Mr. Elton's conduct; it had been unpardonable rudeness; and Mrs. Elton's looks also received the due share of censure.
'They aimed at wounding more than Harriet,' said he. 'Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?'
He looked with smiling penetration; and, on receiving no answer, added, 'She ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be.--To that surmise, you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Harriet.'
'I did,' replied Emma, 'and they cannot forgive me.'
He shook his head; but there was a smile of indulgence with it, and he only said, 'I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections.'
'Can you trust me with such flatterers?--Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?'
'Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.--If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it.'
'I do own myself to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton. There is a littleness about him which you discovered, and which I did not: and I was fully convinced of his being in love with Harriet. It was through a series of strange blunders!'
'And, in return for your acknowledging so much, I will do you the justice to say, that you would have chosen for him better than he has chosen for himself.--Harriet Smith has some first-rate qualities, which Mrs. Elton is totally without. An unpretending, single-minded, artless girl--infinitely to be preferred by any man of sense and taste to such a woman as Mrs. Elton. I found Harriet more conversable than I expected.'
Emma was extremely gratified.--They were interrupted by the bustle of Mr. Weston calling on every body to begin dancing again.
'Come Miss Woodhouse, Miss Otway, Miss Fairfax, what are you all doing?--Come Emma, set your companions the example. Every body is lazy! Every body is asleep!'
'I am ready,' said Emma, 'whenever I am wanted.'
'Whom are you going to dance with?' asked Mr. Knightley.
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, 'With you, if you will ask me.'
'Will you?' said he, offering his hand.
'Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.'
'Brother and sister! no, indeed.' "
Brother and sister? - no, indeed.
But, unbeknownst to both, their relationship had evolved into that of lovers, and lovers must have their quarrels. For that we retrace our steps to Chapter 8 of Volume 1. Knightley had come to her with what he considered good news; he had just concluded conversations with his tenant, Mr. Martin, in which he had concurred with Martin's intention to propose to Emma's protege, Harriet Smith. But, Emma had her own plans and schemes and decided to enlighten Knightley a little bit. The quarrel began with a gender war.
"... 'Come,' said she, 'I will tell you something, in return for what you have told me. He did speak yesterday--that is, he wrote, and was refused.'
This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprize and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said,
'Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?'
'Oh! to be sure,' cried Emma, 'it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her.'
'Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing..."
And then the fight began to resemble class struggle.
" '... But what is the meaning of this? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken.'
'I saw her answer!--nothing could be clearer.'
'You saw her answer!--you wrote her answer too. Emma, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him.'
'And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet's equal; and am rather surprized indeed that he should have ventured to address her. By your account, he does seem to have had some scruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over.'
'Not Harriet's equal!' exclaimed Mr. Knightley loudly and warmly; and with calmer asperity, added, a few moments afterwards, 'No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connexion higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connexion for him. ... But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, ... Even your satisfaction I made sure of. ... I remember saying to myself, "Even Emma, with all her partiality for Harriet, will think this a good match." '
'I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any such thing. What! think a farmer, (and with all his sense and all his merit Mr. Martin is nothing more,) a good match for my intimate friend! Not regret her leaving Highbury for the sake of marrying a man whom I could never admit as an acquaintance of my own! I wonder you should think it possible for me to have such feelings. ... Mr. Martin may be the richest of the two, but he is undoubtedly her inferior as to rank in society.--The sphere in which she moves is much above his.--It would be a degradation.'
'A degradation to illegitimacy and ignorance, to be married to a respectable, intelligent gentleman-farmer!'
'As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up.--There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman--and a gentleman of fortune.-- ... that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, I apprehend, will deny.--She is superior to Mr. Robert Martin.'
'Whoever might be her parents,' said Mr. Knightley, 'whoever may have had the charge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to introduce her into what you would call good society. ... Till you chose to turn her into a friend, her mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambition beyond it. ... If she has it now, you have given it. You have been no friend to Harriet Smith, Emma. Robert Martin would never have proceeded so far, if he had not felt persuaded of her not being disinclined to him. I know him well. He has too much real feeling to address any woman on the haphazard of selfish passion. And as to conceit, he is the farthest from it of any man I know. Depend upon it he had encouragement.'
It was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply to this assertion; she chose rather to take up her own line of the subject again."
And then, the battle switched back to gender warfare:
" 'You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjust to Harriet. ... Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, ... and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess.'
'Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do.'
You guys should remember that line, but also remember that a woman wrote it for you. However, Emma was not ready to yield the point and then said something that would come back to haunt her.
" 'To be sure!' cried she playfully. 'I know that is the feeling of you all. I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in--what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and chuse. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you. And is she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, to be wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives? No--pray let her have time to look about her.'
'I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy,' said Mr. Knightley presently, ' ... Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives. ... Let her marry Robert Martin, and she is safe, respectable, and happy for ever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teach her to be satisfied with nothing less than a man of consequence and large fortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard's all the rest of her life...'
This was a heated conversation, but only the kind of heat that can generated between intimates. Neither party would have wanted their warm debate to take on a more hostile - a more personal tone. The argument must be brought to an end.
" 'We think so very differently on this point, Mr. Knightley, that there can be no use in canvassing it. We shall only be making each other more angry. But as to my letting her marry Robert Martin, it is impossible; she has refused him, and so decidedly, I think, as must prevent any second application. ... I will not pretend to say that I might not influence her a little; but I assure you there was very little for me or for any body to do. His appearance is so much against him, and his manner so bad, that if she ever were disposed to favour him, she is not now. ... the case is altered now. She knows now what gentlemen are; and nothing but a gentleman in education and manner has any chance with Harriet.'
'Nonsense, errant nonsense, as ever was talked!' cried Mr. Knightley.--'Robert Martin's manners have sense, sincerity, and good-humour to recommend them; and his mind has more true gentility than Harriet Smith could understand.'
Emma made no answer, and tried to look cheerfully unconcerned, but was really feeling uncomfortable and wanting him very much to be gone. She did not repent what she had done; she still thought herself a better judge of such a point of female right and refinement than he could be; but yet she had a sort of habitual respect for his judgment in general, which made her dislike having it so loudly against her; and to have him sitting just opposite to her in angry state, was very disagreeable. Some minutes passed in this unpleasant silence, with only one attempt on Emma's side to talk of the weather, but he made no answer. He was thinking. The result of his thoughts appeared at last in these words.
'Robert Martin has no great loss--if he can but think so; and I hope it will not be long before he does. ... 'Good morning to you,'--said he, rising and walking off abruptly. He was very much vexed. He felt the disappointment of the young man, and was mortified to have been the means of promoting it, by the sanction he had given; and the part which he was persuaded Emma had taken in the affair, was provoking him exceedingly.
Emma remained in a state of vexation too; but there was more indistinctness in the causes of her's, than in his. She did not always feel so absolutely satisfied with herself, so entirely convinced that her opinions were right and her adversary's wrong, as Mr. Knightley. He walked off in more complete self-approbation than he left for her. ..."
In Chapter 12 of Volume 1, Emma decides to set things right. She chose the occasion of a visit from her sister and brother-in-law, Knightley's brother, John. Emma arranged that Knightley was a dinner guest: "... she had particular pleasure, from the circumstance of the late disagreement between Mr. Knightley and herself, in procuring him the proper invitation." And then we are given this glimpse of her cunning.
"She hoped they might now become friends again. She thought it was time to make up. Making-up indeed would not do. She certainly had not been in the wrong, and he would never own that he had. Concession must be out of the question; but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled; and she hoped it might rather assist the restoration of friendship, that when he came into the room she had one of the children with her--the youngest, a nice little girl about eight months old, who was now making her first visit to Hartfield, and very happy to be danced about in her aunt's arms. It did assist; for though he began with grave looks and short questions, he was soon led on to talk of them all in the usual way, and to take the child out of her arms with all the unceremoniousness of perfect amity. Emma felt they were friends again; and the conviction giving her at first great satisfaction, and then a little sauciness, she could not help saying, as he was admiring the baby,
'What a comfort it is, that we think alike about our nephews and nieces. As to men and women, our opinions are sometimes very different; but with regard to these children, I observe we never disagree.'
'If you were as much guided by nature in your estimate of men and women, and as little under the power of fancy and whim in your dealings with them, as you are where these children are concerned, we might always think alike.'
'To be sure--our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.'
'Yes,' said he, smiling--'and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born.'
'A material difference then,' she replied--'and no doubt you were much my superior in judgment at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?'
'Yes--a good deal nearer.'
'But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently.'
'I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years' experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child. Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends, and say no more about it. Tell your aunt, little Emma, that she ought to set you a better example than to be renewing old grievances, and that if she were not wrong before, she is now.'
'That's true,' she cried--'very true. Little Emma, grow up a better woman than your aunt. Be infinitely cleverer and not half so conceited. Now, Mr. Knightley, a word or two more, and I have done. As far as good intentions went, we were both right, and I must say that no effects on my side of the argument have yet proved wrong. I only want to know that Mr. Martin is not very, very bitterly disappointed.'
'A man cannot be more so,' was his short, full answer.
'Ah!--Indeed I am very sorry.--Come, shake hands with me.'
This had just taken place and with great cordiality, when John Knightley made his appearance, and 'How d'ye do, George?' and 'John, how are you?' succeeded in the true English style, burying under a calmness that seemed all but indifference, the real attachment which would have led either of them, if requisite, to do every thing for the good of the other."
That pattern is repeated in Volume 3, beginning with the laceration at Box hill described in Chapter 7 of that Volume. That is the nearly unforgivable insult that Emma lets slip to Miss Bates. I was once in a theatre were the audience laughed at Emma's cutting remark, in a filmed version of Emma, and that reminded of just how attractive Jane Austen's heroines were created - audiences are even ready to follow them into error.
However, Miss Bates was also created most pitifully. Here is a woman that was so humbled and so self-conscious that she could not stop herself from talking. Incidentally, Jane Austen also uses Miss Bates to teach us how the gods might have stolen the Greek Casandra's gift - they stole it by making her slightly silly. I mean one can learn a great deal about what is really happening in Highbury from Miss Bates if he will only listen to her. But, all anyone hears is interpreted as prattle. (The next time you read the novel, take the time to separate Miss Bate's chaff from her wheat and you will be shocked at how much is revealed.) Not even Knightley resisted this evil spell of the Highbury gods.
It was as if Emma was drugged, imbibed too much of Frank Churchill's flattery. (Little beknownst to her he was mocking her.) Then she let it slip, she made a joke, in public, of Miss Bates talking too much. This was the aftermath. The appearance of the carriages was a joyful sight; and in the bustle of collecting and preparing to depart and
"While waiting for the carriage, she found Mr. Knightley by her side. He looked around, as if to see that no one were near, and then said,
'Emma, I must once more speak to you as I have been used to do: a privilege rather endured than allowed, perhaps, but I must still use it. I cannot see you acting wrong, without a remonstrance. How could you be so unfeeling to Miss Bates? How could you be so insolent in your wit to a woman of her character, age, and situation?--Emma, I had not thought it possible.'
Emma recollected, blushed, was sorry, but tried to laugh it off.
'Nay, how could I help saying what I did?--Nobody could have helped it. It was not so very bad. I dare say she did not understand me.'
'I assure you she did. She felt your full meaning. She has talked of it since. I wish you could have heard how she talked of it--with what candour and generosity. I wish you could have heard her honouring your forbearance, in being able to pay her such attentions, as she was for ever receiving from yourself and your father, when her society must be so irksome.'
'Oh!' cried Emma, 'I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her.'
'They are blended,' said he, 'I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance, I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were she your equal in situation--but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her--and before her niece, too--and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.--This is not pleasant to you, Emma--and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,--I will tell you truths while I can; satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now.'
While they talked, they were advancing towards the carriage; it was ready; and, before she could speak again, he had handed her in. He had misinterpreted the feelings which had kept her face averted, and her tongue motionless. They were combined only of anger against herself, mortification, and deep concern. She had not been able to speak; and, on entering the carriage, sunk back for a moment overcome--then reproaching herself for having taken no leave, making no acknowledgment, parting in apparent sullenness, she looked out with voice and hand eager to shew a difference; but it was just too late. He had turned away, and the horses were in motion. She continued to look back, but in vain; and soon, with what appeared unusual speed, they were half way down the hill, and every thing left far behind. She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed--almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of this representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart. How could she have been so brutal, so cruel to Miss Bates! How could she have exposed herself to such ill opinion in any one she valued! And how suffer him to leave her without saying one word of gratitude, of concurrence, of common kindness!
Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more. She never had been so depressed. Happily it was not necessary to speak. There was only Harriet, who seemed not in spirits herself, fagged, and very willing to be silent; and Emma felt the tears running down her cheeks almost all the way home, without being at any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were."
But true love will overcome such things and that begins in Chapter 9 of Volume 3. Emma is returning home after some visits paid to the neighborhood.
"Emma's pensive meditations, as she walked home, were not interrupted; but on entering the parlour, she found those who must rouse her. Mr. Knightley and Harriet had arrived during her absence, and were sitting with her father.--Mr. Knightley immediately got up, and in a manner decidedly graver than usual, said,
'I would not go away without seeing you, but I have no time to spare, and therefore must now be gone directly. I am going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella. Have you any thing to send or say, besides the "love," which nobody carries?'
'Nothing at all. But is not this a sudden scheme?'
'Yes--rather--I have been thinking of it some little time.'
Emma was sure he had not forgiven her; he looked unlike himself. Time, however, she thought, would tell him that they ought to be friends again. While he stood, as if meaning to go, but not going--her father began his inquiries.
'Well, my dear, and did you get there safely?--And how did you find my worthy old friend and her daughter?--I dare say they must have been very much obliged to you for coming. Dear Emma has been to call on Mrs. and Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley, as I told you before. She is always so attentive to them!'
Emma's colour was heightened by this unjust praise; and with a smile, and shake of the head, which spoke much, she looked at Mr. Knightley.--It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from her's, and all that had passed of good in her feelings were at once caught and honoured.--He looked at her with a glow of regard. She was warmly gratified--and in another moment still more so, by a little movement of more than common friendliness on his part.--He took her hand;--whether she had not herself made the first motion, she could not say--she might, perhaps, have rather offered it--but he took her hand, pressed it, and certainly was on the point of carrying it to his lips--when, from some fancy or other, he suddenly let it go.--Why he should feel such a scruple, why he should change his mind when it was all but done, she could not perceive.--He would have judged better, she thought, if he had not stopped.--The intention, however, was indubitable; and whether it was that his manners had in general so little gallantry, or however else it happened, but she thought nothing became him more.--It was with him, of so simple, yet so dignified a nature.-- She could not but recall the attempt with great satisfaction. It spoke such perfect amity.--He left them immediately afterwards--gone in a moment. He always moved with the alertness of a mind which could neither be undecided nor dilatory, but now he seemed more sudden than usual in his disappearance.
Emma could not regret her having gone to Miss Bates, but she wished she had left her ten minutes earlier;--it would have been a great pleasure to talk over Jane Fairfax's situation with Mr. Knightley.--Neither would she regret that he should be going to Brunswick Square, for she knew how much his visit would be enjoyed--but it might have happened at a better time--and to have had longer notice of it, would have been pleasanter.--They parted thorough friends, however; she could not be deceived as to the meaning of his countenance, and his unfinished gallantry;--it was all done to assure her that she had fully recovered his good opinion.--He had been sitting with them half an hour, she found. It was a pity that she had not come back earlier!"
Yes, a great pity; but, is not Knightley's sudden "fancy" - "scruple" - "unfinished gallantry" a fine contribution to the literature of sensibility?
C. S. Lewis excerpted four epiphanies (sudden realizations of things as they are) experienced by Jane-Austen heroines. Those were used to begin his essay, A Note on Jane Austen, Essays In Criticism, October 1954. All four are dramatic and belong in our collection. The first is from Chapter 11, Volume 3 of Emma; this comes after Harriet has revealed her hopes and expectations with regard to Knightley, and after Emma had suddenly realized her own feelings in that direction. (We extract more than did Lewis in order to suit our larger purpose.)
"Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched--she admitted--she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling had been her conduct! What blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world. Some portion of respect for herself, however, in spite of all these demerits--some concern for her own appearance, and a strong sense of justice by Harriet--(there would be no need of compassion to the girl who believed herself loved by Mr. Knightley--but justice required that she should not be made unhappy by any coldness now,) gave Emma the resolution to sit and endure farther with calmness, with even apparent kindness.--For her own advantage indeed, it was fit that the utmost extent of Harriet's hopes should be enquired into; and Harriet had done nothing to forfeit the regard and interest which had been so voluntarily formed and maintained--or to deserve to be slighted by the person, whose counsels had never led her right.-- ..."
And so Emma began to gently question Harriet to understand how the poor girl could have deluded herself into thinking that Knightley might have loved her. But Harriet could give good reasons for her expectations - circumstantial but good reasons - Jane Austen had seen to that. Emma slowly came to the realization that there was no delusion here, Knightley might, indeed, be in love with the girl that Emma herself had brought forward in society.
"When Harriet had closed her evidence, she appealed to her dear Miss Woodhouse, to say whether she had not good ground for hope. 'I never should have presumed to think of it at first,' said she, 'but for you. You told me to observe him carefully, and let his behaviour be the rule of mine--and so I have. But now I seem to feel that I may deserve him; and that if he does chuse me, it will not be any thing so very wonderful.'
The bitter feelings occasioned by this speech, the many bitter feelings, made the utmost exertion necessary on Emma's side, to enable her to say on reply, 'Harriet, I will only venture to declare, that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world, who would intentionally give any woman the idea of his feeling for her more than he really does.'
Harriet seemed ready to worship her friend for a sentence so satisfactory; and Emma was only saved from raptures and fondness, which at that moment would have been dreadful penance, by the sound of her father's footsteps. He was coming through the hall. Harriet was too much agitated to encounter him. ... [T]herefore, she passed off through another door--and the moment she was gone, this was the spontaneous burst of Emma's feelings: 'Oh God! that I had never seen her!'
The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts.--She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours. Every moment had brought a fresh surprize; and every surprize must be matter of humiliation to her.--How to understand it all! How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living under!--The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart!--she sat still, she walked about, she tried her own room, she tried the shrubbery--in every place, every posture, she perceived that she had acted most weakly; that she had been imposed on by others in a most mortifying degree; that she had been imposing on herself in a degree yet more mortifying; that she was wretched, and should probably find this day but the beginning of wretchedness."
But, Emma had a still deeper matter to ponder.
"To understand, thoroughly understand her own heart, was the first endeavour. To that point went every leisure moment which her father's claims on her allowed, and every moment of involuntary absence of mind.
How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be? When had his influence, such influence begun?--When had he succeeded to that place in her affection, which Frank Churchill had once, for a short period, occupied?--She looked back; she compared the two--compared them, as they had always stood in her estimation, from the time of the latter's becoming known to her--and as they must at any time have been compared by her, had it--oh! had it, by any blessed felicity, occurred to her, to institute the comparison.--She saw that there never had been a time when she did not consider Mr. Knightley as infinitely the superior, or when his regard for her had not been infinitely the most dear. She saw, that in persuading herself, in fancying, in acting to the contrary, she had been entirely under a delusion, totally ignorant of her own heart--and, in short, that she had never really cared for Frank Churchill at all!
This was the conclusion of the first series of reflection. This was the knowledge of herself, on the first question of inquiry, which she reached; and without being long in reaching it.--She was most sorrowfully indignant; ashamed of every sensation but the one revealed to her--her affection for Mr. Knightley.--Every other part of her mind was disgusting."
The first meeting with Knightley after the epiphany is described in Chapter 13, Volume 3. Knightley still imagines that Emma is in love with Frank Churchill and must be grieving at the news of his engagement. Emma fears that Knightley is about to announce his engagement to Harriet.
"The weather continued much the same all the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield--but in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again. With all the eagerness which such a transition gives, Emma resolved to be out of doors as soon as possible. Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her. She longed for the serenity they might gradually introduce; and on Mr. Perry's coming in soon after dinner, with a disengaged hour to give her father, she lost no time ill hurrying into the shrubbery.--There, with spirits freshened, and thoughts a little relieved, she had taken a few turns, when she saw Mr. Knightley passing through the garden door, and coming towards her.--It was the first intimation of his being returned from London. She had been thinking of him the moment before, as unquestionably sixteen miles distant.--There was time only for the quickest arrangement of mind. She must be collected and calm. In half a minute they were together. The 'How d'ye do's' were quiet and constrained on each side. She asked after their mutual friends; they were all well.--When had he left them?--Only that morning. He must have had a wet ride.--Yes.--He meant to walk with her, she found. 'He had just looked into the dining-room, and as he was not wanted there, preferred being out of doors.'--She thought he neither looked nor spoke cheerfully; and the first possible cause for it, suggested by her fears, was, that he had perhaps been communicating his plans to his brother, and was pained by the manner in which they had been received.
They walked together. He was silent. She thought he was often looking at her, and trying for a fuller view of her face than it suited her to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps he wanted to speak to her, of his attachment to Harriet; he might be watching for encouragement to begin.--She did not, could not, feel equal to lead the way to any such subject. He must do it all himself. Yet she could not bear this silence. With him it was most unnatural. She considered--resolved--and, trying to smile, began--
'You have some news to hear, now you are come back, that will rather surprize you.'
'Have I?' said he quietly, and looking at her; 'of what nature?'
'Oh! the best nature in the world--a wedding.'
After waiting a moment, as if to be sure she intended to say no more, he replied, 'If you mean Miss Fairfax and Frank Churchill, I have heard that already.'
'How is it possible?' cried Emma, turning her glowing cheeks towards him; for, while she spoke, it occurred to her that he might have called at Mrs. Goddard's in his way.
'I had a few lines on parish business from Mr. Weston this morning, and at the end of them he gave me a brief account of what had happened.'
Emma was quite relieved, and could presently say, with a little more composure, 'You probably have been less surprized than any of us, for you have had your suspicions.--I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution.--I wish I had attended to it--but--(with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) I seem to have been doomed to blindness.'
For a moment or two nothing was said, and she was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, 'Time, my dearest Emma, time will heal the wound.--Your own excellent sense--your exertions for your father's sake--I know you will not allow yourself--.' Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, 'The feelings of the warmest friendship--Indignation--Abominable scoundrel!'--And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, 'He will soon be gone. They will soon be in Yorkshire. I am sorry for her. She deserves a better fate.'
Emma understood him; and as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure, excited by such tender consideration, replied, 'You are very kind--but you are mistaken--and I must set you right.--I am not in want of that sort of compassion. My blindness to what was going on, led me to act by them in a way that I must always be ashamed of, and I was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures, but I have no other reason to regret that I was not in the secret earlier.'
'Emma!' cried he, looking eagerly at her, 'are you, indeed?'--but checking himself--'No, no, I understand you--forgive me--I am pleased that you can say even so much.--He is no object of regret, indeed! and it will not be very long, I hope, before that becomes the acknowledgment of more than your reason.--Fortunate that your affections were not farther entangled!--I could never, I confess, from your manners, assure myself as to the degree of what you felt--I could only be certain that there was a preference--and a preference which I never believed him to deserve.--He is a disgrace to the name of man.--And is he to be rewarded with that sweet young woman?--Jane, Jane, you will be a miserable creature.'
'Mr. Knightley,' said Emma, trying to be lively, but really confused--'I am in a very extraordinary situation. I cannot let you continue in your error; and yet, perhaps, since my manners gave such an impression, I have as much reason to be ashamed of confessing that I never have been at all attached to the person we are speaking of, as it might be natural for a woman to feel in confessing exactly the reverse.--But I never have.'
He listened in perfect silence. She wished him to speak, but he would not. She supposed she must say more before she were entitled to his clemency; but it was a hard case to be obliged still to lower herself in his opinion. She went on, however. 'I have very little to say for my own conduct.--I was tempted by his attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased.--An old story, probably--a common case--and no more than has happened to hundreds of my sex before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding. Many circumstances assisted the temptation. He was the son of Mr. Weston--he was continually here--I always found him very pleasant--and, in short, for (with a sigh) let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last--my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions. Latterly, however--for some time, indeed--I have had no idea of their meaning any thing.--I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I have never been attached to him. And now I can tolerably comprehend his behaviour. He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real situation with another.--It was his object to blind all about him; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself--except that I was not blinded--that it was my good fortune--that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from him.'
She had hoped for an answer here--for a few words to say that her conduct was at least intelligible; but he was silent; and, as far as she could judge, deep in thought. At last, and tolerably in his usual tone, he said, 'I have never had a high opinion of Frank Churchill.--I can suppose, however, that I may have underrated him. My acquaintance with him has been but trifling.--And even if I have not underrated him hitherto, he may yet turn out well.--With such a woman he has a chance.--I have no motive for wishing him ill--and for her sake, whose happiness will be involved in his good character and conduct, I shall certainly wish him well.'
'I have no doubt of their being happy together,' said Emma; 'I believe them to be very mutually and very sincerely attached.'
'He is a most fortunate man!' returned Mr. Knightley, with energy. 'So early in life--at three-and-twenty--a period when, if a man chuses a wife, he generally chuses ill. At three-and-twenty to have drawn such a prize! What years of felicity that man, in all human calculation, has before him!--Assured of the love of such a woman--the disinterested love, for Jane Fairfax's character vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour,--equality of situation--I mean, as far as regards society, and all the habits and manners that are important; equality in every point but one--and that one, since the purity of her heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase his felicity, for it will be his to bestow the only advantages she wants.--A man would always wish to give a woman a better home than the one he takes her from; and he who can do it, where there is no doubt of her regard, must, I think, be the happiest of mortals.--Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good.--He meets with a young woman at a watering-place, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment--and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior.--His aunt is in the way.--His aunt dies.--He has only to speak.--His friends are eager to promote his happiness.--He had used every body ill--and they are all delighted to forgive him.--He is a fortunate man indeed!'
'You speak as if you envied him.'
'And I do envy him, Emma. In one respect he is the object of my envy.'
Emma could say no more. They seemed to be within half a sentence of Harriet, and her immediate feeling was to avert the subject, if possible. She made her plan; she would speak of something totally different--the children in Brunswick Square; and she only waited for breath to begin, when Mr. Knightley startled her, by saying, 'You will not ask me what is the point of envy.--You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity.--You are wise--but I cannot be wise. Emma, I must tell you what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment.'
'Oh! then, don't speak it, don't speak it,' she eagerly cried. 'Take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself.'
'Thank you,' said he, in an accent of deep mortification, and not another syllable followed.
Emma could not bear to give him pain. He was wishing to confide in her--perhaps to consult her;--cost her what it would, she would listen. She might assist his resolution, or reconcile him to it; she might give just praise to Harriet, or, by representing to him his own independence, relieve him from that state of indecision, which must be more intolerable than any alternative to such a mind as his.--They had reached the house.
'You are going in, I suppose?' said he.
'No,'--replied Emma--quite confirmed by the depressed manner in which he still spoke--'I should like to take another turn. Mr. Perry is not gone.' And, after proceeding a few steps, she added--'I stopped you ungraciously, just now, Mr. Knightley, and, I am afraid, gave you pain.--But if you have any wish to speak openly to me as a friend, or to ask my opinion of any thing that you may have in contemplation--as a friend, indeed, you may command me.--I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think.'
'As a friend!'--repeated Mr. Knightley.--'Emma, that I fear is a word--No, I have no wish--Stay, yes, why should I hesitate?--I have gone too far already for concealment.--Emma, I accept your offer--Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend.--Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?'
He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her. 'My dearest Emma,' said he, 'for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma--tell me at once. Say "No," if it is to be said.'--She could really say nothing.--'You are silent,' he cried, with great animation; 'absolutely silent! at present I ask no more.'
Emma was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.
'I cannot make speeches, Emma:' he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.--'If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.--You hear nothing but truth from me.--I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.--Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.--But you understand me.--Yes, you see, you understand my feelings--and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice.'
While he spoke, Emma's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able--and yet without losing a word--to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that Harriet's hopes had been entirely groundless, a mistake, a delusion, as complete a delusion as any of her own--that Harriet was nothing; that she was every thing herself; that what she had been saying relative to Harriet had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from herself.--And not only was there time for these convictions, with all their glow of attendant happiness; there was time also to rejoice that Harriet's secret had not escaped her, and to resolve that it need not, and should not.--It was all the service she could now render her poor friend; for as to any of that heroism of sentiment which might have prompted her to entreat him to transfer his affection from herself to Harriet, as infinitely the most worthy of the two--or even the more simple sublimity of resolving to refuse him at once and for ever, without vouchsafing any motive, because he could not marry them both, Emma had it not. She felt for Harriet, with pain and with contrition; but no flight of generosity run mad, opposing all that could be probable or reasonable, entered her brain. She had led her friend astray, and it would be a reproach to her for ever; but her judgment was as strong as her feelings, and as strong as it had ever been before, in reprobating any such alliance for him, as most unequal and degrading. Her way was clear, though not quite smooth.--She spoke then, on being so entreated.--What did she say?--Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.--She said enough to shew there need not be despair--and to invite him to say more himself. He had despaired at one period; he had received such an injunction to caution and silence, as for the time crushed every hope;--she had begun by refusing to hear him.--The change had perhaps been somewhat sudden;--her proposal of taking another turn, her renewing the conversation which she had just put an end to, might be a little extraordinary!--She felt its inconsistency; but Mr. Knightley was so obliging as to put up with it, and seek no farther explanation.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.--Mr. Knightley could not impute to Emma a more relenting heart than she possessed, or a heart more disposed to accept of his.
He had, in fact, been wholly unsuspicious of his own influence. He had followed her into the shrubbery with no idea of trying it. He had come, in his anxiety to see how she bore Frank Churchill's engagement, with no selfish view, no view at all, but of endeavouring, if she allowed him an opening, to soothe or to counsel her.--The rest had been the work of the moment, the immediate effect of what he heard, on his feelings. ... The superior hopes which gradually opened were so much the more enchanting.--The affection, which he had been asking to be allowed to create, if he could, was already his!--Within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name.
Her change was equal.--This one half-hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved, had cleared from each the same degree of ignorance, jealousy, or distrust.--On his side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, ... It was his jealousy of Frank Churchill that had taken him from the country.--The Box Hill party had decided him on going away. He would save himself from witnessing again such permitted, encouraged attentions.--He had gone to learn to be indifferent.--But he had gone to a wrong place. There was too much domestic happiness in his brother's house; woman wore too amiable a form in it; Isabella was too much like Emma--differing only in those striking inferiorities, which always brought the other in brilliancy before him, for much to have been done, even had his time been longer.--He had stayed on, however, vigorously, day after day--till this very morning's post had conveyed the history of Jane Fairfax.--Then, with the gladness which must be felt, nay, which he did not scruple to feel, having never believed Frank Churchill to be at all deserving Emma, was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for her, that he could stay no longer. He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery.
He had found her agitated and low.--Frank Churchill was a villain.--He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill's character was not desperate.--She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow."
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