This week’s lesson is from the third volume of Emma, Chapter XIII (49).
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.
Mr. Knightley is not often seen as a sex symbol on the level of Wet-Shirted Darcy (for which the Wet Shirt is probably a big reason) but “the expression of his eyes overpowered her” makes us a little light-headed. What a man! Here endeth the lesson.*
*Actually the whole rest of the chapter is pretty good, too.