A sensual scene from Emma

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Given Jane Austen's notorious failure to describe her characters' most passionate moments, gliding over lovers' endearments and embraces, the following scene from Emma is interesting for the way Mr. Knightly touches Emma to console her, causing a "flutter of pleasure" (though they are not yet acknowledged lovers at this point).

Emma, Chapter 49:

[This scene leads up to the proposal; Emma Woodhouse is dissatisfied with herself for several reasons (including not having detected the secret engagement of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill), and is depressed because she thinks Mr. Knightley will marry her protegée Harriet Smith. Mr. Knightley thinks she is attached to Frank Churchill.]

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 ... 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... 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 [on Harriet Smith] 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." ...

*Go on to rest of chapter

[Emma chapter 49 illustration: Mr. Knightley: `My dearest, most beloved Emma, tell me at once...']

[Illustration by C. E. Brock (about 1908).]

Of course, Mr. Knightley's physical attractiveness to Emma was explained earlier in the book (chapter 37):

"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 [of whist] were made up, -- so young as he looked! -- He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps any where, 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 [Frank Churchill], there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him."

As a poster on AUSTEN-L has said, ""this is about as close as Jane Austen ever gets to a sex scene."

*Go to quotes about Emma and Knightley's relationship.

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