The Secrets of Donwell Abbey

I have always wanted to write Jane Austen Fan Fiction on books other than Pride and Prejudice. I never really had a lot of story ideas for them but one has taken hold for Knightley and Emma and will not let go. This will be very much like The Secrets of Pemberley in which it is told only from the hero point of view and there are secrets in his past. In fact, it’s so much like it that I decided they should be in a series together. Say hello to The Men of Austen! I plan to write a book like this for each Jane Austen hero although I have no particular idea which one will come next. 🙂


soda_men of austen.jpgChapter One


Knightley watched as Emma busied herself around the drawing room. She had a natural grace about her as she did little household tasks. How many times had he been privy to such a scene over the years? Year after year, he had glimpses into the domestic scene until Hartfield became almost as much his home as Donwell Abbey.

Perhaps that was what made her presence so soothing. Emma could irritate the thunder out of him. No other lady could and very few gentlemen ever had. However, there was not a mean bone in her body. There was no shortage of kind people in the Highbury area, though, yet Emma was who he always sought out when tired or weary. There was very little accounting for it, and at the moment it was useless to attempt.

Their last argument was about her new friend, Harriet Smith. She could not know, of course, the direction of his true feelings about the girl. When he inherited Donwell a few years ago, he did not delve into all the financial particulars too much. He trusted his solicitor and his steward was invaluable to him. He balanced the tenant books. It was imperative their money was always accounted for and their every need met. He was no spendthrift, and so he never worried about the London accounts. Until a few months ago when he learned of monthly payments going to Mrs. Goddard’s School set up during his father’s purview.

How Knightley wished he could have assumed his father donated the money out of the goodness of his heart. He alone could guess the truth. The elder Mr. Knightley had been an upstanding gentleman in most ways. No one in the area would say a thing against Alfred Knightley. If not for an unfortunate encounter when Knightley was twenty and in London, he never would have known there was anything to mar his predecessor’s legacy. Instead, he understood why there were payments to Mrs. Goddard’s.

Without asking for her name or any particulars—it could hardly be supposed that suddenly being brought into a family circle where she must always be reminded of her low birth would be enjoyable to the girl—he ordered the solicitor to increase her standard of living. She was now seventeen and could be a parlour border for another year or two before needing to leave the school. Her education must be complete and soon would need new accommodations. The time was coming when Knightley ought to make himself known to her, but he hesitated on how to do so.

Knightley had no serious suspicions that Emma’s new friend might be his half-sister until Harriet received a proposal from one of Knightley’s tenants*. Emma insisted Harriet must be a gentleman’s daughter, even if a natural one, and therefore above her suitor. In the heat of the argument, Knightley had managed to conceal his conflicting emotions. Did she have the Knightley chin? His father’s eyes? If she were his sister, then his feelings intensified to see her well-settled with a man as gentlemanly as he knew Robert Martin to be. It sometimes amazed Knightley that Emma could not guess the direction of his thoughts. She had not deduced the reason for his heightened interest and implacable resistance to her idea of matching Harriet with Mr. Elton.

The very thought of their disagreement and the complications of Harriet being his relation made his head pound. Mr. Woodhouse had chatted away about various things which required few replies and now was napping in a chair.

“Will you stay for supper?” Emma asked Knightley, drawing him from his musings.

“I think not,” he said and began to shake his head, until touching it with a groan.

“You are unwell!”

“No. I am not ill,” Knightley responded firmly. He never took to the sickbed. He glanced at Mr. Woodhouse, if he had heard her words, Knightley already would be drowning in nurses and tonics amidst words about Dr. Perry’s solutions.

“You look it,” Emma said and sat beside him. She peered into his eyes. “I see it, there,” she said, and her thumbs grazed the side of his eyes. “And here,” she added, smoothing the lines of his brow.

They were often furrowed, how she could tell it was now out of pain and not his usual expression, he was not sure. She placed the back of her palm against his forehead.

“No fever,” she muttered.

“I told you. I am the picture of health.” While she could feel no fever, her nearness, the contact she offered without a second thought, fired his blood.

He had never been with a woman. In his first trip to an establishment in London, he witnessed his father having a row with a courtesan and the proprietor. They argued about his responsibilities for the child she now carried. Somehow, there had been no doubt that he was the father. Since then, Knightley had thought too seriously about how such deeds could affect so many others. He considered it ungentlemanly to use a woman for his own pleasure.

At first, it was a difficult choice and caused no small amount of teasing from his friends—even from his brother. Now, it had been years since he had felt more than the slightest twinge of desire at the sight of a specific woman. Perhaps if he left Highbury more, it would be more difficult. As it was, he knew all the faces and figures. There was nothing to surprise or tantalize—except for his growing fascination with Emma and now her siren touch.

“I will leave you,” he said, surprised at the feelings his words evoked. His body tensed, telling him it would prefer to stay rooted next to Emma.

“Nonsense. I think your head must be ailing you. Shall I ring for tea or something stronger? Papa would offer you his finest port.”

“I need nothing.” Nothing besides more of her affectionate gazes and the feel of her skin on his. Had anyone in his life ever considered his needs or looked at him with such concern? He did not know how much he desired that until this moment.

“There is something I do when Papa has a headache. I think it will help. May I?”

“What—what is it?” He could barely think coherently. The original source of his headache had disappeared, but his head continued to ache at the confusion growing in him. This was Emma!

“Only this.”

She placed her hands on his temples and rubbed soft, small circles with the pads of her thumb. Tingles of exquisite torture spread over him as his eyes closed. Emma’s nearness made him dizzy. He wanted to drown in a lake of her perfume.

“This is inappropriate,” he muttered as he weakly attempted to move his head.

“I do it for John,” she answered, gripping his head slightly tighter, applying pressure to the back.

“Yes, and I suppose Isabella is right beside you.”

“If you are worried about a chaperone, my father is in the room. Besides, I know my honour is safe with you, and no one would dream of laying anything ungentlemanly at your door.”

She was very much not safe with him. Not now. Maybe not ever again. His defenses were slipping. His usual focus on honour and gentlemanly behaviour began to crumble at the overwhelming pleasure her expert hands provided.

“He is asleep,” Knightley mumbled.

“Hush. Relax,” Emma whispered near his ear as her nails gently roamed across his scalp.

It was futile. He could not resist what she so generously offered. For blissful moments, he allowed her to take his cares away. Something about being alone in the world, just him and Emma, of drawing pleasure at her touch, and her satisfying a need he never knew he had, seemed perfectly right. This moment was not dishonourable. It was heady and seductive but also beautiful and pure. Did Emma feel it too?

Knightley opened his eyes to see Emma’s brilliant blue orbs staring back at him. “Emma,” he blew out on a breath that contained a shred of his longing.

“George,” she whispered in return.

His head erased the distance between them without conscious thought. She had never called him George—even as their family relation and intimacy over the years would have justified it. This moment meant something to her as well. One touch of her lips. That was all he desired. Nay, he needed it more than he needed his next breath. He could not survive without it. He cupped her cheek with his hand, and she did not flinch. When he ran the pad of his thumb over her plump lower lip, her lashes fluttered. There was time to stop—to pull back—to not do what must forever alter them but he could not.

Moving a fraction of an inch, their lips met in the briefest touch. Bolts of lightning shot through his body and although he had meant to pull back, his arm wrapped around Emma’s back, drawing her closer and pressing her firmly to his mouth. She happily sighed against him.

He craved more and was an instant addict to her kiss. There was more, so much more, they could experience. The kiss was still entirely chaste, but he could feel her bubbling passion beneath the surface. His Emma had never lived by halves. His Emma? Indeed, after this, she would be. His honour had not disintegrated, after all.

A snore erupted from Mr. Woodhouse, and Knightley’s eyes flew open. Consciousness returned to him. He was kissing Emma in full view of her father and anyone who might walk in the drawing room! He was kissing, nay taking advantage, of Emma! His friend’s daughter. His brother’s sister-in-law. One of his dearest friends!

He sprang into action. He pulled back so fast and jumped from the seat, Emma nearly fell over on the couch. His body felt aflame with shame and unfulfilled desire. He could still feel the petal-soft touch of her lips, her fingers had carved a path in his soul, and his body physically ached to pull her into his arms.

“I—I—forgive me.” He bowed and fled from the room.

One kiss. One kiss would change his life forever. Whether for good or bad, he could not say but he knew there was no going back from this moment. As he reached Donwell Abbey out of breath and with a headache for entirely different reasons, Knightley knew only this: he would not rest until Emma bore his name.




The following day, Knightley walked to Hartfield as was his custom. However, his speed varied. At times the desire to see Emma, sweep her into his arms and whisper words of affection hastened his step. At other times, his steps slowed. Emma deserved a true proposal out of genuine love. That, he had. Although they argued, Knightley believed they were well-matched and would compliment one another in matrimony. There would be cross moments, but there would be far more happier moments. The more he thought of their future, the more it appeared natural to him. He was always coming to Hartfield—nearly every day. What would it be like to not see Emma for a few days at a time? He could hardly imagine it! Indeed, marrying Emma would be the best way to keep her always at hand. He surely did not visit her house so often for the company of her father.

No, what gave him pause was that he could not speak of his feelings. Even if he fully knew them—and after many a sleepless hour last night he did had been unsuccessful in identifying them—he could hardly explain them to her. Let him talk about farming with Robert Martin or his steward. Let him talk war efforts with Mr. Weston or music with his wife. Expressions of the heart made him uncomfortable—he had no practice at it. His father had never encouraged that sort of conversation. Perhaps because he had never known love for anyone but himself.

When he finally arrived at Hartfield, far later than a mere mile’s walk should take, the insufferable Mr. Elton was just leaving. As a frequent visitor, Knightley was allowed to make his way unannounced to the drawing room where he found Emma and Harriet whispering and blushing.

“What’s this?” he asked, startling the ladies and noting with pleasure as Emma’s blush deepened.

“Just another occupation that I fear you will not approve,” Emma replied saucily.

“Oh?” He asked with a raised brow.

“Miss Woodhouse has compiled a book of literature and riddles.”

“Literature?” Knightley sat in his usual chair near their settee. “Why should I disapprove of this?”

“Harriet is too generous. It is a book of riddles, enigmas, and conundrums.”

Knightley’s attention was divided between admiring Emma’s loveliness and deciphering anything like the Knightley looks in Harriet.

“Mr. Elton was kind enough to offer an entry,” Harriet blushed.

Knightley’s eyes narrowed. He and Emma had not fully resolved their argument about Harriet refusing Robert Martin’s proposal. More offensive to Knightley was Emma’s wanting to match Harriet with Elton. Knightley knew Elton had no interest in Harriet—his eyes followed Emma. The young vicar had also made comments about desiring a wealthy wife and Harriet would have hardly anything.

“Did he?”

“Indeed,” Emma answered with a grin. “We were just about to read it when you entered.”

“Do not let me stop you.”

Harriet and Emma giggled and put their heads together as Emma read aloud. What he heard troubled Knightley exceedingly. The despicable fortune-hunter was after his Emma.

“Courtship, my dear Harriet. Do you see?” Emma pointed to the lines for Harriet who had at first thought the charade was about mermaids or sharks.

“But—can it be?”

“I believe you will soon have the most extreme proof.”

“Oh! It is beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

“You know I have always found it most natural. Now, we must copy it in our book.”

“I could not—”

“Surely you can, and we must return it when he returns. His ‘friend’ only loaned it to him, after all.”

“Indeed. I shall try.”

“But do leave off the last two lines so it does not seem personal.”

Harriet nodded and went to the table to get about her work. Knightley took her position next to Emma.

“I do not think that poem was intended for Harriet,” Knightley said.

Emma’s grin vanished. “Not for Harriet! Who else could it be for? Do you accuse the man of writing about courtship for the mere amusement of the lady he has paid particular attention to for weeks?”

“You know I disagree that he has paid her any such attention.”

“Did you come just to argue with me?”

Knightley knew Emma’s pout very well—just as he knew everything at Hartfield and in Highbury entirely. She had been a spoilt child and often used it to manipulate others to get her way. As a young lady, she had mostly grown out of the effect but not entirely. This time, Knightley thought he saw true hurt in her eyes.

“No, and I had hoped to find you alone. When does Miss Smith intend to leave?” Emma chewed her bottom lip, only reminding Knightley of the taste of that succulent flesh.

“I shall invent some reason to send her away as soon as she is finished.”

“Miss Woodhouse,” Harriet called from her seat. “Would you look over this?

Emma rose with alacrity and praised her friend’s penmanship before observing that her father had slept poorly and needed more rest than usual which would be difficult with Harriet’s natural effusions. The younger lady agreed and, scarcely able to contain her delight over her imagined admirer, happily bid Emma and Knightley adieu.

“Emma, be reasonable,” Knightley said when she sat next to him. “The world does not have your good heart. Harriet Smith is no alluring match, and Elton is a man of the world. He values more than a pretty face and an agreeable temperament. At the very least, he values money.”

“I thought you said you came for a reason other than to argue with me,” she stood and placed a hand on her hip as she shook a finger at him.

Had she any idea how utterly adorable she looked scolding him? Had she any idea how completely mad she drove him? First for her nonsensical thoughts and then for the fact that he loved every minute of it.

“I only wish to put you on your guard. You may one day be quite surprised at the true direction of Elton’s affections.”

“Do you consider yourself the romantic sort?”

Wary of the apparent sudden change in conversation, Knightley avoided answering at first, but Emma would not give up. “No, I do not.”

“Then you cannot understand the workings of the romantic mind. You do not see any merit in marrying Harriet because you are not in love with her and as you have never been in love, you cannot recognize its signs. You did not notice when your brother and my sister were in love or when Mr. Weston loved Miss Taylor. I am your superior in such matters.”

Suddenly, their argument about Elton and Harriet meant nothing. He had never been in love before. He knew that to be true. But what of his feelings now? Why did Emma seem so complacent when they had not discussed matrimony, and yet his honour demanded it. If she did not suspect he was in love with her, then what reason did she assign to their breach in propriety. Yes, focusing on Emma and any of her flawed logic was much better than examining his disordered feelings.

“As it happens, I do come on a matter of Romance that I think even you might approve.”

“Oh, really?”

He pulled her hand until she sat beside him. Then, still holding her hand in his, he knelt on one knee. “Emma, you have long been my sister and friend. I do not know when it began, but you have turned into something more and I—”

“I thought I heard voices,” Mr. Woodhouse said from the doorway. “Is that Mr. Knightley?”

Knightley quickly glanced at Emma who appeared horrified and shook her head.

“Yes, Papa,” she answered. “You just missed Harriet.”

Realizing he had lost his moment, Knightley discreetly rose and turned to a window to gaze out it while Mr. Woodhouse hobbled to his preferred seat.

“Did you get anything new for your book, my dear?” Mr. Woodhouse asked his daughter.

“We did, and I will read it to you in just a moment.”

If Knightley were to sit and listen to more effusions over Mr. Elton’s poor poetry and desire to court Emma, he would be sick. He wished the young man very far away, at least until he could secure Emma’s hand as his own. He did not want to doubt her honour, but she seemed so unattached to him and entirely unaffected by what transpired the evening before that Knightley began to wonder if it had all been a figment of his imagination.

“You must excuse me,” Knightley turned. “I have an appointment with my steward.”

With a bow to the father and daughter, Knightley left Hartfield feeling more out of sorts than he ever had before. It troubled him all the more as it often was his cure for loneliness or anything distraught.

Thursday Three Hundred–Greater than Friends


Rose Letter

On Monday, I posted the song Friends Don’t by Maddie and Tae. I wrote that it reminded me of Emma and Knightley. I could have written from a few other locations in the book, but chose the scene where Harriet Smith acknowledges that she loves Mr. Knightley–and believes he loves her in return. I generously use some lines straight from Miss Austen. I don’t think she would mind. 🙂

cd4fab69d19e6c58bb41e5fe62b0bcaeGreater than Friends

“Let us understand each other now, without the possibility of farther mistake. Are you speaking of—Mr. Knightley?”

“To Be sure I am.”

Harriet continued speaking, and Emma vaguely registered the girl’s words, managing somehow to talk while all her mind worked on Harriet’s strange series of utterances. Harriet Smith in love with her good friend Mr. Knightley? But no, that was not the correct word for Mr. Knightley.

Did friends mean to one another what Mr. Knightley and Emma meant to one another? How often had they made plans around the feeling of the other? How many silent conversations had they had with nothing but their eyes? If Mr. Knightley were only a friend, should she not be able to hear Mrs. Elton speak of him with familiarity without possessive irritation?

For months, years, even he had often visited Hartfield. His visits began shortly, but now they seemed to linger. He found any excuse to come and the purpose seemed just as much to visit Emma as to sit with her father. A hundred tender memories of conversations and Knightley’s nearness flashed like lightning in Emma’s mind and swelled her heart.

However, unfortunate recollections also recollected. She had pushed him aside. He probably believed—just as everyone else did, it seemed—that she loved Frank Churchill. His low opinion of her was very plain and Harriet—sweet, simple, pretty Harriet—he had confessed to think well of.

No, no, no! It would not do! “Good God!” cried Emma, “this has been a most unfortunate—most deplorable mistake!—What is to be done?”

Again, Harriet chattered on. Emma could not speak. Mr. Knightley would never linger at Hartfield again. No, he would have his dear Harriet to think about. They would visit together, and Emma would have to find a way to send them off. No more chats after supper while the stars shone. No more daily walks from Donwell Abbey.

No, no. Mr. Knightley was not merely her friend. “Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley’s returning your affection?”

“Yes,” replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully—”I must say that I have.”

Emma sat in silence while a thunderclap sounded in her mind—nay, her heart. With the speed of an arrow, she acknowledged Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

On and on, Harriet continued explaining and rationalizing—with merit, Emma detested to admit—that Knightley did care for her.

Feeling her heart die and her soul weep, Emma acknowledged, “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.”

Finally, Harriet left, and Emma sat in dejected spirits wishing she had never met the girl. This much she knew, no one would love Mr. Knightley as she did. How she wished she had the opportunity to tell him before he made a choice that would forever separate them.


Tea Time Tattle–Knightley loved Emma as a child??


on a white wooden table red roses, cup of tea, heart made of lac

I’ve seen many articles around the Austen-verse with writers opining that Mr. Knightley is a better romantic hero than Mr. Darcy. I won’t bother to touch on that. 🙂 However, I think the thing that makes many readers uncomfortable about Mr. Knightley is the following line:

“The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doating on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least.”

This must be broken down into two sections. The first, which seems most egregious to a modern reader, is his loving Emma while she was only thirteen. The second, that he shaped her into a woman to marry.


Let’s establish a bit of history for Emma and Knightley. Emma is twenty-one and is the younger of two heiresses of a very comfortable estate. Her father lives, is quite old, and seems generally anxious about everything. We are also told she is far cleverer than her elder sister and was from an early age. In fact, she’s so clever she doesn’t really have a mental companion for her save Mr. Knightley. He’s a neighbor, and his younger brother married Emma’s sister some years ago. However, he’s 37 or 38, so there’s quite the age gap.

So, if he loved Emma at 13, then he would have been 27 or 28. I mean, that’s a huge red flag, even if we want to make allowances for things like Lydia marrying at 16 to a man who is 26. Developmentally, there would be quite a difference between 13 and 16, even in an era that treated teenagers as adults. Even though women could be treated as adults around age 16 (this seems to differ for men), very few of their class married at that age. The average age across the nation for women to marry was 26, and I’ve seen estimates at around 22 or 23 for the gentry. So, although 16-year-olds could join in Society things they were not, generally, accepting suitors and marrying. Emma is “underage” no matter how you slice it.

emma_strongbeckinsale.jpgHowever, did he really romantically love her at age 13? First, we are told that Knightley  “was not only a very old and intimate friend of the family, but particularly connected with it, as the elder brother of Isabella’s husband.”

Emma was 12 years old when Isabella married. There’s little reason to believe that Knightley was often visiting the house when Emma was so young and his brother and new sister-in-law lived in London. It appears for some time he only visited when the John Knightleys were in the area. Even if Mr. Woodhouse invited him to dine, Emma would not have been at the table at such a young age. We are told of this:

The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now.

This statement is before Frank Churchill has arrived, which is worth noting for once Knightley proposes, we are told the following:

On his side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, old as the arrival, or even the expectation, of Frank Churchill.—He had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other. 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.

Perhaps he did not realize he preserved Emma’s early list out of love, but I think it far more likely that he was merely impressed with a child making such a list. She might have even done it purposefully to please him, as a child often does. She was his sister-in-law for two years by this point. There’s no reason to consider that he desired her as a wife at such an age, or even considered that she could one day become one for him when we also take into account that he did not recognize it as love until long after Frank was in the picture.

I think Knightley is acquitted of anything akin to craving Emma as a companion at such a young age. He loved her as a sister, and that is all the notice he took of her. However, what about his statement that he made her into someone that he could love?

If a man is of sound means at 37 or 38, especially in such an era, one might wonder if he will ever marry. Emma makes sound arguments:

“But Mr. Knightley does not want to marry. I am sure he has not the least idea of it. Do not put it into his head. Why should he marry?—He is as happy as possible by himself; with his farm, and his sheep, and his library, and all the parish to manage; and he is extremely fond of his brother’s children. He has no occasion to marry, either to fill up his time or his heart.”

“My dear Emma, as long as he thinks so, it is so; but if he really loves Jane Fairfax—”

Knightley has no impetus to marry for companionship or lack of an heir. He would only marry for love. The fact that he’s reached such an age and has not fallen in love makes it pretty clear that most people are not up to his requirements. Does it follow, then, that he would have to shape a person into his designs? Would he take nearly ten years to do it? Would that even be love?

An additional question arises from this notion. Does Emma yield to Knightley’s molding? There would be too many quotes to use as they consistently argue throughout the book, but Knightley complains many times that Emma listens to no one, including him. Within her thoughts, we are sure she will never capitulate to anything simply because he says so–lest we forget the dread affair about Harriet and Mr. Martin.

However, when Knightley scolds her after she makes fun of Miss Bates, Emma feels the reproach.

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.”

Emma is described as feeling thus:

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 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!

It is not enough, however, for Emma to regret the justness of Knightley’s remarks or hate that she has disappointed him. The real turning point in Emma’s story comes when she enters self-reproach:

She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so; remiss, perhaps, more in thought than fact; scornful, ungracious. But it should be so no more. In the warmth of true contrition, she would call upon her the very next morning, and it should be the beginning, on her side, of a regular, equal, kindly intercourse.

Knightley tries, again and again, to make Emma understand her ways. He doesn’t like her matchmaking. He doesn’t like Frank Churchill. He doesn’t like Emma making fun of Jane Fairfax. He doesn’t like her friendship with Harriet Smith. He doesn’t like approve of her idleness. However, he always sees the good and the potential in Emma. Emma never backs down and agrees just to please him–or anyone else. She thinks well of Knightley and doesn’t like it when they’ve argued, and it appears he is disappointed in her, but it’s only when she feels the disappointment herself that we see her reverse her opinion. The fact that she’s not obstinate in resisting what needs to change simply because Knightley has said it should be a mark in her favor.

I would say Knightley has no more influence over Emma than most friends have over one another. This should be a familiar theme for Austen deals with friendly persuasion in each novel.

Instead of viewing Emma and Knightley’s relationship beginning at the point of romance, let us consider it from the progression of brother and sister-in-law, to friends, to lovers.


From Volume III Chapter III, after Knightley is well acquainted with his growing feelings for Emma:

“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.”

So we see they have left brother and sister long behind. They are friends. Knightley even says this when Mrs. Weston is pestering him about Emma’s friendship with Harriet (and I believe trying to make him own his feelings):

“I do not know what I could imagine, but I confess that I have seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing to me than hers. But I am a partial old friend.”

By the end of the novel, however, they are no longer satisfied to simply be friends. A person may have a hundred friends, and they may come and go through life. Emma and Knightley are the best of friends, but that is such an inadequate word for their feelings.

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?—

Instead of leaving it at friendship, Knightley expresses more:

“My dearest Emma,” said he, “for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour’s conversation, my dearest, most beloved Emma—”

Knightley and Emma have ascended from kinship to friendship to potential lovers.

“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.”

Indeed, Emma returns his affections.

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.

tumblr_m541hoc46w1r53l28o7_250And so we have one of the earliest examples in literature of a romance blossoming from friendship to beloved.

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.

Now, the next time you see a Knightley vs. Darcy debate, you might find the fight closer than ever as, I believe, Knightley is free from any immoral insinuation. Jane Austen would not be the last to write such a concept. Romance books are rife with the trope of from friends to lovers or the adopted sibling to lovers etc. I consider my own love story closer to friends to lovers, so it has a soft spot in my heart.


So Good an Understanding

Summary: After Jane Fairfax collapses during the Weston’s ball, Frank Churchill’s love and engagement is exposed.


Emma could not help but notice that Jane Fairfax looked too flushed as she took her spot in the dance line. Emma’s partner, Frank Churchill, was looking at Jane as well and Emma hoped he was not going to make another joke at Jane’s expense. Thus far all Emma’s hopes for the evening had been answered. Frank did not seem in love with her and Mr. Knightley did not seem in love with Jane, Downwell Abbey was safe for little Henry.

Many people were looking at her and Frank and she had no doubt as to why; they made a handsome couple. However, in her opinion, Mr. Knightley looked just as well as her much younger partner. There he stood so tall and looking so young and firm compared with the elderly and soft. If Emma could have an additional wish for the evening, it would be for Knightley to join in the fun and dance.

Mrs. Elton called the set to order and they began a lively dance but before too many steps they heard the gasps of alarm and surprise around them. Turning, Emma saw Jane collapsed to the floor, barely caught by her partner. Frank dashed to Jane’s side and Emma was proud her friend, son of the evening’s host, sought to do his duty.

Jane’s aunt, Miss Bates, was loudly fretting over Jane’s health and then immediately worried about her nieces reputation, seen in the arms of a gentleman. Emma sidled in close and could clearly see and hear Frank’s actions and words.

Lifting Jane’s dainty hand, he kissed it and clutched it until Jane’s eyes fluttered open. “Darling, what happened? Are you ill?”

Frank was acting every bit the lover! Emma was all astonishment!

Miss Bates must not have seen or heard him for she soon cried out, “Oh, Mr. Elton, you will tell us what to do! Must Mr. Pine marry Jane now?”

Frank’s head snapped up. “That will not be possible!”

Jane attempted to shush him, but Frank persisted. “Miss Fairfax and I have been betrothed since October. She is bound to me.”

Emma could barely fathom an attachment between the two but oh, the romance of his declaration!

She soon felt a tall body near her own. “Did you matchmake this, Emma?” Mr. Knightley teased.

“No! I could not be more surprised! But why would they keep it a secret? Jane was having to look at positions as a governess!”

“Perhaps his aunt was not disposed to favor the match. I can scarce imagine being so unscrupulous as to engage myself to a young lady and demand secrecy out of fear of my aunt. If he is man enough to marry he should accept the consequences of his choice.”

“It is very easy for you to say! You have independent wealth and never mean to marry!”

“I am not so dense about the courtships of others that I did to see their secret looks.”

“Secret looks! What would you know about secret looks?”

When he did not reply immediately, Emma looked at him and noticed his look. Her brow furrowed in confusion.

“Time will heal the wound.”

“Heal the wound?”

“He entered the community and clearly attached himself to you, never acting the part of an engaged gentleman.”

“You thought I was in love with Frank Churchill!”

“You did favour him.”

“Dear Mr. Knightley! How little you know me! I do not think I will ever be in love. You see we are of like minds on that.”


“Now, we have settled all that, let us return to dancing!” Mr. Weston’s voice interrupted. Jane had been sent home with her aunt in the Eltons’ carriage. Frank was no where to be seen.

“Who will you dance with?”

“Well, I am uncertain if this is still the first set but my partner is absent and so I will dance with you if you will ask me, for we are not brother and sister.”

He smiled the small smile she knew so well. “No, certainly not brother and sister! I would very much like to have the honour of dancing with you.”

Emma smiled as she placed her hand in Knightley’s and they joined the set. He insisted he disliked dancing but he performed very well. She was certain she had seldom enjoyed a dance more, but then Highbury seldom had balls and no other gentleman was so well informed.

Later in the evening he did the most gallant deed and danced with Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith when she was snubbed by Mr. Elton. Emma had never been more proud of her old friend! He was so very honourable, and gracious too, as they were able to at last mend their differences over their argument of Harriet as a potential bride for Mr. Elton. Knightley was correct about the littleness within Mr. Elton’s character while he acknowledged Harriet had first rate qualities. Emma observed to herself that neither were so stubborn or conceited that they could not come to so good an understanding and that in many cases their opinions were much alike.

The next day the most alarming thing happened. While walking with a friend, Harriet had been attacked by a band of gypsies! She managed to run away and was near Hartfield when Frank Churchill came upon her. He escorted her safely to Hartfield.

Before many days later Harriet confessed to a growing admiration for a gentleman who recently rescued her but vowed she had no hopes of marriage.

Emma was very happy Harriet had given up regretting Mr. Elton but could not support her admiration of an engaged man.

“Beware Harriet, for his circumstances make this a most impossible fancy.”

Harriet sniffled a little. “It is as I feared. You believe him too superior to me. It is well, I have not the presumption.”

“Superior? Presumption? You mean you admire a gentleman and what stands in the way of your attachment is his position in society?” Emma had a growing feeling of dread.

“What had you imagined?”

“You spoke of him rescuing you! Of course I thought of Frank Churchill!”

“Frank Churchill! Good heavens! Oh no, this gentleman is far superior, is far more honourable than Mr. Churchill.”

“Harriet…let me be clear, are you speaking of Mr. Knightley?”

“I know, it is quite a presumption, but I had thought there had been many unequal marriages before.”

“Do you have any idea of him returning your regard?”

“I was most surprised by his attention to me at the ball and he did…”


“He did send a note to Mrs. Goddard wishing me the fullest recovery and offering his services in any way.” Harriet blushed prettily.

“I…I can only say that Mr. Knightley is the last man in the world that would raise a lady’s expectations.” Why should the notion bother her so?

“That is what I believe as well. So, you do think I have reason to hope?”

“Perhaps…perhaps you need more time to determine things.”

“You mean to put me on my guard and let his actions guide mine.”

“Yes, but it is growing very late now.”

“Oh! Of course, your father must not see me when I am in such a state.”

The next day Emma walked the path to Donwell Abbey. A night full of reflections had made many things perfectly clear to her..

“Too late. I have been so busy managing everyone else’s hearts that I never considered my own and there Mr. Knightley is, never to be removed. Yet I have realized it too late and it is all my own doing.”

She returned to her home in low spirits but hoped she hid it from her father. News of Frank and Jane’s betrothal soon passed through the area and, most astonishing of all, his aunt was persuaded to look upon it with favor in her ill health. Mrs. Churchill could not but be reminded of Frank’s mother and when the Churchills did not support her marriage to Mr. Weston they only pained themselves by breaking the connection. Frank was resolute in his determination to marry Jane and having no desire to lose the affection and company of her beloved nephew, the aunt gave way.

Another two days after the news fell passed before Mr. Knightley called. He found her sitting in the drawing-room staring at the chair he favored.

“Are you well, Emma?”

His question startled her. Recovering, she replied, “I am always well.”

“Your father says you have been on poor spirits.”

“My father imagines all the world is unwell.”

“Maybe, but you look it.”

Emma let out a resigned sigh. “Is the state of my spirits what drew you to Hartfield when the last five days you have stayed away? What happened to your daily walk?”

He remained silent for a moment and Emma grew alarmed. “Forgive me, I did not ask after you earlier. You have not been ill, have you?”

“No, no. I am in perfect health. I have stayed away. I was more sensible than perhaps you were about the matter of your heart with Frank Churchill and it seems I was correct. The news of their engagement has brought you grief.”

“My vanity was flattered by his attentions. He was so new and refreshing, so amiable, he has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I was never attached to him and I can see now he never meant to be attached to me. I am ashamed of my conduct, of the path I was following him down while he attempted to conceal his attachment to Jane.”

“I have never thought very highly of him, but it may be with such a wife he will turn out quite well.”

“I have no doubt of their mutual attachment.”

“He is a fortunate man! He meets a young woman and at such a time as most choose badly he is able to find one that will do him the greatest credit. She is willing to conceal their betrothal. His aunt is in the way, she experiences a sudden change of heart. He uses everyone but they are all so ready to forgive him.”

“You sound jealous.”

“I am on one point.”

Emma could only sit in silence. They seemed within half a sentence of Harriet and Emma resolved to change the subject immediately but Mr. Knightley began speaking again.

“You will not ask me the point of my curiosity? You are wise but I cannot be.”

“If you think you will regret it, then do not speak it!”

He was clearly displeased by her suggestion but seemed just as determined to obey her and stood to leave.

Standing, she pleaded, “Oh! Please, stay. I will call for some tea.”

“No, you wish me to go.”

“Forgive me, just now. I am your friend and will listen to anything you are willing to say.”

“My friend! Yes, we are friends but tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?”

He stopped speaking but the expression of his eyes overpowered her.

“My dearest Emma, for dearest you will always be, my dearest, most beloved Emma–tell me at once. Say ‘No,’ if it is to be said.

Still, she could not speak.

“You are silent! Absolutely silent!”

Emma was incapable of speech but could only think that she might wake from this happiest dream.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it. But now I will say the truth of my own manner, I have been an indifferent lover but now I only wish to hear your voice.”

She felt for Harriet, she had led her friend astray, but she could not be so generous as to give Mr. Knightley up. She hardly knew what to say.

Putting her hand in his she replied. “I am your own Emma and no one else’s, if you are giving me your hand.”

Raising her hand to his lips he replied, “I am. If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more.”

Emma smiled broadly and Knightley laughed. “Now that I think on it, Frank Churchill is a rather good sort of fellow, for I owe his slip of the tongue for giving me hope and until he came into the area I did not realize I loved you.”

Emma laughed in return. “You mean you owe Jane Fairfax for that is why Frank came in the area and if she had not fainted in the dance he would not have said a thing!”

“Well, then I certainly wish her well! She is the reason for our good understanding!”