by: Jane Austen

Chapters 31–33

The conversation Emma and Mrs. Weston have with Knightley presents another example of a dialogue with a subtext that can be understood only upon a second reading of the novel. Knightley is obviously uncomfortable when Emma suggests that he has feelings for Jane, and his uneasy reaction could be interpreted a number of ways. Knightley may flush simply because he resents personal questions, or because, as Mrs. Weston suspects, he is fighting or concealing his feelings for Jane. We suspect that he flushes because he is displeased that Emma so blithely imagines him with someone else, and he seems relieved when she assures him that this has not been the case. Mrs. Weston’s willingness to read between the lines and have faith in Knightley’s refutation at the end of the chapter reinforces the novel’s message that seeking subtexts can alert one to a hidden truth but can just as easily lead one into error.

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