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Mr. Knightley’s declaration of his love to Emma contrasts starkly with Mr. Elton’s elaborate compliments and with Frank’s light, playful flirtations. Knightley says, “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. You hear nothing but truth from me.… Yes, you see, you understand my feelings.” One of the novel’s messages is that such sincere, direct expressions are more valuable than ornate speech. The narrator’s indirect description of Emma’s response to Knightley—“She spoke then, on being so entreated. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course”—embodies the idea that often the truest feelings are best expressed through simple speech. Just as Knightley declares that the absence of speech can express love as strongly as its presence, perhaps we are to imagine that Emma’s emotion is proportional to the degree to which we actually hear her speak. Social codes often thwart perfect sincerity in speech, but sincere feelings are a remedy to this problem.
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