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The Novel

Back in 1997, my friend Susan and I came up with this list of favorite quotes from the novel. We felt that they best exemplified the tone, themes, and characters of the novel. While there are a number of witty turns of phrase in Emma, logic and space prevents us from including them all! ;D

Emma Quotations Compiled by Kali & Susan Christie

Emma to Mr. Knightley regarding her success in matching the Westons:

"A lucky guess is never merely luck. There is always some talent in it."

Emma to Harriet:

"In one respect, perhaps, Mr. Elton's manners are superior to Mr. Knightley's or Mr. Weston's. They have more gentleness. They might be more safely held up as a pattern. There is an openness, a quickness, almost a bluntness in Mr. Weston, which every body likes in him, because there is so much good-humour with it--but that would not do to be copied. Neither would Mr. Knightley's downright, decided, commanding sort of manner, though it suits him very well; his figure, and look, and situation in life seem to allow it; but if any young man were to set about copying him, he would not be sufferable."

Mr. Knightley on Emma:

"But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding." "Emma is spoiled by being the cleverest of her family. At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen." "I only name possibilities. I do not pretend to Emma's genius for foretelling and guessing."

On Harriet:

"Her ignorance is hourly flattery."

To Mrs. Weston, in a sly barb towards Emma's willfullness:

"It is very good advice, and it shall have a better fate than your advice has often found; for it shall be attended to.

Mrs. Weston, in Emma's defense, to Mr. Knightley:

"With all dear Emma's little faults, she is an excellent creature...where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times."

Emma's drawings - to Harriet and Mr. Elton:

There was merit in every drawing, in the least finished, perhaps the most. Her style was spirited; but had there been much less, or had there been ten times more, the delight and admiration of her two companions would have been the same. They were both in ecstasies. A likeness pleases everybody; and Miss Woodhouse's performances must be capital.

Emma to Mr. Knightley:

"...It is not every body who will bestow praise where they may. You do not often overpower me with it."

Emma defends her position regarding Harriet's refusal of Robert Martin:

"...She is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many." "I can imagine, that before she had seen any body superior, she might tolerate him."

Mr. Knightley, to Emma, in reaction to her role in Harriet's refusal of Mr. Martin:

"Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do." "Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief." This was too true for contradiction. (Stated several times throughout the book about opinions given.)

Emma, on Harriet and Mr. Elton:

There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.

Emma contemplates her disagreement with Mr. Knightley over Harriet's refusal of Mr. Martin:

Concession must be out of the question; but it was time to appear to forget that they had ever quarrelled.

John Knightley, the cold voice of reason, to Emma on Mr. Elton:

"I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton. It is downright labour to him where ladies are concerned. With men he can be rational and unaffected, but when he has ladies to please, every feature works."

Back at Hartfield, after the Weston's Chrismas Party:

Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill-humour, was now all kindness and attention; and so particularly solicitous for the comfort of her father, as to seem -if not quite ready to join him in a basin of gruel - perfectly sensible of its being exceedingly wholesome.

Emma, on the Knightleys' insights into Mr. Elton's character:

There was no denying that those brothers had penetration.

Emma tries to reform:

It was rather too late in the day to set about being simple-minded and ignorant; but she left her [Harriet] with every previous resolution confirmed of beign humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of her life.

Emma and Mr. Knightley jab at eachother over Frank Churchill's management of the obnoxious aunt and duty to his father:

Emma: "You are very fond of bending little minds; but where little minds belong to rich people in authority, I think they have a knack of swelling out, till they are quite as unmanageable as great ones."

Emma: "He may have as strong a sense of what would be right, as you can have, without being so equal, under particular circumstances, to act up to it."

Mr. Knightley: "Then it would not be so strong a sense. If it failed to produce equal exertion, it could not be an equal conviction."

Emma: "...Though it may cut him off from some advantages, it will secure him many others."

Mr. Knightley: "Yes; all the advantages of sitting still when he ought to move, and of leading a life of mere idle pleasure, and fancying himself extremely expert in finding excuses for it.

...No, Emma; your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very 'amiable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people - nothing really amiable about him."

Emma, when accused of resenting Jane Fairfax because she wished she were more like her:

...Though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her.

Mr. Elton's engagement:

"Emma," said Mr. knightley presently, "I have a piece of news for you. You like news - and I heard an articlae on may way hither that I think will interest you."

"News! Oh yes, I always like news. What is it? why do you smile so? where did you hear it? at Randalls?" He had only time to say -

"No, not at Randalls! I have not been near Randalls," when the door was thrown open, and Miss Bates and Miss Fairfax walked into the room. Full of thanks, and full of news, Miss Bates knew not which to give quickest. Mr. Knightley soon saw that he had lost his moment, and that not another syllable of communication could rest with him.

"Oh, my dear sir, how are you this morning? My dear Miss Woodhouse - I come quite overpowered. Such a beautiful hind-quarter of pork! You are too bountiful! Have you heard the news? Mr. Elton is going to be married."

Emma had not had time even to think of Mr. Elton, and she was so completely surprised, that she could not avoid a little start, and a little blush, at the sound.

"There is my news - I thought it would interest you," said Mr. Knightley, with a smile, which implied a conviction of some part of what had passed between them. Human nature is so well disposed to those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of.

Mr. Woodhouse on social events:

"The sooner every party breaks up the better."

Mrs. Weston, on why Mr. Knightley is Jane's secret admirer:

"I know no man more likely than Mr. Knightley to do the sort of thing - to do any thing really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent. He is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one - and for an act of unostentatious kindness, there is nobody whom I would fix on more than on Mr. Knightley."

Emma, in quick reply:

"...Every feeling revolts."

Mrs. Weston, to Emma on her Miss Bates impersonation:

"You divert me against my conscience."

Mr. Knightley, on Jane's pianoforte:

"Surprizes are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable."

Once Miss Bates has blurted out her multiple thanks and greetings to Mrs. Ford:

Emma wondered on what, of all the medley, she would fix.

The anatomy of a mania (grin):

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; - but when a beginning is made - when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt - it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.

Mr. Knightley on balls and dancing:

"Pleasure in seeing dancing! - not I, indeed - I never look at it - I do not know who does. - Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different."

Emma ruminates her first conversation with Mrs. Elton:

Actually to discover that Mr. Knightley is a gentleman! I doubt whether he will return the compliment, and discover her to be a lady.

Emma's party at Hartfield, and John's sour reaction to Mr. Weston's busybody nature:

The whole party were but just reassembled in the drawing-room when Mr. Weston made his appearance among them. He had returned to a late dinner, and walked to Hartfield as soon as it was over. He had been too much expected by the best judges, for surprize - but there was great joy. Mr. Woodhouse was almost as glad to see him now, as he would have been sorry to see him before. John Knightley only was in mute astonishment. - That a man who might have spent his evening quietly at home after a day of business in London, should set off again, and walk half a mile to another man's house, for the sake of being in mixed company till bed-time, of finishing his day in the efforts of civility and the noise of numbers, was a circumstance to strike him deeply. A man who had been in motion since eight o'clock in the morning, and might now have been still, who had been long talking, and might have been silent, who had been in more than one crowd, and might have been alone! - Such a man, to quit the tranquillity and independence of his own fireside, and on the evening of a cold sleety April day rush out again into the world! - Could he by a touch of his finger have instantly taken back his wife, there would have been a motive; but his coming would probably prolong rather than break up the party. John Knightley looked at him with amazement, then shrugged his shoulders, and said, "I could not have believed it even of him."

At the party, discussion of Emma's nephews coming to visit:

John Knightley: "It strikes me as a possible thing, Emma, that Henry and John may be sometimes in the way. And if they are, I only beg you to send them home." "No," cried

Mr. Knightley, "that need not be the consequence. Let them be sent to Donwell. I shall certainly be at leisure." "Upon my word," exclaimed

Emma, "you amuse me! I should like to know how many of all my numerous engagements take place without your being of the party; and why I am to be supposed in danger of wanting leisure to attend to the little boys. These amazing engagements of mine - what have they been? Dining once with the Coles - and having a ball talked of, which never took place. I can understand you - (nodding at Mr. John Knightley) - your good fortune in meeting with so many of your friends at once here, delights you too much to pass unnoticed. But you, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) who know how very, very seldom I am ever two hours from Hartfield, why you should foresee such a series of dissipation for me, I cannot imagine. And as to my dear little boys, I must say, that if Aunt Emma has not time for them, I do not think they would fare much better with Uncle Knightley, who is absent from home about five hours where she is absent one-- and who, when he is at home, is either reading to himself or settling his accounts." Mr. Knightley seemed to be trying not to smile; and succeeded without difficulty, upon Mrs. Elton's beginning to talk to him.

Emma at the ball, on Mr. Knightley:

Emma was smiling with enjoyment, delighted to see the respectable length of the set as it was forming, and to feel that she had so many hours of unusual festivity before her. - 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 were made up,--so young as he looked! - He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps anywhere, 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, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him. - He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble. - Whenever she caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. She wished he could love a ballroom better, and could like Frank Churchill better. - He seemed often observing her. She must not flatter herself that he thought of her dancing, but if he were criticising her behaviour, she did not feel afraid.

At the ball, Mr. Knightley saves Harriet from the mortification of Mr. Elton's rejection:

Mr. Knightley leading Harriet to the set! - Never had she been more surprized, seldom more delighted, than at that instant. She was all pleasure and gratitude, both for Harriet and herself, and longed to be thanking him; and though too distant for speech, her countenance said much, as soon as she could catch his eye again.

Even better, the man can dance after all:

His dancing proved to be just what she had believed it, extremely good; and Harriet would have seemed almost too lucky, if it had not been for the cruel state of things before, and for the very complete enjoyment and very high sense of the distinction which her happy features announced.

Emma:

"Can you trust me with such flatterers? - Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?"

Mr. Knightley's response:

"Not your vain spirit, but your serious spirit.--If one leads you wrong, I am sure the other tells you of it."

Emma, the morning after the ball:

Harriet rational, Frank Churchill not too much in love, and Mr. Knightley not wanting to quarrel with her, how very happy a summer must be before her! Emma denied none of it aloud, and agreed to none of it in private.

Mrs. Elton and the strawberry-picking outing:

Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere.

Mrs. Elton needles Mr. Knightley for not allowing her to take over as hostess of the outing, and he replies:

"No," - he calmly replied, - "there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and that one is - "

" - Mrs. Weston, I suppose," interrupted Mrs. Elton, rather mortified.

"No--Mrs. Knightley;--and till she is in being, I will manage such matters myself."

After the scolding at Box Hill:

Time did not compose her. As she reflected more, she seemed but to feel it more.

Emma returns from the Bates' to find Mr. Knightley about to leave for London:

...She looked at Mr. Knightley. - It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from her's, and all that had passed of good in her feelings were at once caught and honoured. - He looked at her with a glow of regard. She was warmly gratified... He always moved with the alertness of a mind which could neither be undecided nor dilatory, but now he seemed more sudden than usual in his disappearance.

Emma and her father:

In the hope of diverting her father's thoughts from the disagreeableness of Mr. Knightley's going to London; and going so suddenly; and going on horseback, which she knew would be all very bad... Mr. Knightley's going to London had been an unexpected blow.

Emma's epiphany regarding her love for Mr. Knightley:

A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched - she admitted - she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her in the same few minutes. Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection. - Satisfied that it was so, and feeling it her due, she had enjoyed it without reflection; and only in the dread of being supplanted, found how inexpressibly important it had been. - Long, very long, she felt she had been first; for, having no female connexions of his own, there had been only Isabella whose claims could be compared with hers, and she had always known exactly how far he loved and esteemed Isabella. She had herself been first with him for many years past. She had not deserved it; she had often been negligent or perverse, slighting his advice, or even wilfully opposing him, insensible of half his merits, and quarrelling with him because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimate of her own - but still, from family attachment and habit, and thorough excellence of mind, he had loved her, and watched over her from a girl, with an endeavour to improve her, and an anxiety for her doing right, which no other creature had at all shared. In spite of all her faults, she knew she was dear to him; might she not say, very dear? - When the suggestions of hope, however, which must follow here, presented themselves, she could not presume to indulge them. Harriet Smith might think herself not unworthy of being peculiarly, exclusively, passionately loved by Mr. Knightley. She could not. She could not flatter herself with any idea of blindness in his attachment to her. She had received a very recent proof of its impartiality. - How shocked had he been by her behaviour to Miss Bates! How directly, how strongly had he expressed himself to her on the subject! - Not too strongly for the offence - but far, far too strongly to issue from any feeling softer than upright justice and clear-sighted goodwill. - She had no hope, nothing to deserve the name of hope, that he could have that sort of affection for herself which was now in question; but there was a hope (at times a slight one, at times much stronger,) that Harriet might have deceived herself, and be overrating his regard for her. - Wish it she must, for his sake - be the consequence nothing to herself, but his remaining single all his life. Could she be secure of that, indeed, of his never marrying at all, she believed she should be perfectly satisfied. - Let him but continue the same Mr. Knightley to her and her father, the same Mr. Knightley to all the world; let Donwell and Hartfield lose none of their precious intercourse of friendship and confidence, and her peace would be fully secured. - Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him. Nothing should separate her from her father. She would not marry, even if she were asked by Mr. Knightley. All that were good would be withdrawn; and if to these losses, the loss of Donwell were to be added, what would remain of cheerful or of rational society within their reach? Mr. Knightley to be no longer coming there for his evening comfort!--No longer walking in at all hours, as if ever willing to change his own home for their's!--How was it to be endured?^E what could be increasing Emma's wretchedness but the reflection never far distant from her mind, that it had been all her own work? The only source whence any thing like consolation or composure could be drawn, was in the resolution of her own better conduct, and the hope that, however inferior in spirit and gaiety might be the following and every future winter of her life to the past, it would yet find her more rational, more acquainted with herself, and leave her less to regret when it were gone.

The proposal scene:

Before the proposal - facing the truth, and letting Knightley speak: She might assist his resolution, or reconcile him to it; she might give just praise to Harriet, or, by representing to him his own independence, relieve him from that state of indecision, which must be more intolerable than any alternative to such a mind as his.

Emma tries to think charitably towards Harriet: ...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. Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.

Mr. Knightley wonders if he will ever succeed with Emma: ...In the momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment...

And he does...: Within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name.

Mr. Knightley's love for Emma: 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. ...With the gladness which must be felt, nay, which he did not scruple to feel, having never believed Frank Churchill to be at all deserving Emma, was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for her, that he could stay no longer. He had ridden home through the rain; and had walked up directly after dinner, to see how this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults, bore the discovery.

Relief!: She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow. What totally different feelings did Emma take back into the house from what she had brought out! - she had then been only daring to hope for a little respite of suffering; - she was now in an exquisite flutter of happiness, and such happiness moreover as she believed must still be greater when the flutter should have passed away.

Emma's father is about to receive a rude awakening: Poor Mr. Woodhouse little suspected what was plotting against him in the breast of that man whom he was so cordially welcoming, and so anxiously hoping might not have taken cold from his ride. - Could he have seen the heart, he would have cared very little for the lungs. "One man's style must not be the rule of another's. "

Mr. Knightley on Frank, and the lessons to be learned about deception:

"Mystery; Finesse--how they pervert the understanding! My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?" "That was the act of a very, very young man, one too young to consider whether the inconvenience of it might not very much exceed the pleasure." [the pianoforte] "He is a very liberal thanker, with his thousands and tens of thousands." "I am very much of his opinion in thinking him likely to be happier than he deserves."

Harriet's future:

In time, of course, Mr. Knightley would be forgotten, that is, supplanted; but this could not be expected to happen very early. Mr. Knightley himself would be doing nothing to assist the cure;-- not like Mr. Elton. Mr. Knightley, always so kind, so feeling, so truly considerate for every body, would never deserve to be less worshipped than now; and it really was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than three men in one year.

Mrs. Elton flatters herself, fancying her husband a leader on par with Mr. Knightley:

"...One is apt to speak only of those who lead.--I fancy Mr. E. and Knightley have every thing their own way."

And flatters herself again:

"I say, Jane, what a perfect character you and I should make, if we could be shaken together. My liveliness and your solidity would produce perfection. " Mr. Woodhouse learns to deal with Emma's marriage: Mr. Woodhouse could not be soon reconciled; but the worst was overcome, the idea was given; time and continual repetition must do the rest. - To Emma's entreaties and assurances succeeded Mr. Knightley's, whose fond praise of her gave the subject even a kind of welcome; and he was soon used to be talked to by each, on every fair occasion. - They had all the assistance which Isabella could give, by letters of the strongest approbation; and Mrs. Weston was ready, on the first meeting, to consider the subject in the most serviceable light - first, as a settled, and, secondly, as a good one - well aware of the nearly equal importance of the two recommendations to Mr. Woodhouse's mind. - It was agreed upon, as what was to be; and every body by whom he was used to be guided assuring him that it would be for his happiness; and having some feelings himself which almost admitted it, he began to think that some time or other - in another year or two, perhaps - it might not be so very bad if the marriage did take place.

On the news of the engagement:

The news was universally a surprize wherever it spread; and Mr. Weston had his five minutes share of it; but five minutes were enough to familiarise the idea to his quickness of mind. - He saw the advantages of the match, and rejoiced in them with all the constancy of his wife; but the wonder of it was very soon nothing; and by the end of an hour he was not far from believing that he had always foreseen it. "It is to be a secret, I conclude," said he. "These matters are always a secret, till it is found out that every body knows them."

Mr. Knighltey, on Harriet's engagement:

"Your friend Harriet will make a much longer history when you see her. - She will give you all the minute particulars, which only woman's language can make interesting. - In our communications we deal only in the great. " "You ought to know your friend best," replied

Mr. Knightley:

"but I should say she was a good-tempered, soft-hearted girl, not likely to be very, very determined against any young man who told her he loved her."

Emma to Mr. Knightley, in jest:

"Oh! I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other."

Emma is very happy with the way things have turned out:

Her mind was in a state of flutter and wonder, which made it impossible for her to be collected. She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational...The joy, the gratitude, the exquisite delight of her sensations may be imagined. The sole grievance and alloy thus removed in the prospect of Harriet's welfare, she was really in danger of becoming too happy for security.--What had she to wish for? Nothing, but to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgment had been ever so superior to her own. Nothing, but that the lessons of her past folly might teach her humility and circumspection in future...High in the rank of her most serious and heartfelt felicities, was the reflection that all necessity of concealment from Mr. Knightley would soon be over. The disguise, equivocation, mystery, so hateful to her to practise, might soon be over. She could now look forward to giving him that full and perfect confidence which her disposition was most ready to welcome as a duty.

Emma, after seeing Jane and Frank together at Randalls:

...Pleased as she had been to see Frank Churchill, and really regarding him as she did with friendship, she had never been more sensible of Mr. Knightley's high superiority of character. The happiness of this most happy day, received its completion, in the animated contemplation of his worth which this comparison produced.