Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The forces that shape the dramatic action in Emma are described by Austen in the book’s opening paragraphs; they are the qualities possessed by Emma Woodhouse herself. In this novel, Austen turns her satiric talents to a portrait of a wealthy young woman with “a disposition to think a little too well of herself,” who has yet to acquire the sensitivity to realize that the emotional lives of her companions are not toys for her own amusement.
With an adoring, widowed father and an indulgent companion, Emma has reached early adulthood secure in the belief that she knows what is best for those around her. When her companion marries, Emma replaces her with Harriet Smith, an impressionable young girl from a local school, and quickly decides that the girl’s fiancé, a farmer, is beneath her. Persuading Harriet to break off the engagement, despite the misgivings of Emma’s admiring friend, Mr. Knightley, Emma sets in motion a chain of romantic misunderstandings that will come close to ruining Harriet’s chances for happiness. After playing with the romantic futures of several of her acquaintances, Emma at last recognizes the dangers of her interference and realizes that her own chance for happiness has existed within her grasp for some time in the person of Mr. Knightley.
Emma is one of Austen’s best novels, with some critics holding it in higher regard than Pride and Prejudice. In Emma Woodhouse, Austen has...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Emma Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Emma Woodhouse, a rich, clever, and beautiful young woman, has just seen her friend, companion, and former governess, Miss Taylor, married to a neighboring widower, Mr. Weston. While the match is suitable in every way, Emma cannot help sighing over her loss, for now only she and her father are left at Hartfield. Mr. Woodhouse is too old and too fond of worrying about trivialities to be a sufficient companion for his daughter.
The Woodhouses are the great family in the village of Highbury. In their small circle of friends, there are enough middle-age ladies to make up card tables for Mr. Woodhouse, but there is no young lady to be a friend and confidant to Emma. Lonely for her beloved Miss Taylor, now Mrs. Weston, Emma takes under her wing Harriet Smith, the parlor boarder at a nearby boarding school. Although not in the least brilliant, Harriet is a pretty seventeen-year-old girl with pleasing, unassuming manners and a gratifying habit of looking up to Emma as a paragon.
Harriet is the natural daughter of some unknown person; Emma, believing that the girl might be of noble family, persuades her that the society in which she has moved is not good enough for her. She encourages Harriet to give up her acquaintance with the Martin family, respectable farmers of some substance though of no fashion. Instead of thinking of Robert Martin as a husband for Harriet, Emma influences the girl to aspire to the Reverend Philip Elton, the young rector....
(The entire section is 1368 words.)
Emma begins at Hartfield estate on the day Emma Wood¬house’s former governess, Miss Taylor, marries Mr. Weston. Emma claims she arranged the match and plans to continue her matchmaking because it amuses her. She befriends Harriet Smith in order to match her with Mr. Elton, though her father and Mr. Knightley advise against it.
To Emma’s dismay, Harriet is on the brink of a love affair with Robert Martin—an affair Emma plans to curtail by forcing Harriet and Elton together at various social functions. Her plan backfires when Mr. Elton, alone in a carriage with Emma, grabs her hand and attempts to make violent love to her.
Mr. Knightley chides Emma for her meddling and pronounces Mr. Martin perfectly suited for Harriet. Even as Emma resists his argument and plots the next step to get Harriet together with Mr. Elton, a note arrives that he has gone to Bath for a visit. Mrs. Bates introduces Emma to Jane Fairfax, whom Emma finds an accomplished young woman, but feels jealous because that is how she wants to be thought of. Her schemes are further derailed when she hears that Mr. Elton is to be married to Miss Hawkins of Bath. Though the news pains her, Emma resolves to take an even closer interest in Harriet, whom she sees as the rejected victim.
At this time, Frank Churchill arrives to visit his new stepmother, Mrs. Weston, and he and Emma strike up a friendship based on gossip and mutual praise for the village of...
(The entire section is 574 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
New Characters: Emma Woodhouse: the protagonist of the novel
Mr. Woodhouse: Emma’s father
Mr. Knightley: neighbor and welcome visitor
Emma Woodhouse and her father dine at their estate of Hartfield without Emma’s former governess, Miss Taylor, whom this very day married Mr. Weston and moved half a mile down the road. Mr. Knightley pays a call. While Mr. Woodhouse grieves over the marriage that he views as an unfortunate change, Emma points out its positive benefits and claims to have arranged it. Mr. Knightley doubts her claim, suggesting the two parties were drawn to each other naturally. Emma remains convinced of her match-making and tells them she is going to do the same for Mr. Elton.
This chapter introduces life on a country estate. Though Emma was schooled by a governess, we see that she was also spoiled and indulged by her, as well as her father. Mr. Knightley brings a fresh attitude toward her because he points out her faults.
(The entire section is 165 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Weston: husband of Emma’s former governess
Mrs. Weston: Emma’s former governess
Mr. and Mrs. Churchill: brother and wife of Mr. Weston’s first wife
Frank Churchill: son of Mr. Weston
Mr. Perry: local apothecary, also serving as Mr. Woodhouse’s doctor
We are given the backgrounds of five new characters. Mr. Weston, formerly Captain Weston of the militia, first married into the prominent Churchill family and was scorned by his wife’s brother and the controlling Mrs. Churchill, who thought him beneath their social class and disinherited their sister. The Westons had a son, Frank, and he was brought up by the Churchills after Mrs. Weston died and given their name. Though he had never set foot in Highbury, the townspeople regard him as a celebrity. Currently, the Woodhouses are dealing with the fact that their beloved Miss Taylor is married and gone. Emma cherishes her with fond memories. Mr. Woodhouse remains convinced the marriage is a pity. He had even tried to prevent the guests from eating the wedding cake, warning that rich food is unhealthy.
From events in the backgrounds of significant characters, the importance of class distinction becomes clear. Though Mr. Weston is a good-natured, loyal man who served his country well enough to rise to the rank of captain, he was outclassed by the Churchills. Being from a...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Chapters 3-5 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Elton: vicar of Highbury and a bachelor
Mrs. and Miss Bates: widow and daughter of the former vicar
Mrs. Goddard: headmistress of a boarding school
Harriet Smith: student of Mrs. Goddard
Mr. Robert Martin: tenant farmer of Abbey Mill
The Woodhouse’s inner circle of friends includes the Westons, Mr. Knightley, and Mr. Elton. The outer circle includes Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard. Miss Bates is a spinster occupied with the care of her elderly mother. Mrs. Goddard is a motherly woman who, like the others, would gladly leave the comfort of her home to spend an evening at the Woodhouse’s gossiping, playing cards, and eating supper.
A letter arrives from Mrs. Goddard asking Emma if she could bring a student, Harriet Smith, with her this evening. Emma is pleased to include her because Harriet, though beneath her socially, is blessed with beauty and manners and has always acted grateful to be admitted to Hartfield. Upon her visit, Emma begins hatching a scheme to influence Harriet and advance her socially. Emma displays her best manners toward her during the meal. Mr. Woodhouse is torn between his love of hospitality and his belief that supper is unhealthy. Harriet goes away delighted with having been treated so warmly by Emma.
Emma loses no time encouraging Harriet to be her close companion. Certain that she can be of use to...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
Chapters 6-8 Summary and Analysis
Emma encourages Harriet’s admiration of Mr. Elton. When he compliments Emma on Harriet’s improved manners, Emma points to Harriet’s natural charms, claiming that she had only to draw them out. She proposes Harriet sit for a portrait that she will paint and shows her portfolio, which Mr. Elton and Harriet view with unreserved praise.
While Harriet poses for her portrait, Mr. Elton hovers over Emma admiring every stroke. It is decided that in order to have it framed, Mr. Elton will take it to London—a commission he accepts with gusto. He is so pleased to be doing this chore that Emma questions his eagerness. Is it for Harriet or her?
The next day, Harriet tells Emma that Mr. Martin has sent her a proposal of marriage in a letter. Emma is impressed by its form and content, but puts it down firmly. Confused, Harriet asks her friend what to do. Emma tells her that if she has any doubts, she ought to refuse. Certain that Emma would disapprove of a match with Mr. Martin, Harriet reluctantly concedes.
Though Emma says she cannot advise Harriet on how to write a letter of refusal, she dictates nearly every sentence. Once the letter is sent, Harriet feels so low that Emma attempts to boost her spirits by suggesting that Mr. Elton is no doubt showing her portrait all around London.
Mr. Knightley pays a call during Harriet’s absence to announce that Mr. Martin has confided that he will propose to...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Chapters 9-11 Summary and Analysis
Isabella Knightley: Emma’s sister
John Knightley: Emma’s brother-in-law
Emma begins composing riddles while Harriet writes them down. Mr. Elton is asked to come up with one. When he does, it is credited to a “friend” and written to Emma, but she interprets it as being meant for Harriet and congratulates her on her new alliance. Harriet cannot believe a man as popular and well-placed as Mr. Elton wants to marry her, but she takes Emma’s word for it.
Mr. Woodhouse comes in and prattles on about the impending visit from his daughter Isabella and her family just before Mr. Elton pays a call. Before he leaves, Emma picks up the riddle intended for her eyes only and gives it back to him, saying that she had copied it into Harriet’s book because it is too good not to share. Mr. Elton reads it and declares with some hesitation that this is the proudest moment of his life.
Paying a charity call on a poor family, Emma and Harriet run into Mr. Elton the next day. Emma tries to leave them alone to chat, but can’t resist listening in. She is sure Mr. Elton must be making a love declaration to Harriet, but hears only the menu from yesterday’s dinner party. Again she tries to give them time to themselves, but overhears nothing that sounds intimate. She concludes Elton is being cautious.
Emma decides that she will leave Harriet and Mr. Elton to work out their...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
Chapters 12-15 Summary and Analysis
When Mr. Knightley comes to dine with the family, Emma decides it is time to make up with him. She declares they were both right, and they pass a tolerable evening together. Mr. Woodhouse complains of how he will miss Isabella and of London not being a healthy place for her or anyone.
While Mr. Knightley discusses putting in a new path on his farm with his brother, Mr. Woodhouse chides Isabella for taking the children to the wrong part of the seaside. He tells her she should have consulted Mr. Perry, his doctor, because he knows the right part of the seaside where the air is healthier. John Knightley shouts his displeasure with Mr. Perry’s ideas, and the only thing that can console Mr. Woodhouse is his daughters’ soothing words.
There is to be a Christmas Eve supper at Randalls with Harriet and Mr. Elton invited to join the Knightleys and the Woodhouses. When Harriet comes down with a cold, Emma goes to look in on her and runs into Mr. Elton. She assumes he is coming to inquire about Harriet’s health, but he seems more interested in Emma’s. She persuades him to stay home to take care of his own health, which he reluctantly agrees to. When her brother-in-law rides up in his carriage and offers Mr. Elton a ride to the party, he accepts and hurries off.
Riding home, John Knightley tells Emma he suspects Mr. Elton is in love with her. She stridently denies it. When they pick up Mr. Elton that evening, he...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
Chapters 16-18 Summary and Analysis
Emma is miserable and confused. She cannot comprehend how she could have misread Mr. Elton so completely. Failing to make sense of it, she accuses Mr. Elton of seeking her affections to better establish his own position in the world. She goes to bed convinced she blundered everything.
When she wakes up Christmas morning, she is relieved to see the ground covered with snow. Confinement at home means that she won’t have to go out and face anyone, make excuses for Mr. Elton’s absence, or explain anything to Harriet.
On the day that John Knightley returns to London, a letter arrives from Mr. Elton announcing that he is off to Bath for a three-week visit. Emma turns her attention to Harriet and tells her that she misjudged Mr. Elton completely. Harriet responds by weeping, but doesn’t blame anyone since she is certain she didn’t deserve Mr. Elton in the first place.
Emma is touched by her grief and vows to drive Mr. Elton from her thoughts. She wants Harriet to be composed when she next sees him. She takes her to Hartfield in an attempt to soothe her. A letter arrives telling Mrs. Weston that Frank Churchill’s impending visit will have to be postponed. He implies his presence is needed at home. Mrs. Weston feels saddened at this excuse. Emma tells Mr. Knightley that she thinks the Churchills are keeping him home, and Mr. Knightley explodes into anger.
An argument ensues. Emma calls Frank...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Chapters 19-21 Summary and Analysis
Jane Fairfax: niece of Mrs. Bates; cousin of Miss Bates
In an attempt to divert Harriet’s attention away from Mr. Elton, Emma calls on Mrs. and Miss Bates. They have just received a letter from their niece, Jane Fairfax. Emma attempts to coax Miss Bates into talking about the letter so she won’t have to actually hear it read. She learns that Jane Fairfax is coming to the house for a visit instead of going to Ireland with her adoptive parents.
Emma is curious about why Jane should come to Highbury instead of Ireland, but Miss Bates offers only bland assurance that Jane wants to visit. By the time Miss Bates gets around to actually reading the letter, Emma escapes out the door.
Jane Fairfax’s background is given. She was orphaned at a young age and adopted by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell, who had a natural daughter about Jane’s age who would later marry Mr. Dixon. The Campbells determined that Jane would be brought up to be a governess and to that end she was well-educated and cared for.
Emma doesn’t like Jane Fairfax and resents having to be nice to her for three months. But once she sees her, she feels guilty for disliking her. She resolves to be charitable toward her since she had an unfortunate past and little future. She forgives her for seducing her brother-in-law, Mr. Dixon. But before the evening is over, her old attitudes return. She doesn’t forgive Jane...
(The entire section is 558 words.)
Chapters 22-24 Summary and Analysis
Augusta Hawkins: Mr. Elton’s fiancée
Frank Churchill: Mr. Weston’s son and Mrs. Weston’s stepson
Miss Augusta Hawkins, the intended bride of Mr. Elton, is the focus of Highbury gossip. Townspeople learn that she has money and beauty and feel her well-suited to be the wife of their vicar. Emma cannot hear about either of them without feeling a pain. She considers their coupling a lesson in humility for her and turns her attentions to Harriet.
Though Emma has talked Harriet into being in love, she is having difficulty talking her out of it. The chance encounter with the Martin family and Mr. Elton’s engagement have put Harriet into a flurry of confusion. Matters are worsened when Elizabeth Martin shows up at Mrs. Goddard’s boarding school and drops off a note in Harriet’s absence. Emma decides that Harriet will return the note with a visit, but knows it must be handled delicately.
Though the visit begins coolly, the Martin sisters and Harriet manage to renew the memories of her visit last autumn. Emma puts a halt to the festivities when she pulls up in her carriage to fetch Harriet. On the way home, Emma is so distraught over Harriet’s silence that she stops at Randalls for consolation. Mr. and Mrs. Weston are not at home, but Emma passes their carriage, and they tell her that Frank Churchill will be arriving tomorrow.
Emma is gleefully...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary and Analysis
Mr. and Mrs. Cole: tradespeople of Highbury
Frank travels sixteen miles to get his hair cut, leaving himself open to criticism for his extravagance. Emma tries to keep his vanity in proportion, thinking it a small barrier to the love affair she is sure will blossom between them.
The Coles plan a party that will include the society of Highbury into which they are quickly rising. Emma is determined to decline their invitation, but when it comes it is so considerate and respectful that she asks the Westons for advice, hoping they will give her encouragement. When they do, she hastily accepts and makes arrangements for her father to be taken care of when she is out. Though there is no hurrying Mr. Woodhouse into a decision, he agrees, provided Emma leaves the party early. When Mrs. Weston reminds him that an early departure might offend the Coles, Mr. Woodhouse allows her a late stay. She agrees, provided he promises not to sit up and wait for her.
Emma is received most cordially at the Cole’s party. Her uppercrust society friends are all in attendance, though Mrs. and Miss Bates and Jane aren’t expected until after dinner. She is pleased to find Frank seated next to her and suspects he had something to do with the arrangement. The topic of Jane Fairfax is overheard, and Emma finds herself listening intently. The gossip swirls around a small piano that just arrived at the Bates’...
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Chapters 27-29 Summary and Analysis
The next day, Emma has pangs of regret that she gossiped about Jane Fairfax, but her deeper regret is that she doesn’t play or sing as well as Jane does. Determined to improve, she sits down and practices until Harriet comes in full of flattery for Emma’s superior playing. When Harriet goes off to Ford’s shop, Emma goes with her, thinking to steer her away from any possible run in with Robert Martin.
At Ford’s shop, Harriet dawdles over her purchases while Emma looks down the road to see Mrs. Weston and Frank coming toward them. Mrs. Weston announces that they are on their way to the Bates’ house to hear the new pianoforte. When Frank sees Emma, he makes it plain that he prefers to stay with her, and a compromise is struck. Mrs. Weston promises him that if he will come with her to the Bates’ house, they can go to Emma’s afterwards.
As the shopkeeper is wrapping Harriet’s package, Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston enter and invite Emma and Harriet to come hear the pianoforte themselves. Miss Bates begins a lengthy monologue on her mother’s broken spectacles, and the wholesomeness of baked apples versus apple dumplings. Her non-stop talk sets Emma’s teeth on edge.
Once outside, Miss Bates chatters on. Mr. Knightley had called on them previously and seen Jane eating an apple. He gathered she was fond of them and when their housekeeper told him they were nearly out, he sent over a bushel of his best...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
Chapters 30-31 Summary and Analysis
Preparations for the ball dictate that it be held later than Frank Churchill has been permitted to stay. When he requests an extended leave in order to attend, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill grudgingly give their consent. Thinking the matter settled, Emma is again thwarted by Mr. Knightley, who remains unmoved by the prospect of a ball despite her attempts to excite him about it. Two days later, a letter arrives from the Churchills urging their son to return home as his mother is unwell.
When he comes to say good-bye to Emma, she cannot help but feel touched by his display of dejection and loss at having to leave Highbury. She learns that he has stopped at the Bates’ house to say good-bye before coming to Hartfield. Emma inquires about his visit there and is met with a response so ambiguous that she interprets it to mean Frank is in love with her. After Frank is ushered out by his father, Emma is sorry to see him go. She fears she might miss him too much.
Mr. Knightley expresses genuine regret that Emma won’t be able to dance now that there will be no ball, but Jane Fairfax surprises her by being flat-out unmoved by the cancellation. Emma wants to blame her behavior on ill health, but really cannot forgive her for not seeming to care.
After Frank leaves, Emma spends her days busying herself with the usual tasks while fantasizing about Frank Churchill. Her fantasies always end in their parting as friends, so she...
(The entire section is 759 words.)
Chapters 32-33 Summary and Analysis
Emma pays a courtesy call to the new Mrs. Elton and brings Harriet along. So distracted is Emma by her memories of the failed match between Harriet and Elton, she doesn’t form any immediate impression of his new bride. Eager to know Emma’s opinion of her, Harriet compliments her beauty only to be corrected by Emma’s scathing assessment. She proclaims that Mrs. Elton married to increase her status and fortune and that she threw herself at Mr. Elton because he was likely to be her only prospect.
Harriet wishes them happiness and tells Emma that she is over Mr. Elton now that he is happily married. Alone later, Emma sums up the new Mrs. Elton. She finds her vain, self-satisfied, pert, and limited in her education and outlook. When the Eltons visit Hartfield, her opinions are proven. Mrs. Elton launches into a string of comparisons between Hartfield and her home of Maple Grove.
Mrs. Elton probes Emma for the type of social life she might expect in Highbury, only to have Emma tell her they are not social people and prefer staying home. Mrs. Elton sings the praises of staying home, but suggests seclusion be balanced with travel. She suggests Emma try the waters of Bath and offers to introduce her to a friend who could network her into the best society there.
Emma is appalled to think of being indebted to Mrs. Elton for anything. She tries to catch Mrs. Elton in a trap by inquiring about her musical talent. Mrs....
(The entire section is 869 words.)
Chapters 34-36 Summary and Analysis
Emma plans a dinner party for the Eltons. She does not wish to be thought of as overlooking them and thinks people will talk if she doesn’t invite them. Just when everything is set, John Knightley appears with his two sons for a visit with their grandpa, Mr. Woodhouse. Their arrival throws Emma’s seating arrangement into disarray. She must plan to sit across from her brother-in-law whom she knows to be a reluctant conversationalist.
John Knightley surprises her by engaging in a lively conversation with Jane Fairfax. He tells her, and everyone at the table, that he saw her that morning, in the rain, on her way to the post office. Mr. Woodhouse chimes in that rain is unhealthy, and Mrs. Elton adds that she risked a cold going out. Mrs. Elton offers the use of her servant to fetch Jane’s mail, but Jane declines.
Skillfully, Jane deflects the conversation to handwriting and the guests give their impressions of what constitutes beautiful penmanship. Though momentarily uncertain of how to introduce Frank Churchill’s name, Emma blurts out that he has a fine gentleman’s hand. Mr. Knightley finds it too small and lacking strength. Emma promises to produce a specimen that will convince him otherwise. When the guests head to dinner, Emma notices that Jane appears to be glowing with health. She assumes the letter that came is from Ireland and her secret lover, Mr. Dixon. The two go into the dining room arm-in-arm. Once...
(The entire section is 735 words.)
Chapters 37-39 Summary and Analysis
When Frank Churchill returns, he pays a brief call on Emma and hurries away to Highbury to make other visits. From the beginning of their visit Emma senses that he is less in love with her than he had been during his former visit. Though he is as outwardly friendly and lively as ever regarding small matters, she detects an indifference toward her. Frank does not visit her again for the next ten days.
Emma learns that Frank’s aunt, Mrs. Churchill, cannot endure London and is moving the family to Richmond, nine miles from Highbury. Frank writes that he is happy with the move, as it situates him even closer to Highbury and more frequent visits. Plans are resumed to hold the ball at the Crown Inn.
On the day of the ball, Mr. Weston urges Emma to come early. She agrees and brings Harriet along. Guests arrive and introductions are made. Emma is eager to know what Frank thinks of Mrs. Elton, whom he has never met. The Eltons have agreed to bring Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax with them, but arrive alone. Another carriage is sent and when it returns, Frank rushes out with an umbrella he says is for Miss Bates.
Mrs. Elton solicits Mr. Weston for compliments. But all chatter is drowned out when the talkative Miss Bates enters the room. Mrs. Elton is smugly certain the ball is being held in her honor and claims Frank Churchill and she will lead off the dancing. Mrs. Weston persuades her husband to dance with Mrs. Elton...
(The entire section is 829 words.)
Chapters 40-42 Summary and Analysis
Harriet shows Emma the contents of a small parcel. It contains a small ceramic box with a piece of court plaister inside. Not long ago, Harriet had wrapped Mr. Elton’s cut finger with it. Along with the plaister is the head of a pencil. Harriet recounts that Mr. Elton once used the pencil to write in his notebook. Harriet resolves to throw both keepsakes into the fireplace. She does so proclaiming that this act spells the end of her feelings for Mr. Elton. Then Harriet says she will never marry.
Emma suggests Harriet’s vow means that she must be currently attracted to someone of superior rank. Harriet replies that this someone is so superior she can only content herself to admire him from a distance. Emma explains that it’s only natural to feel that way since this someone did her a service. Harriet replies that it was more of an obligation. Emma cautions Harriet not to get carried away before she is certain her feelings are returned. Then, she tells Harriet that matches of greater disparity have been made before and compliments her choice.
As June settles in, Mr. Knightley grows puzzled. Mr. and Mrs. Weston make much of Frank’s intentions toward Emma. He has seen how attentive he is to her, yet he suspects Frank of double dealing. He has picked up signals that Frank also admires Jane Fairfax. He had noticed him giving her looks at a dinner party at the Elton’s house when Emma was not present.
(The entire section is 1186 words.)
Chapters 43-45 Summary and Analysis
Although the party at Box Hill appears pleasant, Emma feels the gaiety is forced. People are separating into rigid groups, and Emma is growing restless. Frank acts listless and has nothing lively to say until he sits next to her. He initiates a flirtation which the others observe in silence.
To rouse them, Frank suggests a game. He announces that Emma has directed them to speak out what they are thinking. Though Miss Bates seizes the opportunity, Mrs. Elton acts offended that Emma should be in charge of the game. Mr. Knightley questions Emma directly, and Frank changes the game. Now the guests are to say one very clever thing, two moderately clever ones,
or three dull ones. Miss Bates offers that it will be easy for her to say three dull things. Emma reminds her that she will be limited to three. Stung by the insult, Miss Bates wonders aloud what she could have done to incur Emma’s wrath. Mr. Weston covers her social gaffe by suggesting they play conundrums. Mrs. Elton protests that she is not a clever woman, but a lively one, and ill-suited for this sort of game. Mr. Elton excuses himself as well and goes off with his wife to soothe her ruffled feelings.
Frank offers snide comments about the pair and suggests their marriage was made too hastily for Mr. Elton to have time to have formed any judgment about his bride, and that now, he may be regretting it. Jane Fairfax argues that only a weak man would let such a...
(The entire section is 869 words.)
Chapters 46-47 Summary and Analysis
Ten days later, Mr. Weston shows up to take Emma to Randalls where Mrs. Weston informs her that Jane Fairfax and Frank are engaged and have been since the fall. Mrs. Weston is disappointed, but Emma is livid. She questions how he could have shown so much attention to her when he loved Jane instead. She says his actions go beyond impropriety and that he has sunk very low in her regard.
Mrs. Weston tells Emma that Mr. Churchill gave his ready consent to the match. When Emma inquires if the Campbells or the Dixons knew anything, Mrs. Weston assures her the engagement had been a closely-guarded secret between Frank and Jane. Emma grows angry again as she thinks of them in league with each other and how they conspired to dupe everyone.
Mrs. Weston tries to smooth things over by announcing that it is now time to wish them well. Emma takes offense. She accuses Jane of thinking only of herself. She berates them both for defying society and writing their own rules. Emma reasserts control of herself when Mr. Weston comes in, confirms the engagement, and swears Emma to secrecy. She chides him for bringing her all the way to Randalls before telling her the news, but congratulates him on his new daughter-in-law.
Alone later, Emma wails for poor Harriet. Emma blames herself for being duped a second time by a man she had designated for Harriet. She understands now why Jane refused to have anything to do with her. She thinks...
(The entire section is 830 words.)
Chapters 48-49 Summary and Analysis
Now that she is threatened with losing him, Emma is struck by how much her happiness has always depended on Mr. Knightley’s approval. She reviews their family ties, their visits, and their quarrels. Hope for any future with him seems doubtful because Harriet is in love with him, and Emma can’t be sure to whom Mr. Knightley will give his affection. She reasons that Harriet has proof that Mr. Knightley favors her, but Emma doesn’t.
Emma hopes Harriet is overrating Mr. Knightley’s interest in her. She reflects that since she has promised her father never to marry, the only situation that will bring her peace is if she were to discover that Mr. Knightley wants to remain single. Harriet’s presence is now too painful for Emma to endure, and she writes to her asking her not to come to Hartfield. Harriet agrees.
Mrs. Weston arrives and tells Emma she has just paid a courtesy call on her daughter-in-law elect, Jane Fairfax, and tells her about the visit. After offering her profoundest regret for hiding her engagement, Jane made amends to her future mother-in-law. Mrs. Weston then invited Jane for a walk to speak more privately, and she discovered the depths of Jane’s misery at living with a lie.
Emma sympathizes and fears that she must have contributed to Jane’s misery. Mrs. Weston explains that the charade often made Jane anxious and irritable and that she had not given Emma an opportunity to be kind to...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
Chapters 50-52 Summary and Analysis
During the night, Emma suffers pangs of guilt about her father and Harriet. She resolves never to leave her father. As long as he is alive, she can only be engaged to Mr. Knightley. She ponders how to spare Harriet from pain. In an attempt to stave off the day when she must tell Harriet the truth, Emma plots to get an invitation for Harriet from her sister to come and visit them in London.
A letter arrives with a note of introduction from Mrs. Weston followed by a lengthy letter from Frank Churchill. It is a letter of explanation and apology addressed to his stepmother. Frank asks her forgiveness for not making his obligatory visit to her sooner. He confesses to coming to Highbury for the sole purpose of being near his fiancée, and regrets using Emma as his ostensible love object. He says he was certain she wasn’t interested in an attachment, so the arrangement suited him perfectly. He professes brotherly affection for Emma and asks her forgiveness.
He tells Mrs. Weston that he sent the pianoforte, and that Jane would not have permitted it if she knew beforehand, so he sent it unannounced. He explains his lateness at the strawberry party at Donwell Abbey. He had a quarrel with Jane whom he met on the road to Highbury. She hadn’t liked his flirting with Emma. When Jane learned that Frank had gone back to Enscombe after the Box Hill party, she wrote to Mrs. Elton’s friend and accepted the position as governess....
(The entire section is 1086 words.)
Chapters 53-55 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Weston gives birth to a girl. Emma rejoices that she will have a girl child to educate. Mr. Knightley posits that she will have a girl child to spoil, just as she did Emma, but allows that he has lost all his bitterness toward spoiled children since finding happiness with Emma.
The two review highlights of the years leading up to their romance. Mr. Knightley reveals his long-standing affection for her, despite her impertinence. Emma owns that she had been a willful girl with a saucy manner. Emma silently reflects that she and Harriet do not correspond much. She feels the pain of concealing the true state of their relationship to Mr. Knightley.
A letter from Isabella gives a good account of Harriet’s visit there. Emma learns it will be extended another two weeks. Mr. Knightley hands Emma a letter from John Knightley, which makes no mention of Harriet and considers his brother’s engagement good fortune-mostly on Emma’s side. Emma thinks her father will find the advantage on Mr. Knightley’s side.
Emma prepares her father for the news of her engagement. She tells him the two plan to marry and emphasizes the advantages. Mr. Woodhouse is shocked. He reminds Emma of her vow never to marry, but Emma persuades him with smiles and assurance that nothing would change greatly in their lives if she marries Mr. Knightley. Emma cannot reconcile Mr. Woodhouse to the marriage, but manages to plant the idea. Emma...
(The entire section is 1165 words.)