Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 594
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 seems to have forgotten all about Harriet’s illness. The party drives to Randalls amidst Mr. Elton’s talking animatedly to Emma while John Knightley complains about the weather, the Westons’ company, and the inconvenience of leaving Hartfield.
During supper, Mr. Elton seats himself next to Emma and solicits her attention throughout the meal. When the party moves to the drawing room, the subject of Frank Churchill is brought up by Mr. Weston who thinks he will come to visit soon. Mrs. Weston thinks he will not because his stepmother won’t permit it. Emma cannot understand how a young man could be controlled by his family. The tea conversation becomes unbearable for Emma when Mr. Elton seats himself between her and Isabella and praises her selfless behavior. John Knightley announces snow, though it turns out to be only a few flakes, and Mr. Woodhouse urges everyone home.
Emma finds herself alone in a carriage with Mr. Elton who takes the opportunity to profess his love for Emma. She is shocked and offended, certain that he must be in love with Harriet. He is just as certain his affection has been clearly directed toward Emma and that Harriet means nothing to him. He departs in stunned silence.
Emma is lying to herself about Harriet and Mr. Elton, and she is paying a price for it. She has angered her friend Mr. Knightley, turned Harriet into her puppet and forced Mr. Elton into physical aggression to plead his case. Emma attempts to cover the truth with smiles and good manners, but her deceit is making her cross and robbing her of the true affections of her friends and family.
There is comic relief in the ongoing suspicion Mr. Woodhouse has toward the outside world. Nothing in London or beyond holds anything for him. No ideas matter except those of his immediate circle. Though the rank of gentleman affords him the opportunity to broaden himself, he never ventures far beyond his own shrubbery