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 Churchill an amiable young man who must manage his family with finesse in order to be allowed a visit. Mr. Knightley calls him a weakling who is shirking his duty. Emma reflects that Mr. Knightley must dislike Frank merely because he has a different disposition.
Emma is far more gifted at manipulating her own thoughts than the actions of others. She has so wounded Mr. Elton’s pride that he has left town, but she tells herself his absence will work to her advantage. She now has time to mend Harriet and plot new strategies.
The subject of Frank Churchill provides Mr. Knightley and Emma with a new source of conflict. Emma sticks to her belief that this young man is the pride of Highbury. She envisions his arrival as a social sensation. Mr. Knightley argues back that he is an idle playboy who will someday show up to flatter and fool them all. His words have a prophetic ring.