Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558
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 Fairfax a thing.
Mr. Knightley accuses Emma of pushing Jane for information. Emma says she only questioned her politely. Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax arrive with the news that Mr. Elton is going to be married. Though the news startles Emma, Jane is silent. Unlike Emma, she doesn’t form opinions about people she hasn’t met. Miss Bates and Jane leave, followed by Harriet’s arrival. Emma is certain she looks flushed because she has heard the news of Mr. Elton’s marriage. Instead, she tells Emma that she ran into the Martin family in a Highbury shop, that though they approached her with hesitation, Mr. Martin spoke kindly to her. Emma attempts to lessen Harriet’s interest in this encounter by blurting out news of Mr. Elton’s coming marriage. Still Harriet won’t stop talking of the Martin family. Emma finally gets Harriet to admit that she is curious about whom he has chosen.
Emma has little time for anybody she can’t manipulate. Though the Bates women are portrayed as kindly and charitable, she gives them short shrift. She has no influence over Jane Fairfax who, in looks, manner and talent, is her equal or better. She contents herself with imagining that Jane has seduced her own brother-in-law and is coming to Highbury to avoid facing her family. Jane’s quiet reserve sharply contrasts Emma’s spirited talk.
Even Harriet is getting harder to manipulate. Her chance encounter with the Martin family, particularly with Mr. Martin, excites her so much that Emma has to work to divert her. Not long ago, Emma molded her every thought. But Emma cannot let go. Far from dropping Harriet, Emma feels relieved that her powerful circle of influence will insulate Harriet from any further encounters with the dreaded Robert Martin and his family.