Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810
New Characters: Mr. and Mrs. Cole: tradespeople of Highbury
Summary 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...
(The entire section contains 810 words.)
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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’ house. Mrs. Cole suspects Col. and Mrs. Campbell sent it, though no mention of the gift was made in a subsequent letter.
Emma is convinced that Mr. Dixon sent the instrument as a secret love offering and concocts a story to match her theory. Frank appears to go along with the story. Emma surmises that Mr. Dixon and Mrs. Dixon sent the pianoforte to keep Jane happy in Highbury and away from Ireland and any possibility of coming between them. She offers shreds of evidence to prove her theory. It is known that Mr. Dixon saved Jane’s life during a shipboard party, which Emma finds intriguing. Frank counters that he was there during the incident and noticed nothing unusual that would link them romantically.
When Emma further engages Frank about his own life at Enscombe, she learns that he has a way of persuading Mrs. Churchill that his father lacks, and that his social life there is tepid. She concludes that he could be just as happy in Highbury. Later in the drawing room, Emma spies Frank staring at Jane Fairfax from across the room, though he claims not to be looking at her, but her hairdo.
Mrs. Weston is brimming with excitement. She tells Emma that her matchmaking has rubbed off, and she is determined to push the coupling of Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley. Emma is horrified at the prospect. If Mr. Knightley married Jane, Emma’s nephew would be cut off from his rightful inheritance of Donwell Abbey. Further, Mr. Knightley could only marry someone of Jane’s class out of kindness. Mrs. Weston and Emma argue the matter until Emma is pressed to play and sing. She does so tolerably, though when Jane Fairfax sits down, Emma is forced to feel the inferiority of her own talent. Frank joins Jane in song until her voice grows hoarse.
Singing gives way to dancing, and Frank asks Emma to join him in a waltz. Emma accepts, though she keeps a wary eye on Mr. Knightley and Jane. Nothing transpires between them that suggests they might be attracted, and Emma returns her awareness to Frank, concluding that they make an attractive couple.
Emma’s continual manipulations have got her in over her head. She risks losing Frank’s respect by linking Jane romantically with a married man without any proof. By persisting with this gossip, she risks losing what little friendship she and Jane Fairfax have. She embroiders on the fiction that Frank cares for her when he is only patronizing her gossip. Even worse, she condemns Mrs. Weston for matchmaking when she has spent the last six weeks doing just that. When the subject of Miss Bates is brought up, she mimics her to Mrs. Weston, showing just how skilled she is at character assassination.
But her worst offense is saved for Mr. Knightley. She is blind to his strength and gallantry. She insists his offering Jane his coach was done out of sympathy for her delicate state of health and for no other reason. She is appalled at the idea he could feel affection for a woman so beneath his class. She tells Mrs. Weston she forbids such a match when, in truth, she has no control over Mr. Knightley or Jane. She cannot stop ordering people’s lives and fails to take stock of her own.