Last Updated May 30, 2023.
The Woodhouses have two circles of friends. The inner circle consists of Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightley, and Mr. Elton. The outer circle includes Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard. Miss Bates is an unmarried woman who is busy caring for her elderly mother. Mrs. Goddard is a motherly woman who, like the others, enjoys socializing with the Woodhouses by chatting, playing cards, and having supper.
Mrs. Goddard sends a letter to Emma with a request to invite Harriet Smith, a student, to join her this evening. Despite the fact that Harriet is considered socially inferior to Emma, Emma is pleased to have her over as Harriet possesses both beauty and good manners and has always been grateful to be welcomed at Hartfield. During Harriet’s visit, Emma begins to devise a plan to influence her and enhance her social status. Emma demonstrates her best etiquette toward Harriet during their meal together. Mr. Woodhouse is torn between his fondness for hospitality and his conviction that supper is detrimental to health. Harriet leaves feeling delighted to have been treated so warmly by Emma.
Without delay, Emma urges Harriet to become her intimate friend. Believing that she can assist Harriet, she prompts her to discuss her recent trip to Abbey Mill, where her school friend resides. However, Emma becomes disheartened when she discovers from the conversation that Mr. Martin, the brother of Harriet’s friend, is a single man who has affections for Harriet. He went as far as three miles to fetch walnuts for her because she enjoys them.
Emma cautions Harriet against involving herself with the Martin family as it could hinder her chances of entering high society. The following day, they encounter Mr. Martin on the road. Emma acknowledges that he behaves respectfully and appears to be a sensible man, but she informs Harriet that he lacks refinement and is unattractive. She draws a comparison between Mr. Martin and Mr. Elton, whom she regards as an ideal gentleman. Emma believes that although Mr. Elton is not to her liking, he would be a perfect match for Harriet. She thinks that if Harriet was impressed by Mr. Martin’s effort to get her walnuts, she would be even more impressed by the slightest attention from Mr. Elton.
During a visit to Mrs. Weston’s home, Mr. Knightley argues with her regarding Emma. He strongly believes that Emma’s friendship with Harriet is a negative influence. Mrs. Weston objects to his view, arguing that Emma’s desire to improve Harriet will motivate her to better herself. Mr. Knightley counters that Emma has always done as she pleases and is spoiled. Mrs. Weston defends Emma’s character, stating that since she left their home, Emma has followed her every request. However, Mr. Knightley remains convinced that Harriet’s admiration for Emma will not inspire her to change and that once she becomes accustomed to the comfort of Hartfield, she will feel out of place in her own social class.
Mrs. Weston attempts to divert Mr. Knightley’s focus to Emma’s physical attractiveness. He concedes that Emma is indeed beautiful and not vain about her appearance, although she is vain in other respects. He states that it would be beneficial for Emma to fall in love with someone who does not reciprocate her feelings.