Chapters 30-31 Summary and Analysis
Preparations for the ball dictate that it be held later than Frank Churchill has been permitted to stay. When he requests an extended leave in order to attend, Mr. and Mrs. Churchill grudgingly give their consent. Thinking the matter settled, Emma is again thwarted by Mr. Knightley, who remains unmoved by the prospect of a ball despite her attempts to excite him about it. Two days later, a letter arrives from the Churchills urging their son to return home as his mother is unwell.
When he comes to say good-bye to Emma, she cannot help but feel touched by his display of dejection and loss at having to leave Highbury. She learns that he has stopped at the Bates’ house to say good-bye before coming to Hartfield. Emma inquires about his visit there and is met with a response so ambiguous that she interprets it to mean Frank is in love with her. After Frank is ushered out by his father, Emma is sorry to see him go. She fears she might miss him too much.
Mr. Knightley expresses genuine regret that Emma won’t be able to dance now that there will be no ball, but Jane Fairfax surprises her by being flat-out unmoved by the cancellation. Emma wants to blame her behavior on ill health, but really cannot forgive her for not seeming to care.
After Frank leaves, Emma spends her days busying herself with the usual tasks while fantasizing about Frank Churchill. Her fantasies always end in their parting as friends, so she thinks she could not be too much in love with him. A letter arrives from Frank, and Mrs. Weston presents it to her. The letter is proper, respectful, and includes acknowledgment to Emma. A note at the bottom asks Emma to forgive him for not having time to say good-bye to Harriet. Emma finds the glow she first got from reading the letter does not linger. She is curiously struck by Frank’s mention of Harriet and fleetingly wonders whether or not the two might be a match.
The society of Highbury turns from talk of Frank to Mr. Elton’s new bride, who will soon be in town. Emma is sickened by all the talk. It means she will again have to deal with Harriet’s sorrow at being rejected. She decides on a new approach...
(The entire section is 759 words.)