Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869
Emma pays a courtesy call to the new Mrs. Elton and brings Harriet along. So distracted is Emma by her memories of the failed match between Harriet and Elton, she doesn’t form any immediate impression of his new bride. Eager to know Emma’s opinion of her, Harriet compliments her beauty only to be corrected by Emma’s scathing assessment. She proclaims that Mrs. Elton married to increase her status and fortune and that she threw herself at Mr. Elton because he was likely to be her only prospect.
Harriet wishes them happiness and tells Emma that she is over Mr. Elton now that he is happily married. Alone later, Emma sums up the new Mrs. Elton. She finds her vain, self-satisfied, pert, and limited in her education and outlook. When the Eltons visit Hartfield, her opinions are proven. Mrs. Elton launches into a string of comparisons between Hartfield and her home of Maple Grove.
Mrs. Elton probes Emma for the type of social life she might expect in Highbury, only to have Emma tell her they are not social people and prefer staying home. Mrs. Elton sings the praises of staying home, but suggests seclusion be balanced with travel. She suggests Emma try the waters of Bath and offers to introduce her to a friend who could network her into the best society there.
Emma is appalled to think of being indebted to Mrs. Elton for anything. She tries to catch Mrs. Elton in a trap by inquiring about her musical talent. Mrs. Elton insists she has none, but pushes Emma to form a musical group so the two of them might play together. Mrs. Elton laments that she has so much to do with a new household, she is in danger of letting her music lapse. Emma urges her to keep up, but finds her just as determined to make excuses.
Mrs. Elton changes the subject. She has met Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley and says she was impressed by their manners. The easy familiarity with which Mrs. Elton speaks of Emma’s two closest friends rubs Emma the wrong way. When Mrs. Elton leaves, she shouts out a litany of her faults. She concludes that Harriet is far superior to Mrs. Elton and wonders what Frank would think of her. She chides herself for thinking of Frank.
When she sees her father, he is full of self-reproach for not having paid a courtesy call to the bride, but admits he doesn’t like the road leading to the vicarage. Emma excuses him for not liking matrimony. He bemoans his lack of good manners. When her circle of friends in Highbury, led by Miss Bates, approve of Mrs. Elton, Emma keeps her opinions to herself. Once she spots Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Elton sets her sights on improving the poor girl’s lot. She sees Jane as neglected and going to waste in Highbury, a low-brow town that cannot possibly appreciate her musical gifts. She suggests a partnership between her and Emma that would cause Jane to be noticed and developed. She hints that she might be able to find Jane a position with her in-laws.
Emma notices a growing attachment of the Eltons to Jane Fairfax. She ponders that this is curious since Jane’s pride and taste are not really suitable for the company she must be keeping at the vicarage. When Jane stays on in Highbury, past the three months as was planned, Emma is curious. Emma learns of a letter from Mrs. Dixon sent to Jane imploring her to come to Ireland, but she declines. Emma can’t understand why Jane would prefer the Eltons’ company to the Dixons’ and her supposed lover, Mr. Dixon.
The subject of Jane Fairfax brings Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley into conversation with Emma. Emma teases Mr. Knightley with being in love with Jane and planning to marry her. He tells her that though he admires Jane, she lacks the open quality that he wants in a wife. Later, when Emma tells Mrs. Weston she was wrong about Mr. Knightley’s attachment to Jane, Mrs. Weston tells her that he protests too much. She predicts their match might come off yet.
Though Frank Churchill had come to Highbury to praise Emma, Mrs. Elton seems to be there to correct her. All her references to her former life seem calculated to set her above Emma socially and culturally. All her suggestions of where Emma should go and what she should do seem geared to underscore Emma’s isolation and inferiority. Mrs. Elton is an outsider who doesn’t play by Emma’s rules. Her presence points up a character flaw in Emma’s makeup.
Though Emma can mold the lives of the little people around her, like Harriet and her father and to some extent, Mrs. Weston, she doesn’t attempt to influence those outside her sphere of influence. She has no hold on Frank, Jane Fairfax, or Mrs. Elton. Rather than strike up a friendship with the new vicar’s wife to better inform her opinions, she finds reasons to despise her. Emma wants complete control of people, and she wants it on her terms.