Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869
Although the party at Box Hill appears pleasant, Emma feels the gaiety is forced. People are separating into rigid groups, and Emma is growing restless. Frank acts listless and has nothing lively to say until he sits next to her. He initiates a flirtation which the others observe in silence.
To rouse them, Frank suggests a game. He announces that Emma has directed them to speak out what they are thinking. Though Miss Bates seizes the opportunity, Mrs. Elton acts offended that Emma should be in charge of the game. Mr. Knightley questions Emma directly, and Frank changes the game. Now the guests are to say one very clever thing, two moderately clever ones,
or three dull ones. Miss Bates offers that it will be easy for her to say three dull things. Emma reminds her that she will be limited to three. Stung by the insult, Miss Bates wonders aloud what she could have done to incur Emma’s wrath. Mr. Weston covers her social gaffe by suggesting they play conundrums. Mrs. Elton protests that she is not a clever woman, but a lively one, and ill-suited for this sort of game. Mr. Elton excuses himself as well and goes off with his wife to soothe her ruffled feelings.
Frank offers snide comments about the pair and suggests their marriage was made too hastily for Mr. Elton to have time to have formed any judgment about his bride, and that now, he may be regretting it. Jane Fairfax argues that only a weak man would let such a thing happen. Frank turns his attention to Emma, imploring her to choose a wife for him.
With the guests gone, Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for her unkind remarks to Miss Bates. He accuses her of picking on someone who is poor, helpless and too humble to fight back. Mr. Knightley trusts that Emma will make it up to her. He leads Emma to her carriage and rides quickly away on horseback. Emma is mortified. She knows that Mr. Knightley has spoken the truth. She cries for having insulted Miss Bates and exposing her bad manners to Mr. Knightley.
Emma spends the evening with her father and calls on Miss Bates the next day, resolved to make up for her bad behavior. Once there, she is received by Miss Bates, but not by Jane, whom her aunt says is indisposed. She tells Emma that Jane will be leaving them soon and that she has been writing letters all morning to the point of exhaustion. Emma learns that Jane has accepted a governess position for a family that Mrs. Elton has connected her with. She leaves feeling guilty at having concocted cruel stories about Jane.
At home, she finds Mr. Knightley and Harriet sitting with her father. Mr. Knightley is in a rush to leave for London. When he learns that she has paid a call on the Bates’ women, he begins to kiss her hand, but lets it go and departs swiftly. Emma hopes his unfinished gesture means he has recaptured a good opinion of her.
The next day brings news that Mrs. Churchill has died. Though those around her speak respectfully at her passing, Emma wonders if her death won’t free Frank. She imagines that he will now have no impediment to an alliance with Harriet Smith. Emma feels sorry for Jane Fairfax, who seems to have far fewer prospects now than Harriet. She writes her a note inviting her to come visit, but is refused. Mr. Perry prescribes fresh air to help Jane’s physical malaise, and Emma invites her again to come. Again, she is refused.
Later, Emma learns that Jane was spotted in a meadow near Highbury. She convinces herself that Jane doesn’t want a thing from her and berates herself for not having been a better friend. She consoles herself by thinking that if Mr. Knightley could see her, he would approve her attempts at friendliness.
The veneer of gentility surrounding Emma Woodhouse is beginning to crack. Though Frank’s flirtations are as on display as ever, she suspects they are for show. She hopes to regain control by deflecting his feelings for her to Harriet. But she loses control when she puts down Miss Bates in public. Her actions inflame Mr. Knightley, who chastises her enough to make her feel shame and grief for the first time she can remember. She lets all her composure go in a torrent of tears.
When she goes to the Bates’ house to apologize, she lets herself be derailed by her curiosity in the future of Jane Fairfax and forgets why she came. Failing to make an apology, she has to content herself with good intentions.
Self-doubts follow her into her own home. She questions her father’s fondness for her, knowing she has done nothing to earn it. When he gives her credit for looking after the Bates’ women, she can only blush in shame. She hopes to recoup some self-respect by offering Jane Fairfax help time and again. Each time she is refused, Emma takes it personally. She wonders at this young woman who has no real status, yet wields so much power.