Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 830
Ten days later, Mr. Weston shows up to take Emma to Randalls where Mrs. Weston informs her that Jane Fairfax and Frank are engaged and have been since the fall. Mrs. Weston is disappointed, but Emma is livid. She questions how he could have shown so much attention to her when he loved Jane instead. She says his actions go beyond impropriety and that he has sunk very low in her regard.
Mrs. Weston tells Emma that Mr. Churchill gave his ready consent to the match. When Emma inquires if the Campbells or the Dixons knew anything, Mrs. Weston assures her the engagement had been a closely-guarded secret between Frank and Jane. Emma grows angry again as she thinks of them in league with each other and how they conspired to dupe everyone.
Mrs. Weston tries to smooth things over by announcing that it is now time to wish them well. Emma takes offense. She accuses Jane of thinking only of herself. She berates them both for defying society and writing their own rules. Emma reasserts control of herself when Mr. Weston comes in, confirms the engagement, and swears Emma to secrecy. She chides him for bringing her all the way to Randalls before telling her the news, but congratulates him on his new daughter-in-law.
Alone later, Emma wails for poor Harriet. Emma blames herself for being duped a second time by a man she had designated for Harriet. She understands now why Jane refused to have anything to do with her. She thinks Jane felt jealous and saw Emma as a rival for Frank’s affection. Emma fears the news of Frank’s engagement may wound Harriet even more than Mr. Elton’s did. She plans to break her vow of secrecy and reveal the engagement to Harriet. Coming into the room, Harriet belts out the secret of Jane and Frank. She says Mr. Weston told her and cautioned her not to tell anyone. Harriet is curiously unmoved by the news. Emma assures her that she knew nothing of their engagement, and if she had, would have revealed it to Harriet to keep her from getting involved with Frank.
Harriet questions why Emma thinks Frank is the object of her affection. Their misunderstanding is unraveled. When Emma referred to someone of superior rank and made reference to matches of greater disparity having taken place, she meant Frank Churchill. Harriet meant Mr. Knightley, whom she considers infinitely superior.
When Emma asks Harriet if she has reason to believe her affection is returned, Harriet says she does, and Emma is thrown into a whirl of feelings. The next moment, she sees clearly that she wants Mr. Knightley to marry her. In a flash, her own conduct becomes clear. She has behaved intolerably. She fights to gain control of herself so she can find out exactly what has gone on between him and Harriet.
Harriet tells her that she has become aware of a change in Mr. Knightley’s attitude toward her lately. He has sought out her company and drawn her into private conversation. Emma feels displaced. When Harriet leaves, she cries out that she wishes she had never seen Harriet Smith.
Emma feels wretched. She reviews the deceptions, the blunders, and the pain she has caused everyone, especially herself. She never loved Frank Churchill. She had persuaded herself to act one way, the whole time feeling another. And worst of all, she introduced Harriet to Mr. Knightley. If Harriet now had ideas of marrying above her station, it is because Emma gave them to her.
In these chapters, Emma moves from self-deception to self-awareness. When she first learns of Frank and Jane’s secret engagement, she is offended that the two of them would flaunt social convention. But that is exactly what Emma has been doing all along. As long as Emma is manipulating Harriet, she justifies herself. When she realizes that Frank and Jane have been manipulating her, she flies into a rage.
Emma continues her charade of self-justification when Harriet arrives. She leaks the secret of the engagement to Harriet to protect her from further involvement with Frank. Then, her plan misfires. She discovers Harriet isn’t in love with Frank at all, but with Mr. Knightley. That news shatters Emma’s hold on Harriet and releases Emma’s pent up feelings for Mr. Knightley. Emma is in love with Mr. Knightley, and she didn’t know it until Harriet came forth with her own feelings about him. Though her past behavior depresses her, her current heart propels her to act. She can think only of Mr. Knightley and how to have him.
Whereas Emma had been Harriet’s mentor, she is now Harriet’s rival. The simple, submissive girl has blossomed into a woman who is ready to make a match on her own. Emma has been scheming to push Harriet into an alliance. She must now make plans to push her away from one.