Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 986
Now that she is threatened with losing him, Emma is struck by how much her happiness has always depended on Mr. Knightley’s approval. She reviews their family ties, their visits, and their quarrels. Hope for any future with him seems doubtful because Harriet is in love with him, and Emma can’t be sure to whom Mr. Knightley will give his affection. She reasons that Harriet has proof that Mr. Knightley favors her, but Emma doesn’t.
Emma hopes Harriet is overrating Mr. Knightley’s interest in her. She reflects that since she has promised her father never to marry, the only situation that will bring her peace is if she were to discover that Mr. Knightley wants to remain single. Harriet’s presence is now too painful for Emma to endure, and she writes to her asking her not to come to Hartfield. Harriet agrees.
Mrs. Weston arrives and tells Emma she has just paid a courtesy call on her daughter-in-law elect, Jane Fairfax, and tells her about the visit. After offering her profoundest regret for hiding her engagement, Jane made amends to her future mother-in-law. Mrs. Weston then invited Jane for a walk to speak more privately, and she discovered the depths of Jane’s misery at living with a lie.
Emma sympathizes and fears that she must have contributed to Jane’s misery. Mrs. Weston explains that the charade often made Jane anxious and irritable and that she had not given Emma an opportunity to be kind to her. Emma wishes the happy couple well and concludes that though Frank has more money, Jane has more merit as a person.
Mrs. Weston defends Frank, but Emma’s thoughts are of Mr. Knightley in London. Mrs. Weston leaves Emma more convinced of her past injustice to Jane Fairfax. She regrets not getting close to her and becoming, if not an intimate, at least a friend who would not have accused Jane of an improper attachment to her brother-in-law.
The evening ends with Emma attending her father. She has a sense of foreboding that Highbury would be deserted in the coming months, and she would be without any lively company or gay visits. She foresees neither Frank nor Jane nor Harriet nor Mr. Knightley nor Mr. and Mrs. Weston, who will be taken up with the care of their expected baby, having any interest in her. She resolves to conduct herself better in hope of regaining some composure.
Mr. Knightley returns from London, and Emma is puzzled as to how to interpret his behavior. She fears he will seek her approval to marry Harriet and is on her guard. Mr. Knightley tells her he knows about the secret engagement and takes her arm. He soothes her with comforting words, thinking she is smarting from the news of Frank’s engagement to someone else, but she tells him he is mistaken. She admits she behaved poorly, but has no other reason to feel unhappy about the match.
Emma admits first to having her vanity flattered by Frank’s attentions and later to feeling his attentions were a trick. She says that though he imposed on her, he didn’t injure her. She recognized that she was a cover, not the object of his true affections. Mr. Knightley compliments Frank on finding a young lady as perfect as Jane Fairfax and wishes him well. Then he says he is envious of Frank.
Emma works up the courage to ask Mr. Knightley why he is envious. She fears he will ask her if she thinks he should marry Harriet. Instead, he professes his love for Emma and asks that she respond. Where Emma has feared that he loved Harriet, she now rejoices that she was wrong. She has received Mr. Knightley’s declaration of love without revealing Harriet’s love for him. She is more convinced than ever that it was an unequal match to begin with but knows she led Harriet into it. She admits to loving him and asks him to explain what possessed him to open up about his feelings now.
Mr. Knightley tells her that he had no intention of bringing them up, but stumbled into the revelation when he attempted to soothe Emma over Frank’s engagement. He relates that his jealousy of Frank probably caused him to leave for London, but when he got there Emma’s sister, Isabella, and the domestic bliss he found at Brunswick Square reminded him of her. When he received the letter announcing Jane and Frank’s engagement, he returned immediately and his true feelings came out naturally. The two enter Hartfield arm in arm.
In these chapters, Emma regrets her past manipulations and lets in the truth. Emma had elevated Harriet to the heights of Mr. Knightley. Now she cannot stop loving him herself. Neither can she step forward to claim him because she’s promised her father never to marry. Uncertain of his true feelings, she must settle for a tenuous hold on the status quo.
Emma can’t think back on her history with Mr. Knightley without seeing how undeserving she has been of his care and protection. He had loved and watched over her since she was a girl, and she had responded with negligence and insolence. Her penance will be seeing him marry another woman—a woman she manipulated into their circle.
Just as the dreary morning breaks into a clear afternoon, Mr. Knightley, the symbol of clarity, pierces the shrubbery and strides in. He counsels Emma to clear her head of Frank Churchill, and, finding she has done the job on her own, he reveals his love for her.
In a mere half hour, truth scatters the clouds of ignorance, jealousy, and distrust. Emma reveals her love in return and begins to let in some happiness, which up to now she has been too busy scheming to accept.