Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490
Emma encourages Harriet’s admiration of Mr. Elton. When he compliments Emma on Harriet’s improved manners, Emma points to Harriet’s natural charms, claiming that she had only to draw them out. She proposes Harriet sit for a portrait that she will paint and shows her portfolio, which Mr. Elton and Harriet view with unreserved praise.
While Harriet poses for her portrait, Mr. Elton hovers over Emma admiring every stroke. It is decided that in order to have it framed, Mr. Elton will take it to London—a commission he accepts with gusto. He is so pleased to be doing this chore that Emma questions his eagerness. Is it for Harriet or her?
The next day, Harriet tells Emma that Mr. Martin has sent her a proposal of marriage in a letter. Emma is impressed by its form and content, but puts it down firmly. Confused, Harriet asks her friend what to do. Emma tells her that if she has any doubts, she ought to refuse. Certain that Emma would disapprove of a match with Mr. Martin, Harriet reluctantly concedes.
Though Emma says she cannot advise Harriet on how to write a letter of refusal, she dictates nearly every sentence. Once the letter is sent, Harriet feels so low that Emma attempts to boost her spirits by suggesting that Mr. Elton is no doubt showing her portrait all around London.
Mr. Knightley pays a call during Harriet’s absence to announce that Mr. Martin has confided that he will propose to Harriet. When Emma tells him that she has already been asked and refused, Knightley accuses Emma of putting her up to it. An argument ensues wherein Emma declares Harriet superior to Mr. Martin, and Mr. Knightley is just as adamant that Martin is superior to Harriet and is the ideal husband.
He further accuses Emma of setting Harriet against her class by raising her expectations too high. Emma vows that it was Harriet’s choice to turn Mr. Martin down and asserts that she is through with matchmaking. Harriet returns later to tell Emma that Mr. Elton was spotted on his way to London, delighted with his important mission. The friend who spotted him suspected the mission had something to do with a young lady.
Emma persists in orchestrating the sham romance between Harriet and Mr. Elton. She is so smugly confident of her improvements on Harriet that she fails to detect that Mr. Elton’s effusive compliments are aimed at her and that Harriet is only acting to please her friend.
She pushes her influence further when Harriet receives a marriage proposal from a man Emma considers a lowlife bumpkin. She forces Harriet to choose between her and Mr. Martin. But she has no such influence over Mr. Knightley. When he accuses her of disastrous meddling, she fires back all her justifications. Though she argues her case spiritedly, Mr. Knightley holds the moral high ground.