Emma is the story of the wealthy, beautiful, spoiled only daughter of an aging widowed hypochondriac, Mr. Woodhouse. Nearly 21, she runs their large house, Hartfield, in Highbury, Surrey. The novel opens with the marriage of her former governess and close companion, Miss Anne Taylor, to Mr. Weston, a neighbor and local gentleman. Feeling alone and bored, Emma will have to struggle through many winter evenings before her elder sister, Isabella, comes to visit with her family at Christmas time. Isabella married John Knightley, a London lawyer and brother to Mr. George Knightley, the neighbor of the Woodhouses at Donwell Abbey. Emma is under the impression that she arranged the match between Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. George Knightley arrives and challenges her on this belief and the idea that she can arrange other people’s lives. This makes Emma determined to find a bride for Mr. Elton, the newly arrived vicar of Highbury.
Mr. Woodhouse holds regular card evenings at Hartfield. At one of these, the headmistress of the local school is accompanied by a young boarder. Harriet Smith is 17, her parents are not known, and Emma decides to take her on, to introduce her socially, and to educate her. Emma decides that Harriet will be a good match for Mr. Elton. Harriet has a suitor in Robert Martin, one of Knightley’s tenant farmers at the prosperous Abbey Mill Farm on his estate. Emma attempts to lessen Martin in the eyes of Harriet and leads her, without any evidence, to perceive that her father is a gentleman and that it is inappropriate to mix too closely with Martin and his family, as they are of a lower social status. Knightley tells Mrs. Weston that he strongly disapproves of Emma’s conduct toward Harriet. Knightly believes that Emma is using Harriet to satisfy her own vanity and that she is creating in Harriet false expectations.
Emma manipulates Harriet into believing that she loves Elton. She also tries similar tactics on Elton, who evidently is much more interested in Emma than in Harriet Smith. Emma draws Harriet; Elton enthusiastically admires the portrait and goes to London to have it framed. Emma perceives this to show that her matchmaking is working successfully and that Elton is attracted to Harriet. Elton thinks that he will gain Emma’s favor by framing her picture of Harriet.
In a very well-written letter that surprises Emma, as she thought incorrectly that Robert Martin was illiterate—a major concern of the novel is Emma’s own education—Martin proposes to Harriet. Emma, through the use of emotional blackmail, persuades the pliable, weak-willed Harriet to reject the proposal. After learning of this, Knightley is very angry and tells Emma that by interfering, she has ruined Harriet’s chances of a respectable marriage. It emerges that before sending the letter, Martin had asked for Knightley’s advice, and he had told Martin that Harriet would look favorably upon the proposal. Knightley and Emma argue, and Emma is surprised by Knightley’s strength of feeling and conviction that she has acted inappropriately.
As a pastime, Emma and Harriet play riddles and charades. Emma invites Elton to participate and he seizes upon the opportunity to ask Emma to agree to his courtship of her. Emma again misreads Elton’s actions and perceives that his attentions are focused on Harriet. Following a charity visit to the poor of the neighborhood, Emma and Harriet encounter Elton. Emma falls behind in the walk, leaving Elton and Harriet together. She is surprised that Elton does not take the opportunity to propose.
Christmastime arrives and Isabella with her husband and five children come to visit. Weston arranges a Christmas eve party for the Woodhouses and others at his house, Randalls. Emma thinks that as Harriet has caught a cold and is unable to attend, Elton will not go either. He accepts readily the invitation and uses the opportunity to court Emma. A light snowfall that unsettles the nervous Mr. Woodhouse curtails the party. Emma, much to her annoyance, finds herself alone in a carriage with an inebriated Elton, who proceeds to seize her hand, declares his love for her, and proposes. Emma rejects him and gathers that he has no interest whatsoever in Harriet, especially given her lowly social status. The journey ends in a hostile silence between them.
Emma realizes how seriously her misperceptions have been. She is annoyed at herself and Elton, but resolves to finish with matchmaking. Emma is fortunate in that the weather is bad, keeping people indoors for the next few days, so she does not have to face anyone but her immediate family. The Knightleys leave for London, Elton departs for Bath, and Emma tells Harriet what has happened. Harriet is very upset but does not blame Emma, believing that she did not deserve Elton. Her response makes Emma feel even more ashamed and humble.
New characters appear and the narrative focus moves from Harriet and Emma. Discussion takes place of Frank Churchill, the 23-year-old son of Mr. Weston from his first marriage. Following the death of his mother when he was very young, Frank was adopted by his wealthy aunt and uncle, the Churchills of Enscombe in Yorkshire, whose heir he has become. He has been expected to visit his father and new wife for some time but keeps delaying his visit. The reason is that his aunt is unwell. Emma has imagined a match between herself and the elusive Churchill. Emma discusses Frank Churchill with Knightley and they argue again. Knightley criticizes Frank Churchill for his attitude toward his father, and Emma defends Churchill and is surprised by Knightley’s strength of feeling on the matter.
Emma and Harriet visit Mrs. and Miss Bates, the aging widow of the former vicar of Highbury and her middle-aged, well-meaning, garrulous unmarried daughter. They learn of the impending visit of Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates’s niece, an orphan, brought up by her aunt and grandmother. At the age of nine she went to live with her late father’s former commanding officer in the army, Colonel Campbell and his wife. A companion to their daughter, who had recently married and gone to live with her husband, Mr. Dixon, in Ireland, she is coming to stay for three months. Emma’s age but without money, she is going to prepare to find a position as a governess. Emma is surprised to hear that she has not gone to Ireland too, and her active imagination begins to fantasize a relationship between Mr. Dixon and Jane. Emma has previously met her and dislikes her, due to what she considers to be a coldness and reserve. Jane is praised in Highbury generally; people perceive that she and Emma are friends. Jane, of course, provides competition for Emma, who regards herself as the prominent young lady in the area.
Following Jane’s arrival, Emma finds her to be more beautiful and poised than ever, and reflects upon Jane’s unhappy fate as a prospective governess. Emma’s attempt to be more friendly does not outlast their second meeting, at which she objects to what she regards as Jane’s excessive reserve concerning Dixon and Frank Churchill, although Emma does learn that Jane and Frank did meet at Weymouth.
Elton has been gone a month to Bath. News reaches Highbury that he is shortly to marry the independently wealthy Augusta Hawkins, the daughter of a Bristol merchant. The information reinforces Emma’s view that Elton was more interested in her status and fortune than any genuine affection for her and leads her to be more hopeful considering Harriet’s future prospects. Frank Churchill finally arrives and Emma finds him to be charming. Mr. Weston hopes that there will be a match between the two. Frank pays a courtesy visit upon Jane Fairfax and he appears to share Emma’s critical perception of Jane. Emma finds Churchill’s sudden disappearance to London in order apparently to receive a haircut to smack of “foppery and nonsense” (205). Frank has told Emma that he is resolved not to marry. That does not diminish the admiration for him. Only Knightley remains with reservations.
A neighboring family, the Coles, holds a dinner party attended by Emma, Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Frank Churchill, Knightly, the Cox males, and later on, Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax, and Harriet Smith. At the party, Frank pays particular attentions to Emma, Jane Fairfax has received from an unknown source a piano, and speculation is rife as to the sender. Jane arrives after dinner and is asked to her obvious embarrassment about the piano. Emma believes that she has a personal understanding with Frank. Mrs. Weston informs Emma that Knightley specially sent his carriage to take Jane and Miss Bates to the party. She suggests that Knightley is romantically interested in Jane. Emma is shocked by such a thought.
The following day, Emma and Harriet are at the Fords’ Highbury shop. Miss Bates and Mrs. Weston invite them to hear Jane’s new piano, where they find Frank with Jane mending Mrs. Bates’s spectacles. While Jane plays, Frank and Emma make comments about Ireland and Mr. Dixon. Jane blushes at this. Knightley passes in the street. Miss Bates thanks him for the large basket full of apples he has given the Bateses. He agrees to come in when he learns that Emma is visiting but changes his mind once he discovers that Frank is also present. Meanwhile, Frank and Emma plan a ball at the Crown Inn. Frank is suddenly called back to Enscombe as his aunt has become ill. Emma thinks that she is falling in love with Frank, but she decides that she is flirting rather than being seriously engaged.
Emma, once again bored, focuses on Harriet and the Eltons. Mrs. Elton emerges as arrogant, vulgar, and conceited, and she starts to compete with Emma for the position of leading Highbury lady. Her first wish is to use supposed contacts to find Jane a suitable governess position. Emma is surprised at Jane’s reactions in accepting Mrs. Elton’s concerns for her future welfare. Knightley suggests to Emma that this is because no one else seems interested in her. He also tells Emma that he has no intention of proposing to or even courting Jane.
Emma organizes a dinner party at Hartfield in honor of Mrs. Elton. Present in addition to Emma and her father and the Eltons are Knightley, his brother John, Jane Fairfax, and later Mr. Weston. Harriet Smith has declined the invitation. Before the formal dinner, in conversation it is learned that Jane has walked in the morning in the rain to the post office. Mrs. Elton insists that she not do this and says that a servant can take her mail. Jane refuses and Emma’s imagination works once again, speculating that Jane is receiving letters from Mr. Dixon. Following the meal, Mrs. Elton again pursues the matter of Jane’s application for positions. Jane firmly says that she will wait until later on in the summer. It is now April, and Mr. Weston arrives with a letter from Frank. In this letter, Frank says that the Churchills are moving to London because of Mrs. Churchill’s illness and that he will be able to visit Highbury more frequently.
The third volume begins with Frank’s reappearance after a two-month absence. He spends little time with Emma and goes to visit others instead. He will spend even more time locally, as the Churchills have taken a house at Richmond for the months of May and June. The Crown Inn ball is now arranged. One of the set pieces of the novel, the ball is attended by most of its characters. The scene is set by Miss Bates in a lengthy verbal account of the participants. Before the dancing, Mrs. Elton speaks, much to Frank Churchill’s annoyance, in an overly familiar manner to Jane. Frank is not at ease, and even though dancing with Emma, keeps looking at Knightley. Emma notices that Harriet is without a partner and sees that Mr. Elton is deliberately snubbing her when he publicly refuses to dance with her. Knightley comes to the rescue and dances with Harriet, who enthusiastically dances with him. Emma smiles at Knightley, and Elton retreats into the card room. Over supper, Knightley and Emma are reconciled concerning Emma’s behavior with Harriet and Elton. Following supper, Knightley and Emma dance.
The following day, Emma having settled one matchmaking error, commits another. She assumes that Frank Churchill and Harriet Smith are forming a relationship following their appearing arm in arm together. Frank has rescued Harriet from some Gypsy children demanding money from her. Emma resolves not to interfere; however, Harriet burns anything that she has kept concerning Elton and confesses to admiring someone far superior to him, but out of her reach. Emma assumes she means Frank.
Jane Fairfax remains at Highbury until at least August. It is now June and Knightley is beginning to suspect a relationship between Frank Churchill and Jane, especially following a remark by Frank about the local apothecary Mr. Perry’s plan concerning a carriage. Only Miss Bates and Jane were privy to the information. Knightley is unable to decide how to interpret this and other signs of a relationship. He discusses the matter with Emma, who assures him that there is nothing between Frank and Jane. This certainty leaves Knightley puzzled, thinking that Churchill may well be playing games with both Jane and Emma.
A planned visit to a nearby beauty spot has to be delayed and is replaced by a mid-June strawberry picking outing at Donwell Abbey attended by Knightley, Emma and her father, the Westons, Harriet, the Eltons, Miss Bates, and Jane, with Frank arriving late. Mrs. Elton tells Jane that she has found her a governess position, which she urges her to accept, upsetting Jane in the process. Emma, seeing Knightley and Harriet walking together, jumps to conclusions about their relationship but is upset when she sees Robert Martin’s farm nearby. Emma goes into the hall of Knightley’s house to find a very distressed Jane Fairfax, who insists on walking home alone in the heat and confesses to being tired and unhappy. Frank Churchill then arrives tired, late, and out of sorts. He mentions encountering Jane on the way and observes that she is out of her mind to walk in the heat. Emma persuades him to stay for the Box Hill party to take place the following day, June 24, midsummer’s day.
Emma, Frank Churchill, Knightley, Mr. Weston, Harriet Smith, the Eltons, Jane, and Miss Bates participate in the outing to Box Hill. The ill will among them and Frank Churchill’s defiance of propriety cause Emma to make a singularly inappropriate remark to Miss Bates. Frank makes obvious remarks regarding the Eltons and challenges Emma to find him a suitable wife. Jane takes Miss Bates and leaves the main party. Knightley takes Emma aside and tells her frankly that she deeply hurt Miss Bates by her cruel, arrogant, and insolent remarks. Emma is silent, recognizing the truth of Knightley’s reprimand. Knightley takes her to her carriage and leaves her without saying anything. All Emma can do is cry alone.
The next morning, Emma goes to Miss Bates’s to apologize. There she finds that Jane has suddenly accepted the governess position and will leave in a fortnight. Jane avoids Emma. She spent the previous evening at the Eltons, where she accepted the position. During the evening the hostler at the Crown Inn arrives to tell Mr. Elton that Frank Churchill left for Richmond after Box Hill earlier than expected.
Back at home, Emma finds Knightley and Harriet. The former is very pleased that she has been to visit Miss Bates. He is going to London to stay for a few days with his brother and upon leaving almost kisses her hand.
Frank’s aunt Mrs. Churchill has died. Emma concludes that there is nothing between Frank and Harriet, who appears full of hope. Emma reflects on Jane’s situation, offers her friendship, and sends a present. All her offers are rejected by Jane. Emma believes that her own intentions are altruistic.
Ten days after Mrs. Churchill’s death, early in July, Frank visits Randalls, the home of the Westons. Emma is called to Randalls after Frank has left. The Westons tell her the news they have only just heard from Frank. He and Jane have secretly been engaged for eight months, since Weymouth. He dared not make the engagement public while his aunt was alive as she would have refused her consent. In a subsequent lengthy letter to Mrs. Weston, Frank explains his previous behavior. The strain of keeping the engagement secret explains his flirtation with Emma and results in an argument with Jane, whom he met on her walk back to Highbury from the strawberry picking. At Box Hill, they had argued even more. At a very low ebb under Mrs. Elton’s pressure, Jane had accepted the governess position. Following his aunt’s death and this decision, Frank decided to tell his uncle, who was far more sympathetic than his aunt would have been. Frank then went to see Jane and they were reconciled. He then came to the Westons to tell them.
Emma thinks immediately of what had transpired between her and Frank and the silly things she said about Jane. She also considers the situation of Harriet, whom she believes to be in love with Frank. Emma is critical of Frank for his deception and toying with others’ emotions. Mrs. Weston agrees but believes that judgment should be delayed until they hear more from the letter he has promised to write explaining his actions. Emma is once again full of self-recrimination. Harriet appears and exhibits no sign of being upset, revealing that Knightley and not Frank is the object of her affections. Emma is shocked, asks herself why, and the answer comes to her “with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself” (408). Yet another period of doubt takes place. Emma is fearful that Knightley has fallen for Harriet mainly through Emma’s own actions. She wishes she had not taken Harriet on, and had not prevented the marriage to Robert Martin. Intense self-criticism and selfexamination results in her fully admitting and taking responsibility for “the blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart” (411).
Mrs. Weston calls at Hartfield to tell Emma that she has visited Jane Fairfax, who is ashamed of her deception and rejection of Emma’s kindness. Emma understands Jane’s situation and does not blame her. Subsequently, Emma, Jane, and Frank are reconciled. Knightley still has reservations concerning his character. After their marriage, Jane and Frank go to live with Mr. Churchill at Enscombe in Yorkshire.
Rainy July weather reflects Emma’s glum mood facing a future without Knightley. Brighter weather accompanies Knightley’s return from London, and he joins her walking in the Hartfield Garden. He is relieved to learn that Frank Churchill does not mean anything to her, and rather than, as Emma expected, speaking of his love for Harriet, Knightley declares his love for Emma. She accepts his marriage proposal.
Two problems remain. Both are solved by Knightley. Harriet goes to stay with Emma’s sister, Isabella, in London. Knightley arranges for Robert Martin to call at his brother’s house to deliver some papers and he is invited to dinner. This rekindles the relationship with Harriet. He proposes a second time and she accepts. At the end of September, Emma is very happy to accompany Harriet to church for her marriage with Robert Martin.
The other problem is how to reconcile Mr. Woodhouse to his daughter’s marriage. Knightley agrees to live at Hartfield after the marriage and Isabella Knightley, Mrs. Weston, Emma, and Knightley join forces to win Mr. Woodhouse over to the idea of the marriage. Just before the wedding, a sequence of poultry thefts takes place locally and Mr. Woodhouse realizes that it is safer to have Knightley under the Hartfield roof to protect him and Emma. A wedding date is arranged and they marry in October, just over a year after the novel opened with Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston’s marriage.
CRITICAL SYNOPSIS AND COMMENTARY
The opening paragraph of the novel gives its readers specific data concerning the character, personality, intelligence, and economic disposition of Emma, the heroine. The reader is told that she is “handsome” and “clever” and has a “happy disposition.” She is also “rich, with a comfortable home.” We are not told the source of this wealth. A note of ambiguity is struck with the use of the word “seemed” before “to unite some of the best blessings of existence.” In other words, all may appear fine in her existence but not everything is as it seems. The reader in this way is invited to question and to scrutinize Emma Woodhouse. Apparently she “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Whether or not this pattern of existence will continue is questioned and placed in doubt by the use of the word “seemed.” We as readers are not explicitly told that she is selfish, egocentric, vain, or spoiled.
The second paragraph supplies some details of her family background. Emma is “the youngest [sic]” of two daughters. Her father, we are told, was “most affectionate [and] indulgent.” As a “consequence of her sister’s marriage” Emma obtained power and authority, a situation of authority and control “from a very early period,” as she had “been mistress of his [her father’s] house.” Emma’s mother “had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses.” The place of Emma’s mother “had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess.” She “had fallen little short of a mother in affection,” a somewhat ambiguous statement.
The governess, the surrogate mother, becomes the subject of the third paragraph. The reader learns that the governess’s name is “Miss Taylor,” that she had served in the Woodhouse family for 16 years, and that she was “very fond of both daughters, but particularly of Emma.” The second short sentence reveals that “Between them,” Emma and Miss Taylor, “it was more the intimacy of sisters” and the next sentence that “the mildness of” Miss Taylor’s “temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint.” Also that “the shadow of authority” had “passed away.” Consequently, Emma and Miss Taylor “had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached.” The same lengthy sentence adds as a matter of fact without passing judgment that “Emma [was] doing just what she liked.” This is elaborated. She, Emma, was “highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own.”
In the fourth paragraph, some kind of criticism or reservation concerning the character of Emma is conveyed. The omniscient narrator observes: “The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.” In the language of a Jane Austen novel, “evils” is a very strong, but not uncommonly used, word in either its singular or plural forms, being used in its plural form on 33 occasions. The negative connotation is reinforced in the clause at the end of the first sentence of the fourth paragraph: “these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.” In other words, no one had disciplined Emma or told her that there were other points of view and perspectives. At the start of the novel, however, “the danger . . . was . . . so unperceived, that they,” the limitations, the fact that she had her own way, “did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.”
As in life, so in the world of a Jane Austen novel, and in Emma Woodhouse’s world, change occurs. “Sorrow came,” though even this sorrow is described as “a gentle sorrow.” The reason is “that Miss Taylor married.” There is something of an irony that marriage, a wedding day, something to celebrate, should result in “sorrow” and “loss,” rather than happiness and celebration. The four relatively short sentences of the fifth paragraph well convey the sense of loss and transition in Emma’s life produced by the marriage of her governess. “It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance.” She is left alone with her father. “The wedding day over and the bride-people gone, her father and herself were left to dine together, with no prospect of a third to cheer a long evening.” Emma is left to her own devices: “Her father composed himself to sleep after dinner as usual, and she had then only to sit and think of what she had lost.” Without conversation and company, the sense of loneliness and loss is accentuated.
The narrative focus then shifts in the next paragraph, the sixth and longest so far in the novel with five sentences, some of which have lengthy cumulative compound clauses, to Miss Taylor, the governess. The narrator weaves into Emma’s consciousness as she contemplates the complication of marriage for her friend and for herself. Her governess has married a Mr. Weston, “a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age and pleasant manners.” The use of the word “easy” to convey wealth and richness does not mean to imply that these have come improperly, but is used rather as in the sense of abundance. From Emma’s point of view “there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match.” However, the final part of the second sentence of this paragraph conveys a negative sense: “but it was a black morning’s work for her.” The reason is succinctly given in the second-shortest sentence of the paragraph, the third one. “The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day.” The first sentence of the paragraph is the shortest one. “The event had every promise of happiness for her friend.” Alone with her thoughts, Emma reflects on the 16 years she had been with the former governess, a period in effect since Emma was five years old. Emma reflects upon her “kindness” and her “affection” reflected in teaching, play, “and how [she had] nursed her through the various illnesses of childhood.” However, since she was 14, for “the last seven years” the relationship has been “of equal footing and perfect unreserve.” This followed the marriage of Emma’s older sister, Isabella, whose name is suddenly dropped into the narrative as Emma recalls the period of closeness and relationship with Miss Taylor, now Mrs. Weston, although she has not yet been referred to in that way. Following the departure from the home of Isabella, her sister, Emma and her governess had grown closer together. Miss Taylor “had been a friend and companion” and also “intelligent, wellinformed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself”—that is, in Emma. Miss Taylor’s interests were “in every pleasure, every scheme” of Emma’s. She also was “one to whom she,” Emma, “could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault.” Again, this is not at this point of the novel condemned by the author but simply stated through Emma’s perspective.
The next paragraph opens with a question Emma addresses to herself. “How was she to bear the change?” The use of questions addressed to the self is common to erlebte Rede, or inner thought process conveyance. The facts relating to the change are then specified. The geographical difference between Emma and her former governess is that of half a mile. For the first time Miss Taylor is referred to as “Mrs. Weston”: this name change from the unmarried one of the governess to her married name denotes the change in Emma’s and her situations and is used to convey the effect on Emma. The “difference between a Mrs. Weston— only half a mile from them, and a Miss Taylor in the house” is that “she was now in great danger of suffering from intellectual solitude.” Although Emma “clearly loved her father . . . he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.” An interesting feature of this paragraph is that it begins with the first sentence in the erlebte Rede mode, and by the last sentence of four, the second of which is a lengthy cumulative one, has moved into omniscient narration, with the author telling the reader about the deficiencies in the relationship of Emma and Mr. Woodhouse.
These differences form the focus of the next single-sentence paragraph. The omniscient narrator tells the reader that there is a tremendous difference in age between father and daughter. Indeed, the word “evil” is used once again, on this occasion to describe “the actual disparity of their ages,” although the difference is not specifically given. The author states that “Mr. Woodhouse had not married early” and that the “disparity” is “much increased by his constitution [physical makeup] and habits.” The reason being that he “having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years” (5–6: –7). These ailments can, of course, be primarily psychological rather than actually physical. In Mr. Woodhouse’s case, Jane Austen explicitly does not say which. Interestingly, an examination of Peter L. De Rose and S. W. McGuire’s A Concordance to the Works of Jane Austen (1982) reveals that this is the only use of the word “valetudinarian” in Jane Austen. The first instance of its usage is dated by the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) in 1703. The rest of the sentence is condemning hardly mitigated by the comment that Mr. Woodhouse was “everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper.” These positive attributes are followed by the authorial comment “his talents could not have recommended him at any time.” In other words, he has no abilities whatsoever apart from “the friendliness of his heart,” whatever that means, “and his amiable temper.” The author does not specifiy what is meant by the expression “friendliness of his heart.”
The next paragraph, also a single sentence, conveys some information of a basic nature about Emma’s sister. She lives in London “only sixteen miles” from where Emma and her father live, but in Jane Austen’s time “much beyond [Emma’s] daily reach.” We also learn for the first time the name of the place where Emma lives: Hartfield. Her sister, Isabella, has a husband and small children and visits Hartfield with them “before Christmas.” So Emma is left to her own devices.
The succeeding paragraph places Hartfield, the house where Emma lives, within a social context. Hartfield is part of “Highbury, the large and populous village almost amounting to a town.” Hartfield has a “separate lawn and shrubberies” and the “Woodhouses were first in consequences” in Hartfield; whether they are the wealthiest family in the neighborhood is not stated. Certainly “all looked up to them.” Although Emma “had many acquaintance[s],” none can replace her former governess. “It was a melancholy change” (-7)—the action has moved again from omniscient third person into erlebte Rede, to Emma’s thoughts, which are interrupted when her father wakes up. Emma is then forced to think of someone apart from herself.
Mr. Woodhouse, Emma’s aging father, is as preoccupied with himself as his daughter is with herself. Their mutual self-absorption mirrors each other’s. As Norman Page in The Language of Jane Austen appositely indicates, Mr. Woodhouse has “fourteen speeches in” this opening chapter. His representative manner of speaking is evident from “Poor Miss Taylor,” his opening words, an expression repeated three times, to “poor James,” a reference to his servant, to “What a pity” and “a sad business.” Page observes “what superficially appears to be kindness and sympathy for others is soon seen as a self-indulgent sensibility and a somewhat factitious melancholy” (142). Mr. Woodhouse’s second utterance wishes for the impossible, “I wish she were here again.” The concern is not for Miss Taylor, who is no longer unmarried, but for his own welfare. A similar vein of self-pity is found in his third sentence, “What a pity it is that Mr. Weston ever thought of her!” Emma’s reply is meant to appeal to his sense of propriety, possession, and also her sense of herself, not her father’s concerns: “you would not have had Miss Taylor live with us forever and bear all my odd humours.” Emma adds “when she might have a house of her own?” To which her father replies that there is no advantage to possessing her own house; his, at any rate, is three times larger and his daughter does not suffer at any time from “any odd humours.” His is indeed a world of self-denial.
Mr. Woodhouse creates difficulties. When Emma suggests that they both should pay a “wedding-visit very soon,” her father responds that Randalls, where the Westons live, is too far away to walk. To her counterproposal that they take their carriage, her father finds a problem. The servant “will not like to put the horses to for such a little way,” and also “where are the poor horses to be while we are paying our visit?” This elicits the lengthiest reply from Emma so far in the chapter, one that counteracts his negatives by turning them into positives. He suggests that their servant James’s daughter Hannah become a housemaid at the Westons’ at Randalls, their home. As Emma points out, “Nobody thought of Hannah till you mentioned her.” Mr. Woodhouse’s response reveals that his motives in placing Hannah at the Westons’ are a combination of selfish ones. She, Hannah, was always deferential to him, and she will “be a great comfort to poor Miss Taylor to have somebody about her that she is used to see,” and also whenever James goes to see her, “he will be able to tell her how we all are” (7–9). Emma’s reaction is to keep her father in a positive mood, “his habitual mode of expression is in the negative form (there are 10 negatives in his speeches in this opening chapter),” which provides “a linguistic clue to his character . . . the implication is of a timidity in the face of experience, a shrinking from positive commitment to life” (Page, 142). She, Emma, must keep him preoccupied. She “hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.”
The third character to make an appearance in the world of Emma, is “Mr. Knightley, a sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty.” Being “sensible” with the meaning of being reasonable, judicious, and wise is an epithet of high commendation in Jane Austen’s world. Emma is nearly 21. Mr. Knightley is nearly old enough to be her father. Indeed, if a dominant theme of Emma is marriage, then another is father-daughter relationships, or daughter relationships with surrogate fathers. Knightley is also connected with the family as “a very old and intimate friend” and “as the elder brother of Isabella’s [Emma’s older sister] husband.” The omniscient narrator, Jane Austen, conveys a good deal of specific information about Knightley in this chapter. He lives “about a mile from” the Woodhouses, frequently visits, and on this occasion comes “directly from their mutual connections in London.” So he can convey family news, information, and gossip. The ostensible reason for his visit is “to say that all were well in Brunswick-square,” the fashionable address in what is now the Bloomsbury area of London near the British Museum, where his brother and Emma’s sister live. This news “animated Mr. Woodhouse for some time.” Mr. Knightley’s approach to Mr. Woodhouse’s negativism is different from Emma’s. When Mr. Woodhouse observes that Knightley “must have had a shocking walk,” the reply is not one of assent, of pandering to Mr. Woodhouse, but of contradiction. It “is courteously laconic.” Knightley “states his conviction,” to use the words of J. F. Burrows in his Jane Austen’s Emma, “supplies his evidence, and has done” (17), telling Mr. Woodhouse “Not at all, sir. It is a beautiful, moonlight night; and so mild that I must draw back from your great fire.” In response to the reply, “But you must have found it very damp and dirty. I wish you may not catch cold,” Knightley quips, “Dirty, sir! Look at my shoes. Not a speck on them.”
Mr. Woodhouse is concerned with irrelevances. He wanted the wedding to be “put off,” it is unclear whether delayed or canceled, because “it rained dreadfully hard for half an hour.” Mr. Knightley ignores such a comment, congratulating instead father and daughter on the wedding and on their “joy,” asking them how they behaved and “who cried most?” To which the response is, “Ah! poor Miss Taylor! ’tis a sad business.” The self-pitying remark is turned against Mr. Woodhouse. Knightley cannot agree with the sentiments and even feels sorry for “Poor Mr. and Miss Woodhouse,” he raises “the question of dependence or independence,” and pragmatically states that “it must be better to have only one to please, than two.” It is Emma, rather than her father, who responds, drawing attention to herself. “Especially when one of those two is such a fanciful, troublesome creature.” Of course, her father believes that the reference is to himself. The response from Emma reveals that she has insight as to what others think of her, at least where Knightley is concerned. As she tells her father and Knightley, the latter “loves to find fault with me you know—in a joke—it is all a joke. We always say what we like to one another.”
Another dimension of this novel is that the “joke” becomes deadly serious, and Emma and Knightley, in spite of the disparity in their ages and misunderstandings during the course of the novel, are able eventually to unite. The following paragraph of omniscient narration concurs with Emma’s comment to Knightley. He was “in fact, . . . one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them.” Of course “this was not particularly agreeable to Emma” personally and even “so much less so to her father,” who regarded everybody as thinking his daughter the paragon of perfection. Dialogue plays a crucial role in this chapter and in the novel. The three-way exchange among Emma, her father, and Knightley occupies the remainder of the chapter. There is almost no remaining authorial interference, and as the chapter progresses the speeches, especially those of Emma and Knightley, increase in length. The dialogue reveals character, values, and attitudes. Knightley reassures them that practically, materially, Miss Taylor, as she is still being called, even by him, has made a very successful marriage. At her “time of life,” she has her own home, she is comfortable, provided for and consequently “cannot allow herself to feel so much pain as pleasure.”
There is little here of feeling but of material convenience and practicality. Emma’s response to this pragmatism is to remind Knightley of her own role in bringing about the marriage. “I made the match, you know, four years ago; and to have it take place, and be proved in the right, when so many people said Mr. Weston would never marry again, may comfort me for any thing.” Her exaggeration, sense of her own righteousness, and crucial matchmaking role is further fueled by a disapproving shake of the head from Mr. Knightley and her father’s praise of her abilities. He tells Emma, “whatever you say always comes to pass,” and implores her using religious language, “Pray do not make any more matches.” This provokes Emma to a lengthy reply in which she first promises her father not to make a match for herself. This remark by the end of the novel is viewed in an ironic perspective. She then repeats herself about perceptions that Mr. Weston would never remarry, having “been a widower so long” and how she believed none of the rumors about him, that he had made “a promise to his wife on her deathbed” and so on. By the end of her response, she tells him “dear papa, you cannot think that I shall leave off match-making.”
Mr. Knightley questions Emma’s perceptions of her “success,” mediating it, and reducing her achievement to “a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said.” Knightley, in his version of what occurred, views Emma’s efforts from two perspectives, either: “endeavoring for the last four years to bring about this marriage;” or “saying to yourself one idle day” that it would be a good idea. Emma’s reply moves from the sarcastic to thoughtfulness, revealing high intelligence and an ability to think things through. She begins by castigating Knightley. She pities him for not knowing “the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess,” and for that he has her “pity.” Emma then expostulates upon Knightley’s explanation of the word “success,” which ignores a third possibility, “a something between the do-nothing and the do-all.” She had, given her father’s fussiness, his absorption with the trivial, to “promote Mr. Weston’s visits here,” to give “many little encouragements,” also she “smoothed many little matters.” She respects Knightley enough by adding, “I think you must know Hartfield enough to comprehend that.”
Knightley’s reply ignores the sophistication of Emma’s. He refers to the necessity of people to be left to manage their own activities and condemns Emma for unnecessary “interference,” which may “likely” do “harm to” herself “than good” to others (9–13). These words prove to be somewhat ironic in the plot of the novel when Knightley does exactly what he at this initial chapter condemns Emma for. He will send Robert Smith on a business transaction to his brother’s London home knowing that Harriet Smith is staying there. However, he does to Emma confess his “interference” (462).
Mr. Woodhouse interrupts the verbal dueling between Emma and Knightley over conduct, values, and attitudes to others. He naturally defends his daughter, believing that she behaves altruistically. He tells Knightley, “Emma never thinks of herself, if she can do good to others.” Yet Mr. Woodhouse reiterates his dislike for marriage, “matches . . . are silly things,” and “break up one’s family circle grievously.” They change the status quo, which for the egocentric Mr. Woodhouse is almost the one thing to be avoided.
Emma brushes aside her father’s reservations. She will make one more attempt at matchmaking. This time it will be for a Mr. Elton, about whom the adjective “poor” is used. He has a settled house, has been in the neighborhood for a year, and a position—that of a clergyman. In this way, through dialogue and assertion of intentions, the author adds to the canvas of the novel yet another character. The introductory chapter has already given the reader a glimpse of Emma, her father, Mr. Knightley, and mention of Emma’s older sister, Isabella, her husband, the servant James, and his daughter Hannah, Mr. Weston, his new wife Miss Taylor (that was), and now Mr. Elton, Isabella’s children, Farmer Mitchell, and the inhabitants of Highbury.
Mr. Woodhouse’s reply placates Emma by agreeing with his daughter’s sentiments concerning Mr. Elton’s positive qualities (ironically the novel’s plot will expose these as negative). Mr. Woodhouse reveals his preference for the status quo and for Knightley, requesting that Knightley be present when the newcomer arrives to dine. Knightley has the last word in this opening chapter. He advises Emma to invite Elton “to dinner . . . and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to chuse his own wife.” The reason for this conveys through direct speech more information, on this occasion concerning Elton’s age. Knightley tells Emma, “Depend upon it, a man of six or sevenand-twenty can take care of himself” (13–14).
In the closing dialogue of the first chapter, one of the most significant features of Emma emerges. “Among Jane Austen’s novels,” writes Maggie Lane, in Jane Austen and Food, “Emma is uniquely laden with references to food. Food anchors the fictive to the real world, contributing to that powerful sense of fidelity to life which so many readers have testified to feeling most especially with this book.” Lane adds that “more profoundly, the giving and sharing of food becomes a symbol or extended metaphor for human interdependence, resonating through the entire text” (153). At the conclusion of the first chapter, the invitation to dinner helps to reinforce the clash of personalities between the two major figures: the heroine and Mr. Knightley. For the latter, Elton can share a meal with them. For Emma the meal is an excuse for something else, the choice of a wife.
Chapter 1 then of Emma interweaves omniscient narration with free, indirect discourse, erlebte Rede, dialogue, and an abundance of adjectival description. These are the means by which three main characters and a myriad of others, places, situations, and intentions are conveyed to the reader. Through them the major themes of the novel emerge: a clash of wills, selfishness, the concern for others, marriage, change, the sense that what may appear to one may not be the same for another. The quality of irony, of another possible perspective, of disguise and revelation pervades Emma.
The second chapter opens from another perspective. Not that of Emma, Mr. Woodhouse, or Mr. Knightley but of Mr. Weston. His marriage to Miss Taylor has been a primary topic of conversation in the first chapter. Omniscient conventional narration is the order of the day. The reader is told about Mr. Weston’s origins, family, social and class status, education, financial situation, and “social temper.” A word most frequently used, in fact 157 times, in Jane Austen’s work, “temper” is used in this instance as a noun to convey social status, temperament (in a positive manner), and inclination in addition to duly duty. In other words, Mr. Weston is a concerned citizen who does the right thing. It also means that he has a sociable disposition—Jane Austen has told us that he was not very homely and that he had an “active cheerful mind.” We are told that he “had become indisposed for any of the more homely pursuits in which his brothers were engaged” and consequently “had satisfied an active cheerful mind and a social temper by entering into the militia of his county, then embodied.” The first chapter informs us that he married Miss Taylor. We subsequently learn that he had a son Frank by his first wife, the wealthy Miss Churchill, who died three years after the marriage. His brothers are “already established in a good way in London,” enough to help Mr. Weston in business, but they disappear from the novel. The use of the noun refers to brethren, neighbors rather than to Mr. Weston’s blood relatives. So Jane Austen, at the opening of her novel, is creating somewhat misleading signals to an attentive reader who may be expecting a “brother[s]” of Mr. Weston to reappear somewhere in the plot.
Mr. Weston’s commitment to the “militia” enlarges the fabric of the fiction, which so far has been confined to a very small world. To all intents and purposes, the war against Napoleon had concluded by the December 1815 publication of Emma. Inevitably it haunted contemporary readers’ imaginations. The “militia” reference is an initial evocation of the presence of traumatic political and social events lurking in the background while the events of Emma unfold. Following the declaration of war in 1793 by England on Revolutionary France, the historical period probably coinciding with Weston’s militia service, the militia was revived to supplement regular military forces. Raising numbers in the volunteer forces strengthened national defenses. So Mr. Weston “by entering into the militia of his county” remains near home, demonstrates his patriotism by defending his country, and behaves as a good citizen should. The use of the noun “brothers” has an echo of that “band of brothers” evoked by Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt to stimulate his soldiers to fight and die: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (Henry V: 4.3.60). Those not in the militia are engaged in “the more homely pursuits” to which Weston is “indisposed.” This indisposition is the reason why Weston has joined the militia. Somewhat curiously, given that Jane Austen’s life and writing career coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, there are but eight references to the militia in her work. Six of these are in Pride and Prejudice and two in Emma.
The single sentence second paragraph of the second chapter states one of the important consequences of Weston’s joining the service and being a “Captain.” It leads to his meeting “Miss Churchill of a great Yorkshire family.” The word “great” meaning wealthy and important, “and Miss Churchill fell in love with him.” It is not said that Weston fell in love with her, but rather the reverse. Her brother and his wife were “surprized” because they “were full of pride and importance, which the connection would offend.” In other words, Weston was socially and economically not of the same status. The sense of money and status, family disagreement, disapproval, and personal independence are enlarged upon. Miss Churchill, the reader is told, was “of age,” in other words, over 21, “and with the full command of her fortune . . . was not to be dissuaded from the marriage, and it took place to the infinite mortification of Mr. and Mrs. Churchill, who threw her off with due decorum” (15). Willful personal decisions, ignoring social propriety and family considerations, are not very favored in Jane Austen’s world, as may be seen from Lydia’s behavior and Darcy’s reactions to Elizabeth and the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice. The assumption in Emma is that Miss Churchill’s deceased parents “specifically willed a significant fortune to their daughter, rather than leaving it in trust to her brother, who has inherited the ‘family-estate’ ” (Pinch, 393).
Miss Churchill on marrying Weston has acted from her feelings rather than sense, regrets her decision, and dies after a marriage of three years. “It was an unsuitable connection, and did not produce much happiness,” the reader is told. This is not the perspective of the disapproving brother and his wife, but of the author Jane Austen. The reasons are clearly expressed and the fault is Miss Churchill’s—Mrs. Weston’s, not her husband’s. She “ought to have found more in it, for she had a husband whose warm heart and sweet temper made him think every thing due to her in return for the great goodness of being in love with him.” However, his wife “had not the best” kind of “spirit,” temperament, will power. She egotistically pursued her preference against family wishes but selfishly lacks the “resolution . . . to refrain from unreasonable regrets at that brother’s unreasonable anger, nor from missing the luxuries of her former home.” Consequently, she and her husband “lived beyond their income,” which was unable to compare with what Mrs. Weston had been used to as Miss Churchill at Enscombe: “she did not cease to love her husband, but she wanted at once to be the wife of Captain Weston and Miss Churchill of Enscombe.” In other words, material considerations override “love,” and personal choice is more complicated than it seems. It does not fully consider consequences, especially material and social ones.
The fourth paragraph of this second chapter presents Weston’s perspective rather than that of his wife. Perceived “especially by the Churchills, as making such an amazing match,” appearances, in Jane Austen’s world, are not what they appear. “Captain” Weston, as he is called by the narrator in this paragraph, is a reflection of Miss Churchill’s attraction to him—his militia rank and standing being one of the features that attracted her to him. He “was proved to have much the worst of the bargain; for when his wife died after a three years’ marriage,” owing to their overexpenditure, “he was rather a poorer man than at first, and with a child to maintain.” This child, to play an important role in the plot of the novel, is “the means of a sort of reconciliation” between him and his deceased wife’s brother and wife. “The child was given up to the care and the wealth of the Churchills,” and Weston has only his own welfare to concern him.
Subsequently, the course of his life changes totally. He leaves the militia, engages in trade, having connections, “brothers already established in a good way in London.” Weston maintains “a small house in Highbury, where most of his leisure days were spent; and,” the narrator informs her readers, “between useful occupation and the pleasures of society, the next eighteen or twenty years of his life passed cheerfully away.” Further, having “realized an easy competence,” Weston acquired more property, purchasing “a little estate adjoining Highbury,” and “enough to marry a woman as portionless even as Miss Taylor” (16). So Mr. Woodhouse’s exclamation in the first chapter of “poor Miss Taylor” (9) is literally true, a reflection of her economic state and dependency upon others. Weston is able, because of his success in trade, “to live according to the wishes of his own friendly and social disposition” (16), and to marry “poor Miss Taylor.”
The focus of the narrative then switches from Weston alone, to his relationship with his new wife, referred to still, by the narrator, as “Miss Taylor” (9). She literally was that at the period described—before the wedding to Weston. His perspective, attitude to his future bride, purchase of “Randalls,” his property near Highbury, acquisition of fortune, and state of mind in terms of happiness or unhappiness are presented through financial metaphors. “He had made his fortune, bought his house, and obtained his wife.” The operative word here is “obtained” in the sense of purchasing, acquiring a possession or goods. His “second” wife “must shew him how delightful a well-judging and truly amiable woman could be.” There is no sense here of a romantic passion. She “must give him the pleasantest proof of its being a great deal better to chuse than to be chosen, to excite gratitude than to feel it.” Weston’s first marriage was one in which he was selected by someone with financial power and social status greater than his own. The second marriage demonstrates the reverse of this. He does the selecting and the controlling of power.
Weston’s relationship with his son and his deceased wife’s relations becomes the subject of the next paragraph. Independently wealthy, Weston “had only himself to please in his choice.” His son Frank had assumed the name “Churchill” rather than “Weston” when he was 21. The assumption is consequently that “it was most unlikely . . . that he should ever want his father’s assistance.” Weston sees “his son every year in London, and was proud of him.” His perception of his son is a highly positive one, and the positive image spreads to Highbury. A note of discord is spread by the narrative observation that “the aunt was a capricious woman, and governed her husband entirely.” The effect of this upon the adopted son, whom Weston sees but once a year, is left up in the air at this point in the novel. A short two-sentence paragraph informs readers that while Frank Churchill “was one of the boasts of Highbury, and a lively curiosity to see him prevailed . . . he had never been there in his life.” In short, he failed to visit his father’s home (16–18).
In this manner the author introduces her readers to other perspectives in the novel. She has moved from the lenses of Mr. Woodhouse, his daughter Emma, and Mr. Knightley to Weston, and now some of the other members of the local Highbury community, not necessarily belonging to its upper echelons. The reader is introduced to other characters who will play various roles. One of these characters is immediately associated with a domestic beverage, “tea.” This drink is frequently referred to in Jane Austen’s letters, and is liable to scarcity. It becomes a means of social interaction between people in her novels. There are more than a hundred references to “tea” in them. In this instance it is the excuse that Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Bates, and Miss Bates use to converse with one another. These characters are not without interest and play a part in the novel. Mrs. Perry plays a lesser role than Miss Bates. The wife of the Highbury apothecary who accommodates Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Perry and her small children appear in two other chapters (2:17 and 19). Miss Bates, on the other hand, plays a much more prominent role in the novel. Middleaged and unmarried, socially dependent on others’ “favours” and good will, far from wealthy, she cares for her aging mother. Emma’s rudeness to her will become a way of exposing the heroine’s deficiencies. Miss Bates, as the author indicates ironically in the next chapter, enjoys an “uncommon degree of popularity” though she is “neither young, handsome, rich or married” (21).
This is to anticipate. At this early stage of the novel, Miss Bates and Mrs. Perry enlarge the fabric of characters and convey opinion. In this instance, they serve as a chorus, as representatives of local gossip and opinion relating to Frank Churchill and his long anticipated, long awaited rumored visit to Highbury upon his father’s marriage. Their conversation “I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill had written to Mrs. Weston?” is prefaced by omniscient narrator reference to “the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received.” The word “handsome” is reiterated in the subsequent elaboration following the question: “I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life.” The chorus of Highbury public opinion, represented by Mrs. Perry and Miss Bates, already associates Frank Churchill with the word “handsome” (18). This epithet conveying positive qualities has already been used as the third word of the first chapter. “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, rich” (5). These are opposite qualities the reader learns attributed to the likes of Miss Bates by Emma. Such use four times of the epithet “handsome” in relation to Frank Churchill ought to raise eyebrows and questions. Is he physically “handsome,” and what lies beneath the surface: Are appearances indeed deceptive?
The next paragraph focuses not on the contents of the letter but on the reaction of Mrs. Weston to the “highly-prized letter.” Mrs. Weston is separated from the chorus, the Mrs. Perrys and Miss Bates of the novel. Mrs. Weston’s reactions allow the narration to return to Emma, Mr. Woodhouse, and Hartfield. Mrs. Weston is prejudiced in Churchill’s favor. She “had, of course, formed a very favourable idea of the young man.” His writing to Mrs. Weston must put a seal of approval upon the marriage. Consequently, “she felt herself a most fortunate woman.” The word “fortunate” is repeated, on the second occasion relating to what others “might” think of her. In the first instance it relates to her perception of herself. Her “only regret was for a partial separation from friends, whose friendship for her had never cooled, and who would ill bear to part with her!” So Mr. Woodhouse’s sentiments are repeated.
The sense of her loss from Hartfield dominates the succeeding paragraph. This consists of two sentences. The first is of a four-part structure: “She knew . . . be missed”; “and could not think . . . her companionableness”; “but dear Emma of no feeble character;” “she was more . . . privations.” The second sentence begins with “And.” The paragraph from its opening moves into free indirect discourse. Mrs. Weston’s thoughts on Emma’s reactions, take over: “dear Emma was of no feeble character”; “And then there was such comfort in the very easy distance of Randalls from Hartfield,” with the social detail thrown in “so convenient for even solitary female walking.” A malevolent world lurking beyond Randalls and Hartfield is not far away from the perceived idyllic existence of Hartfield, marriages, Emma, her father, and the impending visit of Frank Churchill.
The narrative then moves from various perceptions and voices. From that of Mrs. Weston, to Emma, and then to Mr. Woodhouse’s giving a gentle sigh and saying: “Ah! poor Miss Taylor. She would be very glad to stay.” However, time brings “some alleviation to Mr. Woodhouse.” The relief follows a disquisition on the adverse effect food, specifically the wedding cake, has upon him. The return in the narrative at the close of chapter 2, to Mr. Woodhouse and his reactions to change (17–19) reinforce “one of the motifs of the novel: weddings, the match-making that leads up to them, and the changes that come in their wake.” The “wedding-cake is . . . the ultimate in a foodstuff designed to be handed round among friends and eaten not for its own sake only but in celebration of a joyful development in the life of a community (Lane, 154–155). There is an irony implied in Mr. Woodhouse’s adverse reaction to “the wedding-cake which had been a great distress to him, was all eaten up.” Not by him but by everybody else. To obtain confirmation of his dislike, Mr. Woodhouse consults the local apothecary Mr. Perry “on the subject.”
The report of the apothecary’s reaction mediates between conveying Mr. Woodhouse’s internal thoughts and omniscient narration. The latter tells the reader that “Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life.” The former is indicated in Perry’s opinion “that wedding cake might certainly disagree with many—perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately.” Perry’s use of “might,” his correction of “many” to the more general “most,” and qualification “unless taken moderate,” convey the apothecary’s attempts not to offend Mr. Woodhouse. Mr. Woodhouse, after all, helps to pay his bills, to feed his wife and children, so that they can also enjoy slices of the wedding cake. They also reflect Perry’s effort to be truthful. The emphasis is on moderation, an ideal that runs throughout Jane Austen’s writing.
The second chapter has moved in perspective from Mr. Weston, his career, first marriage, thoughts on his son Frank, back to Highbury, then to members of the Highbury community and its chorus of commentators, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Bates, and Miss Bates. A transition is made back to a subject of concern in the first chapter, Mrs. Weston, or “poor Miss Taylor.” This takes the reader to Emma and Mr. Woodhouse. The chapter ends ironically with a short double-sentence structure. “There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s weddingcake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it” (19). This refusal to “believe,” to enjoy food, the wedding cake, places Mr. Woodhouse outside the social norm. “Despite his preeminent position in the community, despite the fact that everybody defers to him, Mr. Woodhouse cannot prevent people doing what they like and eating what they like; he cannot prevent their marrying, and, happily, he cannot prevent other people sharing their joy” (Lane, 155).
Chapter 3 opens with Mr. Woodhouse’s preoccupations. These are a narrative device to introduce other characters and settings in the novel. Mr. Woodhouse possesses authority measured by social position and wealth largely to control his own world: “from his long residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure as he liked.” He has power, but is possessed with “good nature.” His control of “his own little circle” is the reason why he dislikes change. Mr. Woodhouse’s world is a very restricted one. He has a “horror of late hours and large dinner-parties.” Thus those who visit him do so “on his terms.” Mr. Woodhouse’s world, that of Highbury, includes Randalls, the home of the Westons, and Donwell Abbey, “the seat of Mr. Knightley.” His routine is somewhat controlled by his daughter Emma, who chooses “the best to dine with him,” in spite of his preference for evening parties. Additionally, “there was scarcely an evening in the week in which that Emma could not make up a card table for him.”
A short single paragraph, structurally consisting of a double sentence, using a separation into two parts through a semicolon, divides the visitors. In the first, “the Westons and Mr. Knightley” visit out of motives of “real, long-standing regard.” The other visitor, Mr. Elton, has other motives. He lives alone “without liking it,” so he can exchange “his own bleak solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse’s drawing room.” Further, “the smiles of” Emma, Mr. Woodhouse’s “lovely daughter,” provide an incentive. Following these, three of whom are males, Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightley, and Mr. Elton, in the third paragraph come “three ladies” from a different social stratification of Highbury: “Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard.” The first two already have been briefly introduced in the novel. The third, a member of this “second set” of the society frequenting Mr. Woodhouse’s evening drawing room, we as readers shall learn, is a respected head of a local girls school. The three, “almost always at the service of an invitation from Hartfield,” function at the behest of Mr. Woodhouse. They are willing to be at his service, “fetched and carried home so often that Mr. Woodhouse thought it no hardship for either James or the horses.” If their attendance was irregular, taking “place only once a year, it would have been a grievance.”
Neither Miss Bates nor her mother actually appears in the novel until the opening of the second book, but readers are informed about them at an earlier stage of the narrative. They belong to “the second set” frequenting Highbury. Mrs. Bates is “the widow of a former vicar of Highbury”; she is “a very old lady” and “almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.” In other words, the drink “tea” and a card game for four players played with 40 cards are the routine of her existence. She lives with her unmarried daughter “in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite.” Miss Bates, her daughter, is the opposite of Emma in appearance, social class, and status, economic well being, and living situation. However, in spite of their differences, they communicate through card games, and the attentions of Emma’s father. One, Miss Bates, the poor one, is “a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will.” She loves “every body, was interested in every body’s happiness, quick-sighted to every body’s merits.” Miss Bates considers “herself a most fortunate creature.” In short, she is “surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbors and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing” (except largeness, servants, economic security). Miss Bates has deficiencies. “She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible.” These are balanced by positive qualities such as “good-will,” “temper,” “simplicity,” and “cheerfulness.” She is an example of fortitude and endurance, making the best of what she has. She is content with her lot in life—unlike the much more complex heroine, Emma. The contrast between the two—between the wealthy and the impoverished, the well connected and the socially dependent—is not explicit at this stage in the novel. Further, Miss Bates is useful for Mr. Woodhouse, being “a great talker upon little matters” and in addition, “full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.”
The introduction of the schoolmistress, Mrs. Goddard, provides the opportunity to enlarge the portrait of Highbury society and its activities. Mrs. Goddard’s only real appearance in Emma is in this third chapter: She is a device for the author to make observations on the local early educational system, and introduce Harriet Smith, who will play a more important role in the novel. The first sentence of the fifth paragragh describes the kind of school Mrs. Goddard runs. It is not a “seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity.” The use of “screwed” (20– 21) is particularly interesting. It is used only on one other occasion in Jane Austen’s fiction. In Mansfield Park, the heroine Fanny Price is reported to have “screwed up her mouth” (50), implying some kind of physical contortion perhaps reflecting nervousness or social discomfort. In Emma the sense is a modern one of upset, trouble, neurosis, and contortion with an implication of taken or removed. Mrs. Goddard’s school is “a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where at a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price.” Noticeable are repetition of “reasonable” and the repeated emphasis upon economic considerations. At her education establishment, “girls might be sent out of the way and scramble themselves into a little education, without any of the danger of coming back prodigies” (21–22).
Jane Austen in this lengthy sentence indulges in parody and conveys the attributes her contemporary readers would expect from a young lady’s education. “The intellectual education of women in Austen’s day was generally considered unnecessary or extravagant, even detrimental.” On the whole, “it was thought that the knowledge a girl needed was available in her home.” The education at a girls’ boarding school such as Mrs. Goddard’s would probably concentrate “on etiquette and artistic accomplishments such as drawing, painting, or musical performance,” to impress a future husband, than “academic learning” (Pinch, 393). The special features of Mrs. Goddard’s school are enumerated. Explanation is given for its high reputation: “Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot.” Mrs. Goddard had “an ample house and garden.” She fed her pupils well, she “gave the children plenty of wholesome food,” let them exercise, and tended to them. Her educational system is a reflection of her character. Mrs. Goddard “was a plain, motherly, kind woman, who had worked hard in her youth.” She is without artifice. Her indulgences are a “tea-visit,” and she indulges Mr. Woodhouse by leaving “her neat parlour hung round with fancywork whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.” The “fancy-work” contrasts with her “plain” character. It is ornamental needlework, crochet, knitting, or similar nonplain work probably done by her pupils.
These three women, Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, are the women Emma “collect[s],” now that Miss Taylor has left the fold, to entertain her father. Emma herself, though, is not entertained. A note from Mrs. Goddard alleviates her boredom. She requests to bring a “Miss Smith . . . a girl of seventeen whom Emma knew very well by sight and had long felt an interest in, on account of her beauty.” The word “interest” (21–22) has more than one meaning. It means in this context, concern with. In Jane Austen’s fiction, “interest” frequently refers to “position in the higher ranks of society, whether in the services or professions, depend[ent] on birth, money and influence” (Phillips, 96). These are attributes, as the reader will learn, Harriet Smith lacks. It is in Emma’s “interest” to promote her. The activity gives Emma an illusion of power as “the fair mistress of the mansion.”
The description of Harriet Smith has not gone critically unnoticed. Wiesenfarth remarks in The Errand of Form that “the first volume of the novel (Chapters 1–18) dramatizes Emma’s attempt to dominate by making Harriet Smith into a suitable wife for Mr. Elton. . . . Emma understands her father completely and has fitted herself into his system.” However, as Wiesenfarth indicates, Emma “turns to creativity precisely because her relation to her father allows her none.” Consequently, “when Harriet Smith arrives on the scene,” (116– 117)—she is “the natural daughter of somebody” (22)—she “almost immediately turns her into the daughter of a gentleman” (117).
Nicholas Marsh in his Jane Austen: The Novels contrasts the two initial paragraphs describing Harriet Smith. The first begins with two sentences, “She was a very pretty girl.” The second is a lengthy cumulative one with a semicolon and conjunction linking the two sections. The vocabulary of the first is brief and to the point. Harriet is “short,” “plump,” “fair,” with “blue eyes, light hair,” and her features are “regular.” (23) Marsh writes, “Not only does this give a simple and vivid impression of Miss Smith, but also the language is simple enough to suit Harriet’s mind.” The second paragraph is a complete antithesis. Constructions in this second paragraph are more “elaborate and several of them are negative” (29). For instance, Emma was “not struck by any thing remarkably clever in Miss Smith’s conversation.” Miss Smith is “far from pushing,” she is “not inconveniently shy, not unwilling to talk.” The vocabulary is now Emma’s, her viewpoint, perspective has taken over. Her free indirect discourse takes over. Harriet, Emma finds, demonstrates “so proper and becoming a deference.” She, Harriet, is “pleasantly grateful for being admitted to Hartfield.” Emma believes that Harriet is “so artlessly impressed by the appearances of every thing in so superior a style to what she had been used to.” In short, Emma is attributing qualities to Harriet she wishes her to have.
The ironies in Emma’s perception of Harriet become clear when she thinks that Harriet’s “soft blue eyes and all those natural graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connections.” According to the snobbish Emma, Harriet’s “acquaintance[s],” these “she had already formed were unworthy of her.” Harriet is of a much lower social status than Emma, she lacks family and connections. Consequently, the “inferior society” of the local town is “unworthy of her.” Emma will take her in hand: “She [the emphasis is Jane Austen’s] would notice her.” The bored Emma has found a means to fill the vacuum created by Miss Taylor’s marriage. She will direct her energies to improving Harriet Smith. The narrative repeats the pronoun “she” 11 times in the paragraph beginning “She was not struck,” in addition to emphasizing it through the use of a typographical stress. Such repetition occurs in the following paragraph to a lesser extent. Emma, the “she,” has taken over, as it were, Harriet’s identity and role. Her thoughts have moved away from her social duties, her role as a hostess, to her personal feelings and ambitions. She, Emma, is going to exercise power, while carrying out her social role as hostess.
She is able to do so because Harriet Smith is defenseless. She “was the natural daughter of somebody,” in other words, the illegitimate daughter Harriet is a “parlour-boarder” and lives with Mrs. Goddard’s, the principal’s, family. She has a privilege that the other boarders do not share. She has a backer, as “somebody” (repeated three times) “had placed her . . . at Mrs. Goddard’s school, and somebody had lately raised her from the condition of scholar to that of parlour-boarder.” Otherwise, her “history” is a mystery, and “she had no visible friends.” The use of the adjective “visible” indicates once again that distinction between what appears to be so and what is, appearance and reality, at the heart of Jane Austen’s work and the foundation for her irony.
Harriet Smith, the reader learns from Emma’s thoughts, “had just departed” from friends, who, “though very good sort of people, must be doing her harm,” the reason being that they rent “a large farm off Mr. Knightley, and residing in the parish of Donwell—very creditably she believed.” In other words, they, the Martins, have money but are socially unworthy. Emma knows that “Mr. Knightley thought highly of them.” In spite of his judgment, she believes that they must be “coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimate of a girl who,” Emma assumes, “wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect.” This conflict between what Emma believes to be Mr. Knightley’s judgment and her own belief forms an important part of the plot of Emma, as does the theme of the conflict between private and public worlds. Emma, bored, fantasizes that she will “notice her [Harriet]: she would improve her; she would detach her from bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners.” The “she” is Emma, the pejorative “her,” Harriet. The final sentence of the paragraph almost gives away Emma’s motives: “it would be an interesting, and certainly a very kind, undertaking,” to take the socially inferior Harriet under her wing. It is “highly becoming her own situation in life, her leisure and powers.” Emma has the time, the inclination, and the social power to form another life and to direct it in the way she thinks fit.
While she is indulging in these fantasies, she does not neglect her function as a hostess. She did “all the honours of the meal,” at the dinner party at the Woodhouse residence. She helped and was able to “recommend the minced chicken and scalloped oysters.” Their description, “minced” and “scalloped,” has an implication of not being direct, of being interfered with. Harriet Smith is to become Emma’s “minced chicken” and “scalloped oysters.” Narrative attention moves away from Emma to her “poor” father. For him “suppers” are “very unwholesome,” and his care for the health of his visitors gains priority over their eating habits. So he, too, has to accommodate his private desires, an extreme concern with health, to his public role of providing “suppers.” During the supper he addresses Mrs. Bates, her daughter Miss Bates, and Mrs. Goddard, offering each advice on what to eat. Mrs. Bates is recommended boiled egg, which his cook “Serle understands . . . better than any body.” For Miss Bates, Emma will assist with “a little bit of tart—a very little bit.” His are “apple tarts” with no “unwholesome preserves.” And for Mrs. Goddard, “half a glass of wine” will suffice provided it is “put into a tumbler of water?” This is of course comic, especially in the concern Mr. Woodhouse displays for the smallest needs of his guests. But underlying the incongruity is a serious side. Like his daughter Emma, Mr. Woodhouse attempts to manipulate others’ lives, in this case what they eat and drink. Mrs. Bates, her daughter, and Mrs. Goddard are his guests. They will not disobey Mr. Woodhouse, whose desires as to what he thinks they should consume will not be thwarted.
In the final paragraph of three sentences of this third chapter, Emma Woodhouse again takes control. She “allowed her father to talk—but supplied her visitors in a much more satisfactory style.” In other words, the guests may not be able to refuse her father’s wishes, but she ignores them. She is made “happy” by the evening. The second and shortest sentence tells readers that “the happiness of Miss Smith was quite equal to her intentions.” The final sentence weaves in and out of various perspectives moving from Emma’s to that of Harriet Smith’s. “Miss Woodhouse was so great a personage in Highbury, that the prospect of the introduction had given as much panic as pleasure” to her. The author tells us that “the humble, grateful, little girl went off with highly gratified feelings.” She is “delighted with the affability with which Miss Woodhouse had treated her all the evening, and” has received what is a high accolade in this social world, “actually shaken hands with her at last!” In Jane Austen’s time, shaking hands was a sign of affection and intimacy and not simply a gesture of formal greeting. So the signal has been given to Harriet Smith that she has “socially” transcended her limitations, to be highly regarded by “so great a personage in Highbury” as Miss Emma Woodhouse (22–25).
The consequences of the intimacy become the focal point of the fourth chapter. In the first paragraph the reader learns that Harriet Smith has replaced Mrs. Weston (no longer “Miss Taylor”) as Emma’s “walking companion.” Emma’s father’s physical activities are confined to the immediate vicinity of his house. “Her father never went beyond the shrubbery, where two divisions of the grounds sufficed him for his long walk, or his short, as the year varied.” Emma, on the other hand, since the marriage, has had to curtail her walks. “She had ventured once alone to Randalls,” where the Westons live, “but it was not pleasant.” There is the unstated threat of something dangerous lurking outside Emma’s home for unaccompanied young ladies. Consequently, “a Harriet Smith . . . one whom she could summon at any time to a walk, would be a valuable addition to her privileges.” In addition to Emma’s being able to exercise power, to manipulate Harriet, the young Harriet Smith is useful to Emma. The final sentence of the paragraph confirms this: “in every respect as she saw more of her, she approved her, and was confirmed in all her kind designs.” The last word takes on the meaning of plans and schemes.
The second paragraph follows the mode of the initial paragraph in being direct discourse. Emma specifically appears in the “she” of the third sentence: “Altogether she [Emma] was quite convinced of Harriet Smith’s being exactly the young friend she wanted.” In the previous two sentences authorial direction and opinion appears to coincide with Emma’s thinking. “Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition.” Further, she “was totally free from conceit; and only desiring to be guided by any one she looked up to,” in other words, qualities not conflicting with Emma’s and ones Emma can manipulate. This sense of Harriet’s usefulness to Emma is reinforced by a contrast with Mrs. Weston. “Such a friend as Mrs. Weston was out of the question.” The reason is succinctly conveyed in a short sentence of free indirect discourse, “For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harriet everything.” In other words, Mrs. Weston, when Miss Taylor, was useful to Emma (and her father); no longer useful, she is replaced by Harriet.
Emma’s interference in all aspects of Harriet’s life becomes evident. She attempts unsuccessfully “to find out who were [Harriet’s] parents” and is “obliged to fancy what she liked,” to imagine ancestry, origins, and parents. Harriet’s experience beyond the world of Mrs. Goddard’s school, “the teachers and the girls, and the affairs of the school in general,” seems to be confined to the world of “the Martins of Abbey-Mill-Farm.” Harriet’s way of speaking about the Martins and how they live is conveyed through Emma’s perception and her reporting of Harriet’s speech patterns. The vocabulary is simplistic, the word choice repetitive. Harriet is fascinated by Mrs. Martin’s space and possessions. She has “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed.” Her “upper maid”—Mrs. Martin has more than one maid—has “lived five-and-twenty years with her.” The family has “eight cows, two of them Aldeneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow” of which Mrs. Martin is particularly fond. They have “a very handsome summerhouse,” this being repeated twice, which is “large enough to hold a dozen people” and “where some day next year they were all to drink tea.”
Emma’s reaction to this is one of amusement until she realizes that something in the Martin family structure may well prove to be a threat to her plans. Emma discovers “that there was no young Mrs. Martin, no wife in the case.” Consequently, “she did suspect danger to her poor little friend from all this hospitality and kindness—and that if she were not taken care of, she might be required to sink herself for ever.” Here, Emma’s snobbery is evident. She elicits more information from her protégée Harriet about the young Mr. Martin. Emma learns about Harriet and her admirer Martin. They experienced “moonlight walks and merry evening games.” Martin was “so very good-humoured and obliging,” going for instance three miles “in order to bring [Harriet] some walnuts, because she had said how fond she was of them.” Owing to her being “very fond of singing,” he invited his “shepherd’s son into the parlour one night on purpose to sing to her.” Harriet believes him to be “very clever, and understood every thing.” The wool from his flock fetches the highest price at auction than anybody else’s. Martin is highly spoken of, “his mother and sisters were very fond of him.” She, Harriet, had been told by his mother “that it was impossible for any body to be a better son, and therefore she was sure whenever he married he would make a good husband.”
The passage of reported speech is followed by a dialogue initially in Emma’s thought and then transferred into an actual conversation between Emma and Harriet. The latter continues to repeat what she has said, for instance, that Mrs. Goddard was kindly sent by Mrs. Martin “a beautiful goose,” which becomes “the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen.” Emma, however, is not as interested in this goodwill gesture toward Harriet’s educators, as she is in eliciting further information about the person who may well prove to be a stumbling block to her plans. She asks Harriet, “Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business. He does not read?” The response reveals much about Martin and Harriet. “He reads the Agricultural Reports and some other books, that lay in one of the window seats—but he reads all them to himself.” This implies a separation of professional work and other reading on Martin’s part. Occasionally, “before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts—very entertaining. And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefield.” Neither of these demonstrates that Martin is a voracious and discerning reader. Both Elegant Extracts; or Useful and Entertaining Passages in Prose and Elegant Extracts: or Useful and Entertaining Pieces of Poetry were widely available anthologies specifically aimed at the market for younger readers. Initially published in the 1780s, they were frequently reprinted in the early 19th century. Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) was a very popular sentimental novel. Harriet indicates to Emma that Martin “had never heard,” prior to her mentioning them, of “the Romance of the Forest, nor the Children of the Abbey.” Neither reveals that her reading tastes are in any way superior to Martin’s. Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791) and Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of the Abbey (1798) are both gothic novels commonly found in lending libraries of the period.
Having ascertained to her satisfaction her apparent rival’s intellectual and educational tastes, Emma must establish his physical appearance. Emma asks Harriet, “What sort of looking man is Mr. Martin?” To which she receives a response replete with repetition and qualifications representative of Harriet Smith’s personality: “Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now.” Harriet is without guile and seems genuinely unaware that the new world that she has entered, that of Emma, the world outside the apparently safe confines of Mrs. Goddard’s educational establishment, is pervaded by a sense of social hierarchy. She tells Emma that Martin rides frequently into Highbury on a weekly basis and must have frequently “passed” Emma. Martin is on his way to Kingston, the nearest market town to Hartfield. Information of this kind leads to an outburst from Emma. “A young farmer, whether on a horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity.” She adds that “the yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do.” The yeoman are the small landowners, or in the Martins’ case, renters who work the land and gather together in voluntary forces to ensure peace and order and maintain the status quo. They operate and work the land owned by the Knightleys and presumably by the Woodhouses of the world. They, as Emma recognizes, as farmers “can need none of my help,” and are “therefore in one sense as much above [her] notice as in every other he [Martin] is below it.” He is too independent for Emma. Those who are “a degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance, might interest” her, to the extent to which she can exercise power over them and make them dependent and grateful.
Implicitly, Emma is attempting to turn Harriet’s attentions away from Martin. She reinforces this effort to prejudice Harriet by indicating the disadvantage of Martin’s age and prospects. Upon learning that he is “Only four-and-twenty,” she comments, “that is too young to settle” and that “six years hence, if he could meet with a good sort of young woman in the same rank as his own, with a little money, it might be very desirable.” This observation lends to despair on Harriet’s part. “Six years hence! Dear Miss Woodhouse, he would be thirty years old!” Emma assumes that Martin is “not born to an independence”; she “imagine[s]” that he “has his fortune entirely to make” and will inherit little, assumptions based on little evidence. Harriet tries to correct her: “they live very comfortably. They have no in-doors man—else they do not want for any thing. And Mrs. Martin talks of taking a boy another year.”
Emma is replete with pointers to status and class. The Martins lack an “in-doors man” (26–30). In other words, they are without a “male servant whose responsibilities were restricted to the house, rather than to work around the farm.” However, during the late 18th century and early 19th century, “the social and economic threshold for employing domestic help was relatively low.” The Martins as prosperous farmers would probably have “female servants, but employing an adult male indoor servant, such as a butler or footman, implied a significantly higher degree of social and economic distinction.” In addition, “Hiring a ‘boy’ . . . represents both aspiration and compromise” (Pinch, 394).
Emma’s failure to discover Harriet’s parentage results in the creation of a lineage. She tells Harriet, “There can be no doubts of your being a gentleman’s daughter,” and she must act appropriately according to the fantasy status Emma has created for her. Martin, to Emma’s way of thinking, is clearly unsuited for Harriet. Harriet, in an amusing and deliberately grammatically incorrect reply, assures Emma: “Not that I think Mr. Martin would ever marry any body but what had had some education.” Both encounter him “as they were walking on the Donwell road.” He is accorded a high compliment in Jane Austen’s vocabulary: “he looked like a sensible young man.” Here, the author’s and her character Emma’s judgment coincide, only to depart in the rest of the sentence “but his person had no other advantage . . . in Harriet’s inclination,” when Emma’s thought process takes over. As Emma observes Harriet and him talking, she thinks, “Mr. Martin looked as if he did not know what manner was.” Harriet reports the conversation to the observer and judge Emma: Martin’s words, his speech patterns are conveyed through Harriet’s lenses.
The meeting and reactions to it provide Emma with the opportunity to point out Martin’s deficiencies to Harriet. Emma compares him with “very real gentlemen” Harriet has been introduced to at Hartfield, where she has seen “very good specimens of well educated, well bred men.” These men appear to Emma as “specimens” to be cultivated and eventually captured. Emma asks Harriet: “Were you not struck? I am sure you must have been struck by his [Martin’s] awkward look and abrupt manner—and the uncouthness of voice . . . wholly unmodulated.” The response is not what Emma expects. Harriet replies, “Certainly, he is not like Mr. Knightley,” a reply that helps Emma to appreciate Knightley’s qualities, which she appears to take for granted. It is not Knightley on whom Emma has set her designs as a suitable partner for Harriet, but Mr. Elton.
Elton is indirectly introduced to Harriet. Emma begins by contrasting Elton’s behavior with that of the older Mr. Weston. She tells Harriet, “Compare Mr. Martin with either of them [Emma’s emphasis]. Compare their manner of carrying themselves; of walking; of speaking; of being silent. You must see the difference.” As he grows older, to be Mr. Weston’s age, Mr. Martin “will be a completely gross, vulgar farmer—totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but profit and loss.” Exhibiting Martin’s deficiencies to Harriet is a part of Emma’s stratagem to make Harriet into an appropriate wife for Mr. Elton. The pursuit of this aim, hatched in Emma’s “brain during the very first evening of Harriet’s coming to Hartfield,” is to preoccupy the rest of the first of the three books of Emma. The heroine, Emma, has not consulted Elton or Harriet, or even considered their wishes. She makes assumptions about both. She believes, for instance; that Elton is “without low connections, at the same time not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet.” The novel as it unfolds will reveal just how incorrect Emma is in her judgment of Elton, whom she “imagined [had] a very sufficient income.” Although Emma does recognize that in Elton there was “a want of elegance of feature.” The rest of the last sentence of chapter 4 takes on a comic and not unironic note. For Emma, Harriet, “who could be gratified by a Robert Martin’s riding about the country to get walnuts for her, might very well be conquered by Mr. Elton’s admiration” (30–33, 35). Earlier in this chapter, Harriet told Emma that Martin “had gone three miles round one day, in order to bring her some walnuts because she had said how fond she was of them” (28). Martin’s kindness, his offerings of walnuts, will ultimately triumph over Emma’s stratagems. The comic element at the end of the chapter lies in the fact that Martin and Elton are at cross-purposes. Elton’s actions are make-believe, products of Emma’s imagination.
The fifth chapter highlights the differences between Emma and Knightley over her scheming. It centers on conversations between Mrs. Weston and Knightley over the matter and conveys the first lengthy speech in the novel by Mrs. Weston and Knightley’s clear-sighted, levelheaded awareness of Emma’s deficiencies. Emma is the focus of attention but does not appear directly in the chapter. Mrs. Weston’s conversation reveals her to be sensible, dependent on her husband’s opinion, and also demonstrating a willingness to consider others. Above all, she wishes to see the positives in Emma and ignore the negatives. “Harriet must do Emma good.” Harriet and Emma are mutually beneficial for each other. Knightley, according to Mrs. Weston, is unable “to be a fair judge in this case.” He is too “used to live alone,” no longer appreciates “the value of a companion,” and moreover “no man can be a good judge of the comfort a woman feels in the society of one of her own sex, after being used to it all her life.” Mrs. Weston sees Knightley’s objection to Harriet as “not the superior young woman . . . Emma’s friend ought to be.” However, they will mutually “read together.”
Knightley, on the other hand, is much more skeptical and sees Emma’s faults. She is full of good intentions but “will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy,” a combination of getting her own way, and imagination, “to the understanding.” It is this process of learning common sense and rationality, seeing the implications of “fancy” upon others, that Emma learns as the novel develops. This learning process, from the subjugation of the “fancy” to that of “understanding,” is one of the central concerns of the novel and a lesson its heroine must learn, sometimes painfully. At this early stage in the plot development, Knightley “may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing” for Emma. From the overall shaping of the novel, Emma does eventually learn something from her abortive attempts to marry Harriet to Mr. Elton, Mr. Elton to Harriet, and separate Harriet from Martin.
Knightley reminds Mrs. Weston that Emma has been spoiled. “At ten years old, she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her sister at seventeen.” Emma’s sister, Isabella, was “slow and diffident.” Emma, on the other hand, “was always quick and assured.” Furthermore, “ever since she was twelve, Emma has been mistress of the house and of you all.” According to Knightley, “In her mother she lost the only person able to cope with her. She inherits her mother’s talents, and must have been under subjection to her.” Knightley turns Mrs. Weston’s response, that he is always negative, into a positive. Mrs. Weston’s new situation as a married woman is a better situation than her previous one for which she at Hartfield had been preparing herself. She might not have given “Emma such a complete education as [her] powers might seem to promise” but received “a very good education from her, on the very material matrimonial point of submitting your own will, and doing as you were bid.” Knightley’s response reveals a perception of marriage as that of submission of the “will” to that of another. The narrative as it unfolds reveals just this clash of “wills” between him and Emma before they can reach a balance, a compromise.
Knightley has a considerable degree of foresight perceiving that Weston’s son “may plague him,” although it is not Weston or his new wife for whom Frank Churchill is to make life difficult, but Emma. Somewhat ironically in view of the unfolding of narrative events, Knightley tells Mrs. Weston that he does “not pretend to Emma’s genius for foretelling and guessing.” Somewhat as a warning to the reader, Knightley adds that “the young man may be a Weston in merit, and a Churchill in fortune.” Knightley’s insights are presented in terms of antithesis: “merit” and “fortune.” Harriet “knows nothing herself, and looks upon Emma as knowing every thing.” He comprehends that Harriet “is a flatterer in all her ways; and so much the worse, because undesigned.” Such distinctions are sophisticated ones in terms of character analysis and may easily be overlooked in reading. For Knightley, “Harriet is presenting such a delightful inferiority” that can only flatter Emma.
Knightley’s assessment of the Emma and Harriet friendship is founded on a scrutiny of the choices and differences between them. He too is not unaware that Harriet’s social status is different from Emma’s, but he fears that Harriet’s introduction to the lifestyle of a wealthier class will make her unhappy. Harriet “will grow just refined enough to be uncomfortable with those among whom birth and circumstances have placed her home.” She will be given expectations that must remain unfulfilled. Emma’s assumption that, while pleasing herself, she will be helping Harriet may have the opposite consequence. Harriet may well prove to be very unhappy. Emma may afford Harriet “a little polish,” but not “strength of mind,” or how to behave “rationally.” When Mrs. Weston commends Emma’s physical appearance, her “face and figure,”—“she is loveliness itself”—Knightley’s response is to differentiate between Emma’s “person,” on the one hand and her “vanity.” Knightley also admits bias; he is, after all, a “partial old friend.”
In these judgments of Emma, omniscient narrator and character, Jane Austen and Knightley, are in accord. The chapter concludes with Mrs. Weston reminding Knightley that “it cannot be expected that Emma [is] accountable to nobody but her father.” In a way, Mrs. Weston is a memory bank for what has occurred in Emma’s life. She reminds Knightley that his brother’s wife, Emma’s sister, Mrs. John Knightley, who “is easily alarmed,” should not be by the relationship. Knightley then reveals that his affection, his friendship, for Emma is more complex for he brings up the subject of her observations about marriage, and ironically comments, “I have no idea that she has yet ever seen a man she cared for.” He is indeed that very man. Knightley “should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of return; it would do her good. But there is nobody hereabouts to attach her.” Here he forgets himself. The rest of the chapter hints at possibilities formed in Mr. and Mrs. Weston’s minds concerning a suitable match for a heroine who is very much home based (–41).
Chapter 6 focuses on Emma’s stratagems to unite Harriet with Mr. Elton. It opens with a lengthy sentence relating to Emma’s reaction to Harriet. The author emphasizes that Emma’s manipulation of Harriet appeals to “her young vanity,” although it is unclear whose vanity is being referred to in this opening sentence—it could be Emma’s, Harriet’s, or both. Emma’s assessment of Elton, “she was quite convinced of Mr. Elton’s being in the fairest way of falling in love, if not in love already,” is ironic. Emma perceives Elton to be “falling in love” with Harriet, whereas, as she discovers, he is “falling in love” with Emma herself. Emma “had no scruple with regard to him.” In other words, Emma has no hesitation in her behavior toward Elton, although his continual use of personal pronouns in addressing Emma and stressing her role in transforming Miss Smith should have set up warning signs. Elton tells Emma, “You have given Miss Smith all that she required . . . you have made her graceful and easy. She was a beautiful creature when she came to you, but, in my opinion, the attractions you have added are infinitely superior to what she received from nature.” The overflattering tone of Elton’s comments should be obvious to Emma, but they are not, and she takes them at face value. Emma’s attentions are directed at persuading Elton that Harriet is a worthy future bride.
The dialogue between Emma and Elton regarding Harriet’s attributes at the beginning of chapter 6 is notable for an obvious example of free indirect speech. Elton’s reply to Emma, “I have no doubt of it,” is followed by the sentence “And it was spoken with a sort of sighing animation which had a vast deal of the lover,” clearly represent Emma’s inner thoughts. These are immediately followed by a sentence of authorial narration: “She was not less pleased another day with the manner in which he seconded a sudden wish of hers to have Harriet’s picture” (–43). Of course, Elton is flattering Emma in order, he thinks, to ingratiate himself with her. Emma, on the other hand, misreads his actions as displays of affection toward Harriet. Elton encourages Emma to draw, something she has given up, confirming Knightley’s opinion in chapter 5 that “she will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience” (37). Emma almost sees through Elton’s flattery. “Yes, good man!—thought Emma—but what has all that to do with taking likenesses? You know nothing of drawing. Don’t pretend to be in raptures about mine. Keep your raptures for Harriet’s face.”
A good deal of the remainder of the chapter is preoccupied with Emma’s attempt to draw Harriet’s portrait in an endeavor to attract Elton’s interest in Harriet. A lengthy description of Emma’s previous attempts draws attention to her failure to finish what she has started: “Her many beginnings were displayed.” The descriptions of her subjects provide the narrator with the opportunity to convey additional information concerning Emma’s elder sister, Isabella, who married Knightley’s brother. They have four children, Henry, John, Bella, and “little George,” all of whom Emma has attempted to sketch. Following Harriet’s initial sitting, Emma is satisfied with the result: “as she meant to throw in a little improvement to the figure, to give a little more height, and considerably more elegance, she had great confidence in its being in every way a pretty drawing at last, and of its filling its destined place with credit to them both.” In other words, to attract Elton’s attentions, she has, as it were, “touched up” the portrait, given it “a little improvement to the figure.” Emma’s is not a precise likeness; she has “improved” Harriet. So Emma’s motives are clarified. She was not interested intrinsically in Harriet but in what she can gain from her to satisfy her own wishes and desires. Mrs. Weston sees that Emma has created an artificial Harriet: “Miss Smith has not those eye-brows and eye-lashes,” she tells Elton. Knightley tells Emma, “You have made her too tall,” to which the narrator adds, “Emma knew that she had, but would not own it.” Elton wishes to flatter Emma by minimizing the differences. Mr. Woodhouse, while praising Emma’s drawing, is concerned with the possibilities of Harriet’s catching cold: “she seems to be sitting out of doors with only a little shawl over her shoulders—and it makes one think she must be cold” (43–45, 47–48). As Joseph Wiesenfarth judiciously observes in The Errand of Form, “Knightley appears . . . to judge the reality and predict the course of action and its conclusion. He is the choric voice of reality that sounds on deaf ears. He comes and judges persons while Emma ignores individuals and tries to make and match social entities” (121).
Through the reactions of her character to a drawing, Jane Austen brilliantly conveys character, artifice, deception, and honesty. Emma, by adding to Harriet’s eyebrows and eyelashes, and giving her height, implicitly acknowledges that Harriet lacks these qualities. She attempts to improve her subject, Harriet, to give her additional features, physical and social stature. Elton is only too willing “to take the drawing to London, chuse the frame, and give the directions.” The drawing, being Emma’s, is from his point of view “precious deposit!” His feelings are genuine and “tender.” As Emma recognizes, “This man [Elton] is almost too gallant to be in love” (49). She sees things through her own lenses, and the course of the novel shows her growing awareness of her own limitations. Her growth to recognition of others’ viewpoints occurs after she has hurt both Harriet and herself and demonstrated Knightley’s acuteness when he told Mrs. Weston at the start of chapter 5: “they will neither of them do the other any good” (36).
Chapter 7 contains a description of the first letter in the novel. This letter is Robert Martin’s proposal of marriage to Harriet Smith, from which readers learn much. First, it provides a guide to the criterion for a good letter held by Emma and those of her social rank and background. “The style of the letter was much above [Emma’s] expectation.” The reasons why are succinctly given: “There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer.” So Robert Martin can write a grammatically correct letter, and one of which a gentleman (let alone a farmer) would have been proud. His language is unadorned or “unaffected” and to the point, containing genuine feelings, not artificial ones. Second, Harriet’s reaction to the letter, her reluctance to reject it, reveals her true feelings too.
The letter is presented, indirectly framed by Emma’s reactions to it. She finds Martin’s letter “above her expectation,” and “She paused over it.” The letter gains Emma’s approval, and is “A better written letter Harriet . . . than I had expected.” J. F. Burrows perceptively notes in his Jane Austen’s Emma that the hesitation here on Emma’s part, indicated by the parenthetical pauses following “Harriet” and before “than I had expected” (– 51) has its very origins in the difference between Emma, Robert Martin, and the quality of the letter he has written. Fact has intruded into Emma’s selfcontained world. Emma “can tell Harriet anything she pleases, but she cannot disguise from herself the merits of the letter or persist in telling herself that it is his sister’s work. For a moment [Emma] is genuinely puzzled—but she soon persuades herself that she can” (Burrows, 30) comprehend the kind of mind that composed the letter and she returns to the easier assignment of manipulating Harriet.
Among the reasons Emma uses to persuade Harriet to reject the proposal is a snobbish one. She, Emma, “could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm. Now I am secure of you for ever.” By marrying Martin, Harriet, according to Emma, would be “confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all [her] life!” This is an observation that once again leads Harriet Smith to defend Martin, although she admits that since visiting Hartfield she has encountered others but she does “really think Mr. Martin a very amiable young man, and have a great opinion of him.” Persuaded by Emma to reject the proposal, Emma assists Harriet in writing the negative reply. Again, the author does not give her readers the text, merely a summary of the content and a statement of fact: “This letter . . . was written, and sealed, and sent. The business was finished, and Harriet safe,” from Emma’s viewpoint. Interestingly, chapter 7 provides very useful illustrations of Jane Austen’s narrative techniques. First, she uses omniscient narration: “The letter . . . was written, and sealed, and sent.” Second, she allows her characters’ words and their actions to reveal themselves. Consequently, this same sentence could well also be Emma’s inner thoughts at work. The words “and Harriet safe” clearly represent Emma’s thoughts and not the omniscient narration.
The last section of this chapter returns to the everyday domestic world of trivial conversation but one revealing social hierarchy. We are reintroduced to another inhabitant of Highbury, a Miss Nash, the head teacher at Mrs. Goddard’s school who influenced Harriet. According to Harriet, who tells Emma that she is “never happy but at Hartfield,” her former head teacher “thinks her own sister very well married, and it is only a linen draper.” Harriet is a good pupil, adopting the attitudes and prejudices of her mentor, Emma. Harriet’s teacher Emma returns to her object, to unite Harriet with Mr. Elton, although Harriet’s thoughts are with Robert Martin and his sisters and their reaction to the rejection. In the final speech of the chapter, Emma speculates on Elton’s reactions to her picture: Her last words undercut what she has just said. She comments, “How cheerful, how animated, how suspicious, how busy their imaginations all are!” She seems to refer to Elton’s family but is also commenting on human speculation, especially her own. She, Emma, has not the final words of the chapter. These are left to the omniscient narrator with the ambiguous “Harriet smiled again, and her smiles grew stronger.” Why she is smiling is deliberately unclear— perhaps she is still thinking of Robert Martin and his declaration of love (53–56).
Chapters 8 and 9 focus on Harriet and Emma’s plans for her. The main interest in chapter 8 resides in the reaction of Knightley to Emma’s persuading Harriet to reject Robert Martin’s proposal. Knightley directly tells Emma, “Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do” and spells out the harmful effects of her actions upon Harriet: “Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.” Emma in her response to Knightley is disingenuous. “I will not pretend to say that I might not influence her a little, but I assure you there was very little for me or for anybody to do”—this is patently untrue as is her further observation, “I have done with match-making indeed” (64–66). Knightley acts openly and honestly, Emma dishonestly. In chapter 8, Knightley attempts to teach Emma common sense. Emma, on the other hand, tries to justify her actions and denies interference in Harriet’s decisions. Knightley’s tone can be perceived as patronizing. Emma is “uncomfortable,” dislikes the fact that she feels “very disagreeable,” and creates an “unpleasant silence.” Her negative feelings seem unconnected to her disagreement with Knightley, “she still thought herself a better judge”; however, Emma has “a sort of habitual respect for his [Knightley’s] judgment in general” (65).
Emma’s argument with Knightley in this chapter is conveyed in generalized gender parameters. She tells Knightley, “It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks.” To which Knightley responds, “Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing.” Knightley also speaks to Emma in general terms of “men of sense,” “men of family,” and “prudent men.” He tells Emma that “Men of sense, whatever you [Emma] may chuse to say, do not want silly wives. Men of family would not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of such obscurity.” This is not only gender-based language but also a reflection of the harsh realities of existence in Jane Austen’s world and her fictional canvas. According to Knightley’s perceptions, “men of sense,” men of “prudence,” (60, 64) when marrying, carefully assess whom they are to marry, with materialistic considerations being primary ones. For Emma, there is “passion” allied with attractiveness possessed by Harriet Smith, which will allow her to “pick and choose” the right partner (63–64). Emma is using Harriet; however, there are essential differences between them in social status and wealth. Emma has all of these; Harriet has none. The latter will have to marry a wealthy man; the former, Emma, who is independently wealthy, an heiress, can bring other considerations into play when making a decision.
In chapter 8, following Knightley’s departure, “Emma remained in a state of vexation.” Further, “she did not always feel so absolutely satisfied with herself, so entirely convinced that her opinions were right and her adversary’s wrong, as Mr. Knightley.” The confrontation with Knightley reveals a feeling of unhappiness and an alternative explanation for her involvement with Harriet. She, Emma, is not merely using Harriet to alleviate her boredom as a result of Miss Taylor/Mrs. Weston’s wedding. Emma uses Harriet to sublimate her own problems. She, Emma, will have to confront the matter of her own marriage. Why does she wish to evade the matter? This may have something to do with her relationship with her father, who is totally dependent on her. Further, her own sense of marriage is not a simple one. Although financially independent, she is aware that marriage in the world she inhabits is necessary; she also feels that “Knightley did not make due allowance for the influence of a strong passion, at war with all interested motives.” Harriet, in the previous chapter, by returning to her concern for the feelings of Robert Martin and his family, exhibits feelings, “a strong passion.” Emma, after Knightley has left her, also exhibits such “passion”—for Knightley.
The final paragraph of chapter 8 returns to Harriet, who “came back, not to think of Mr. Martin, but to talk of Mr. Elton,” to the world of local gossip and rumor, to Miss Nash, Harriet’s former head teacher, to Perry the apothecary. It is Perry who is the source of information concerning Elton’s activities. Perry “found to his great surprise that Mr. Elton was actually on his road to London,” that Elton would not return until the next day, which meant that he would miss “the whist-club night, which he had never known to miss before.” Both Perry and Miss Nash are sure that “there must be a lady in the case” (67–68). Emma, as readers have seen, assumes that Elton’s concern is for Harriet. Her misreading of Elton preoccupies the next chapters.
Chapter 9 The opening paragraph of chapter 9 tells readers that Knightley has “not forgiven” Emma and that “She was sorry, but could not repent.” Emma believes that “her plans and proceedings were more and more justified.” The rest of the final sentence of the four-sentence paragraph is ironic: “justified” is followed by “and endeared to her by the general appearances of the next few days.” The key words are “general appearances.” Earlier, Knightley had told Mrs. Weston that Emma rarely if ever completed what she started out. His analysis is confirmed. Emma’s intention “of improving her little friend’s mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on tomorrow.” Emma finds chatting easier than studying and “much pleasanter to let her imagination range and work at Harriet’s fortune, than to be labouring to enlarge her comprehension or exercise it on sober facts.”
In chapter 9, Emma and Harriet have started a collection of riddles and Elton has been “invited to contribute any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrums that he might recollect.” These were domestic games exercising the mind and did not necessarily encourage conversation. In Emma they play charades, which are riddles conforming to a certain regulated pattern. Mr. Woodhouse halfremembers a riddle that “always ended in ‘Kitty, a fair but frozen maid’ ” (69–70). This in fact is a riddle by the great actor David Garrick (1717–79). The final verse of the poem reads
Say, by what title, or what name,
Must I the youth address?
Cupid and he are not the same,
Tho’ both can raise, or quench a flame—
I’ll kiss you if you guess
The answer to the question of the second line is “a chimney sweeper.” Adela Pinch notes that “The sexual innuendo of this riddle marks it as belonging to the taste of the earlier parts of the” 18th century. Consequently, Mr. Woodhouse’s decision to choose this riddle, plus the fact that he cannot remember it, show that he is aging (395).
Mr. Elton’s first charade
My first doth affliction denote,
Which my second is destin’d to feel
And my whole is the best antidote
That affliction to soften and heal
The solutions “woe” and “man,” hence “woman,” are suggestive. Elton delivers another charade the following day directed to Emma more than Harriet. Emma finds the solution to the three-verse charade. The answer being “court,” “ship” making “courtship.” Again, Emma misperceives Elton’s intentions. She speaks to herself with Knightley rarely from her thoughts. “Ah! Mr. Knightley, I wish you had the benefit of this; I think this would convince you.” She adds, “For once in your life you would be obliged to own yourself mistaken.” Her following four words are ironic in view of Emma’s misreading of Elton, whose verses are not directed, as she thinks, to Harriet but to Emma herself. She muses, “An excellent charade indeed!” The word “charade” has the meanings of a mental game played in verse riddle and a performance, an act where appearances are deceptive.
Emma has to explain to Harriet the solution to the charade. Emma tells Harriet, “That I [she] cannot have a moment’s doubt as to Mr. Elton’s intentions. You are his object.” Her words, of course, her perceptions of “Elton’s intentions” are totally incorrect. Again, in Jane Austen’s work appearances and perceptions are deceptive. What appears to be so is not so, in spite of Emma’s “I thought it must be so.” She has falsely anticipated, telling Harriet, “I could never tell whether an attachment between you and Mr. Elton were most desirable or most natural. Its probability and its eligibility have really so equalled each other! I am so very happy. I congratulate you, my dear Harriet, with all my heart.” Emma then specifically reveals the foundations for marriage, what she perceives it offers Harriet: “It will give you every thing that you want—consideration, independence, a proper home—it will fix you in the centre of all your real friends, close to Hartfield and to me, and confirm our intimacy for ever.” Personal affection between the two people getting married does not enter into Emma’s selfish, self-interested considerations. She adds, again ironically in view of her total misreading of the situation, “This, Harriet, is an alliance which can never raise a blush in either of us.” The opposite is in fact the case. Emma must learn, by the resolution of the novel, to become aware of others’ thoughts and feelings. She must learn to interpret more perceptively others’ intentions and behavior.
Harriet is a victim of Emma’s misjudgments. She tells Emma, “Whatever you say is always right.” This may appear to be stupid, and too trusting, yet is also flattering to someone who has so much social power over her, Emma. Emma tells her charge Harriet: “It is a certainty. Receive it on my judgment. It is a sort of prologue to the play, a motto to the chapter; and will be soon followed by matter-offact prose.” The threefold repetition of the neuter pronoun “it,” for marriage and Elton, reinforces the sense of marriage as a business contract, and as something inevitable in the life of young women such as Emma and Harriet. The theatrical metaphors are just one example of many from a novel replete with references to the theater. The sequel will indeed be “matter-of-fact prose,” more so for the victim Harriet than Emma, who is cosseted by her social position and status (70, 72–74).
Lines from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth” (I.i.123), are cited by Emma as an observation upon her reading of “something in the air of Hartfield [giving] love exactly the right direction.” Again, her words have multiple meanings placed in the context of the rest of the novel and the unfolding of its plot. Shakespeare’s line does provide a commentary on the surface and underlying meanings. Emma believes that Elton will propose to Harriet, whose feelings, if any for him, are created by Emma. Elton has intentions not toward Harriet but Emma. Unconsciously, Emma has deep feelings for Knightley as he has for her. Thus indeed “the course of true love never did run smooth.”
Lengthy conversation between Harriet and Emma dwells on the misperceptions of Elton’s behavior and misreading of his charade verses. Harriet’s true feelings are revealed by her reaction to the letter received from Martin and Elton’s verses. Emma controls the situation even to the point of restricting the number of lines from the verses Harriet is permitted to write down. She even tells Harriet not to “be over-powered by such a little tribute of admiration”; she is only too aware of the elaborate social games, or charades, played by people. Harriet, from another world, is not. Mr. Woodhouse appears and breaks up their revelries and fantasies concerning Elton. He, too, reflects upon the significance of the words used in the charade, evoking for one of the few occasions in the novel memories of Emma’s late mother: “Your dear mother was so clever at all those things! If I had but her memory! But I can remember nothing, not even that particular riddle which you have heard me mention.” He then quotes lines from Garrick that he heard Emma “copied from the Elegant Extracts,” which make him think of Emma’s sister, Isabella, who is due to visit shortly. His rambling reflections based on disconnected memory recall (Mr. Woodhouse has the symptoms of being in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s) are a means to review plot development: Miss Taylor has become Mrs. Weston and left Emma and Mr. Woodhouse; Emma’s sister, Isabella, her husband, and children will stay for a short period over Christmas. In one of his longest speeches so far in the novel, Mr. Woodhouse muses on his grandchildren Henry and John, complaining that “their father is too rough with them very often.” Emma, in company with Mr. Knightley, is one of the few who can disagree with her father to make him see other viewpoints. She praises Knightley’s behavior as an uncle and concludes “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other,” words that will shortly rebound at her own expense, given the certainty of her belief that Elton’s verse charades are directed at Harriet.
The end of chapter 9 focuses on a visit from Elton. Emma tells him that she and Harriet “admired . . . so much” his charade and that she, Emma, has “ventured to write it into Miss Smith’s collection” and she has “not transcribed beyond the eight first lines.” The last two lines with their ambiguity are omitted. Elton considers Emma’s reply “as the proudest moment of his life.” Such hyperbole, such exaggeration, leads even Emma to have doubts about Elton’s sincerity. “There was a sort of parade in his speeches which was very apt to incline her to laugh” (75, 77–78, 81–82). It is Harriet who must suffer the consequences of Emma’s misperceptions.
Chapter 10 focuses on a visit by Emma accompanied by Harriet to the neighborhood poor and what happens subsequently. Another perspective of Highbury and the surroundings is displayed. So far the narrative has been placed in the setting of Hartfield, with excursions to Weston’s wealthy residence and indirect accounts of events at John and Isabella Knightley’s in London, Knightley’s residence on the outskirts of Highbury, the Martins’ farm, and Mrs. Goddard’s school. Now Emma is shown displaying her social responsibilities as the daughter of the wealthiest and well-established member of the community by dispensing charity and visiting “a poor sick family” living “a little way out of Highbury.” On their way to visit and passing the Vicarage inhabited by Elton, a most revealing conversation takes place between the two. In this Emma reveals her attitudes to marriage. Her response contains insights into her personal viewpoint and those of young women of similar wealth and status in early 19th-century provincial En gland. She tells Harriet first that she has “none of the usual inducements to marry.” Second, that if she “were . . . to fall in love . . . it would be a different thing!” However, Emma feels that to “fall in love . . . is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.” Emma adds, “without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine.” She tells Harriet that she does not need money, employment, or social position—what she calls “consequence.” She has more control at Hartfield than married women have “of their husband’s house.” Emma also reveals a deep relationship with her father and love for him. She tells Harriet, “never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important, so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”
This reintroduces a reference to a character, Miss Bates, who is to play an important role in the novel and especially regarding Emma and her process of education. Harriet’s response to Emma’s strictures on marriage is, “But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!” Emma’s objections to Miss Bates are not those of Harriet, that she has aged and remained a virgin, poor and without social status. Her objections are that Miss Bates is, to use Emma’s words “so silly—so satisfied—so smiling—so prosing—so undistinguishing and unfastidious.” She, Emma, objects and resents Miss Bates’s contentment. Emma is aware of general perceptions of those who remain single. She tells Harriet that “it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public!” Emma in this way becomes the voice for many of Jane Austen’s contemporary readers when she informs Harriet that “A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls.” On the other hand, in the balance and antithesis so common to Jane Austen and her sentence structures, Emma tells Harriet, “but a single woman of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.”
Here is contained a remarkable insight into values permeating the world of Jane Austen’s novels and the judgments upon human activity contained within them. As long as the “single woman” possesses “good fortune,” has more than sufficient wealth, she is fine in the eyes of others. Not only that, a “very narrow income,” Emma tells Harriet, “has a tendency to contract the mind, and sour the temper.” She elaborates, “Those who can barely live” survive economically “and who live perforce in a very small, and generally inferior society, may well be illiberal and cross.” Economic conditions and situation influence human behavior and psychology. Yet what is even more annoying to Emma is her perception that Miss Bates is an exception to this rule. Miss Bates is poor and unmarried yet still “very much to the taste of everybody.” In fact, according to Emma, “Poverty certainly has not contracted her [Miss Bates’s] mind” and Emma adds, “I really believe, if she has only a shilling in the world, she [Miss Bates] would be very likely to give away a sixpence of it.” In addition, “nobody is afraid of her: that is a great charm.”
Harriet reveals in her questions to Emma in this chapter that she is not as simple as she appears. Aware of aging, that her youth will not endure forever, she asks Emma directly and pointedly what she, Emma, will do when she “grow[s] old?” The answer reveals much about Emma and her sense of what women of her wealth and background can and cannot do, given the social constraints under which they live. Her mind, she believes, is “an active, busy” one. She has “a great many independent resources.” Also open to her are what she refers to as “Woman’s usual occupations of eye and hand and mind.” If she will “draw less,” she, Emma, will “read more,” “carpet-work” can replace “music.” She recognizes that by “not marrying,” she may lack “objects for the affections.” However, she will have “all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about.” Attachment to her nephews and nieces cannot “equal that of a parent,” yet they can provide comfort in her declining age. This introduces the subject of Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax, who will subsequently play an important role in the novel and of whom Emma is already “sick of the very name,” as she is spoken about so much.
At this juncture in the novel, Emma and Harriet reach the cottage she is visiting. Her charitable work, as the omniscient narrator comments, Emma’s being “very compassionate,” has a reason. This is because “the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse.” In this way she is able to forget herself and her own problems, however briefly. As she says, “These are the sights, Harriet, to do one good.” The noun “good” here refers to moral values and worth contrasted with its previous adjectival meaning of “good fortune” relating to the way others value worth and behavior based on economic considerations. The conditions in which the poor live reinforce Emma’s reflections that poverty is related to narrowness of mind. Leaving the home of the “poor creatures,” they cross “the low hedge, and tottering footstep which ended the narrow, slippery path through the cottage garden, and brought them into the lane again.”
Following the visit they accidentally meet Elton. Emma cleverly manages to distance herself from Harriet and Elton to create the opportunity for Elton to propose to Harriet. The fact that she is able to separate herself from them is due to an illustration of the important welfare role her Hartfield home plays in the surrounding area. She is “overtaken by a child from the cottage” they have just visited “setting out, according to orders, with her pitcher, to fetch broth from Hartfield.” This stratagem of helping the child not having worked, she then finds an excuse to stop at the Vicarage to have some of her clothing, her lace, attended to. Even this plan fails (–88).
The next two chapters, 11 and 12, may be seen as containing one of the major scenes of the novel. The chapters are concerned with the visit of the John Knightleys to Hartfield, and their initial Hartfield dinner. Emma has other things to attend to than manipulating the affections of Harriet and Elton. In the last sentence of the first paragraph of chapter 11, Jane Austen uses inner thought processes to convey Emma’s summation of the situation between Harriet and Elton: “There are people, who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves.”
The activities of Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley with their five children are described. They divide their leisure time “between Hartfield and Donwell Abbey”—the home of Mr. Knightley. Mr. Woodhouse “could not be induced to get so far as London, even for poor Isabella’s sake.” His anxieties concerning the journey from London to Hartfield are allayed. In a paragraph, the narrator in three lengthy sentences describes Mrs. John Knightley’s physical appearance, her behavior, whom she takes after, and her character. She is, the reader is told, “a pretty, elegant little woman, of gentle, quiet manners.” She is “amiable and affectionate” and “wrapt up in her family.” She takes after her father, Mr. Woodhouse, “She was not a woman of strong understanding or any quickness,” who has also inherited her father’s “constitution.” In other words, she is “delicate in her own health, overcareful of that of her children, had many fears and many nerves.” Her father at Hartfield has Mr. Perry at his beck and call. In London she has found a surrogate for Perry in “her own Mr. Wingfield.”
Mr. John Knightley, on the other hand, is a more complicated figure than his wife. The narrator tells her readers that he “was a tall, gentleman-like, and very clever man” who is advancing professionally. He however has “reserved manners which prevented his being generally pleasing” (touches of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). Also he is “capable of being sometimes out of humour.” He has “a worshipping wife” who remains blind to his tantrums. Emma, on the other hand, is not so sympathetically disposed toward him. Her adverse judgment toward him and the narrator’s are in accord. Emma “was quick in feeling the little injuries to Isabella,” her sister, “which Isabella never felt herself.” The fact that judgment of a narrator and a character, such as Emma whose misperceptions of people’s actions and motives, such as those of Elton, have been continually exposed in the narrative, is revealing. The omniscient narrator’s attitude to the flawed heroine Emma is indeed complex throughout the novel. In this instance specifically, what Emma finds wanting is “the want of respectful forbearance towards her father” on the part of her brother-inlaw, John Knightley.
The remainder of chapter 11 serves little to advance the plot, although there are pointers to what is to come. Conversation between John Knightley, his wife Isabella, Emma, and Mr. Woodhouse focuses on “Miss Taylor,” now Mrs. Weston, Mr. Weston, and Weston’s mysterious son. The son, readers as well as characters are reminded, was supposed to have visited “soon after the marriage, but it ended in nothing.” A letter he wrote congratulating Mrs. Weston on the marriage is brought up, as is “Frank C. Weston Churchill’s” age, which is 23. Chapter 11 concludes with Isabella reflecting “there is something so shocking in a child’s being taken from his parents and natural home.” In this instance her husband is less distressed, arguing that Weston “takes things as he finds them, and makes enjoyment of them somehow or other” as he is an outgoing social being. This is an attitude to which Emma is not too sympathetic but does not argue the case. She reflects on “the all-sufficiency of home to” her brother-in-law, and by implication to herself (91–93, 95–97).
In chapter 12, Knightley joins the family gathering at Hartfield. There are several matters of interest in the chapter. Emma and Knightley affect some kind of reconciliation, although Knightley bluntly tells Emma, “I have still the advantage of you by sixteen years’ experience, and by not being a pretty young woman and a spoiled child.” He adds, “Come, my dear Emma, let us be friends and say no more about it.” The characters in this family party at Hartfield are divided into two groups, with Emma hovering between them. There are Mr. Woodhouse, his daughter Isabella, and the two Knightley brothers. Each of them is playing a role. Mr. Woodhouse is trying unsuccessfully to recover for himself his married daughter, Isabella. John Knightley as son-in-law resents his father-in-law’s possessiveness toward a daughter and his wife, both of whom possess similar qualities: selfishness and hypochondria. Emma and Knightley both play similar roles in diverting attention from sensitive subjects. For instance, Emma switches the subject away from her father’s dwelling on the dangers and perils of the Knightley journey to Hartfield and the fact that her father claims to have been “almost killed . . . once” by the sea, exclaiming, “I must beg you not to talk of the sea.” In spite of her efforts, her father’s dwelling on health leads his son-in-law to react in a “voice of very strong displeasure.” This forces his brother Knightley to change totally the subject away from an obsession with health to the subject of a diverted local footpath.
During the conversations much is learned about Knightley’s social responsibilities as a magistrate and as a landowner. Mr. Woodhouse, again in conversation, frequently refers to the advice and role of Perry the apothecary. Much of the conversation in the chapter turns on the subject of health and the obsession with it. There is also discussion of Jane Fairfax, an orphan (as Harriet Smith), brought up by her grandmother and aunt since the age of three and then at the age of nine informally adopted by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell. She is “exactly Emma’s age” (99, 101, 106, 104). So in addition to conveying the intricacies of social relationship, Jane Austen as narrator also lays the groundwork for subsequent character introduction. The chapter exhibits its author’s “sense of a balance, loss and recovery of power, dependent on kinship, marriage, congeniality, complicity, intelligence and imagination. Personal powers are exhibited in personal relations and in public life” (Hardy, 118).
Chapter 13 centers on the family dining at Randalls, the home of the Westons, on Christmas eve. Harriet spoils Emma’s plans by catching a cold and being unable to attend. Again, as in the previous chapter, health, the lack of it becomes a topic, with Perry the apothecary once again becoming a subject: “Why does not Perry see her?” as if Perry has a magic cure to all physical ailments. Emma is surprised that in spite of Harriet’s illness, and her giving Elton every opportunity not to attend, he is eager also to go to the Westons’ dinner party. As the omniscient narrator observes, Emma was “too eager and busy in her own previous conceptions and views to hear [Elton] impartially, or see him with clear vision.” When John Knightley offers Elton a seat in his carriage, Elton is only too eager to accept the offer. This leads to an erlebte Rede passage conveying Emma’s inner reactions to what she regards as “strange” behavior. She explains it to herself by generalizing about the habits of “single men,” rather than focusing on Elton. In an ensuing conversation, her brother-in-law, John Knightley, makes Emma aware of Elton’s attentions toward her and warns her. Emma’s response is to amuse “herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgment are ever falling into.” She is directing her response to her brother-in-law’s strictures. Soon in the narrative, these words are to rebound upon her.
An additional example of Jane Austen’s irony pervading her work should not go unnoted. Mr. Woodhouse, who is constantly concerned about the weather and its effects on others, is oblivious to “the increasing coldness” and “seemed to have no idea of shrinking from it.” He “set forward at last most punctually with his eldest daughter in his own carriage, with less apparent consciousness of the weather than either of the others.” Mr. Woodhouse is “too full of the wonder of his own going, and the pleasure it was to afford at Randalls to see that it was cold, and too well wrapt up to feel it.” However, during the evening, a snow flurry occurs, provoking Mr. Woodhouse to insist that the dinner party be curtailed, the carriages recalled, and that they return from Randalls to Hartfield. This return to social form, to obsession with the weather, results in the collapse of Emma’s illusions about Elton.
To return to chapter 13, the visit leads to a lengthy outburst of “discontent” from John Knightley. His wife “could not be complying, she dreaded being quarrelsome; her heroism reached only to silence.” Austen uses short clauses: “They arrived, the carriage turned, the step was let down, and Mr. Elton, spruce, black, and smiling, was with them instantly.” The remainder of the journey to Randalls is largely taken up with Elton’s ingratiating remarks directed toward Emma, with John Knightley replying in short, sharp sentences when questions are directed to him. Elton, Emma perceives, seems a little too uninterested in Harriet’s illness. He, as others, defers to Perry, the apothecary and seeming miracle worker with all who are ill. Elton is enthusiastic about what he perceives to be the latest developments in carriage comforts, with “the use of a sheep-skin for carriages.” There is an indirect topical allusion to “slavery” when replying to John Knightley’s observation “I never dine with any body.” Elton responds, “I had no idea that the law had been so great a slavery. Well, sir, the time must come when you will be paid for all this, when you will have little labour and great enjoyment.” These observations are made just before “they passed through the sweep-gate” in the carriage. These allusions to slavery, payment, labor, living with enjoyment, and the work of chimney-sweepers (109–116), are indirect and not developed in Emma. Yet they underline the wealth and leisure enjoyed by many in the real rather than fictional world in which Jane Austen’s readers lived.
Randalls, the dinner party, the return to Hartfield provide the setting for chapters 14 and 15. Chapter 14 contains much of interest. There is Elton’s persistent attempt to gain Emma’s attention, and Emma’s quarrels with Mrs. Weston. The subject of disagreement concerns Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son, and his apparent impending visit to the area. This perspective in the chapter, as in a good deal of the novel, is Emma’s. She sees Elton’s attentions as “terribly like a would-be lover,” although “for her own sake she could not be rude.” At the dinner table she is “happily released from Mr. Elton,” as if he is attempting to entrap or to imprison her. Mrs. Weston, Emma is told by Mr. Weston, believes that Frank Churchill will yet again “put-off” his visit to them. Mrs Weston is reserved about Frank Churchill, publicly ascribing the difficulties of his visit to “Mrs. Churchill [who] rules at Enscombe,” where he lives. Weston, in common with John Knightley and Elton, following these chapters, all but disappears from direct participation in the narrative, having but three or four speeches in the remainder of the novel. They are replaced in the focus of attention by other characters: Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill, and Miss Bates. At this juncture, Mr. Weston tells Emma, “there are secrets in all families, you know.” These words will reverberate throughout Emma and Jane Austen’s other novels. Indeed, her plots may be viewed as ones that unravel family secrets.
Often Jane Austen’s irony depends on the perceiver. Early in the narrative, illustrations were provided of John Knightley’s ill temper. His wife, Isabella, replies to Mrs. Weston that she, Isabella, “never think[s] of that poor young man [Frank Churchill] without the greatest compassion.” She adds, “To be constantly living with an ill-tempered person must be dreadful. It is what we happily have never known anything of; but it must be a life of misery,” words demonstrating that she is seemingly oblivious to what others regard as her husband’s choler and her father’s oddities. Two other observations in chapter 14 should not go unnoticed. Emma has a tendency to gender generalization. For instance, she tells Mrs. Weston, “A young woman, if she falls into bad hands, may be teazed, and kept at a distance from those she wants to be with; but one cannot comprehend a young man’s being under such restraint.” Mrs. Weston tries to reason with Emma but to no avail (110–122).
Chapter 15 brings resolution to one strand in the plot: Elton’s intentions and Emma’s misreading of them until this point in the story. There are two parts to the chapter: the remaining time at Randalls and Emma’s ride home with Elton. Focus on the encounter between them results in insufficient attention being paid to elements earlier on in chapter 15. Emma at last, it may be felt, begins to discern Elton’s true intentions. She does so through reacting to Elton’s attitude toward Harriet’s condition, being more concerned that Harriet’s “bad sore throat” should not affect either him or Emma, rather than Harriet. Once again, he is dependant on the opinion of Mr. Perry. His overprotectiveness leads Emma, in a passage conveying her inner thought processes, to be “vexed. It did appear— there was no concealing it—exactly like the pretence of being in love with her [Emma], instead of Harriet.”
In the second half of the chapter, Emma finds herself alone in a carriage with Elton, who reveals his true intentions toward her. Elton had drunk “too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine.” His inhibitions are released in the coach. His overtures and declaration of love are conveyed in a paragraph combining omniscient narration and erlebte Rede, or free indirect discourse, followed by dialogue. Thus, “to restrain him [Elton] as much as might be, by her own manners, she was . . .” the author tells her readers. Further, “she [Emma] found her subject cut up—her hands seized . . . and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her.” Then we enter into her direct thoughts, her immediate reaction. “Mr. Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover.” Emma “felt that half this folly must be drunkenness,” but Elton repeats himself. Stylistically Jane Austen depicts Emma’s total amazement at what is taking place on the journey home from Randalls. Jane Austen achieves this by a lengthy sentence of 125 words.
The omniscient narrator observes, “But Mr. Elton had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all to confuse his intellects. He perfectly knew his own meaning.” Elton’s and Emma’s misreadings of each other’s intentions are now made apparent to both. Emma refuses Elton unambiguously and he denies displaying any interest in Harriet whatsoever, especially in view of her lowly social status. The remainder of the journey is passed in hostile silence between the two: “their straightforward emotions left no room for the little zig zags of embarrassment.” Both must deal with the consequences of their mutual misreadings of each other. In the last paragraph of chapter 15 Emma is welcomed home “with the utmost delight, by her father who had been trembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage-lane.” His anxiety is genuine. Even “Mr. John Knightley, ashamed of his ill humour was now all kindness and attention” toward Emma, whose “mind had never been in such perturbation” (125, 129–130, 132–133).
Chapter 16 focuses on Emma’s “mind . . . in such perturbation” (133). The narrative is straightforward. Emma is shocked when she discovers just how inadequate her perception, her judgment of Elton has been and is most concerned regarding the consequences of her stupidity on Harriet. A restless night of self-recrimination, and wishing she had acted differently, combine with anger at what she perceives to be Elton’s arrogance in proposing marriage: “He only wanted to aggrandize and enrich himself.” She comes to the conclusion that she should not in the first place have started matchmaking, and she resolves not to do so anymore. For the next few days, the weather is on her side. The rain, snow, and slush prevent her even from going to church on Christmas Day. She does not have to encounter Harriet, and there is “no need to find excuses for Mr. Elton’s absenting himself.”
There are several areas of interest in chapter 16. The opening three paragraphs provide interesting illustrations of Jane Austen’s style. Free indirect discourse is combined with the use of the past tense. Sentences and paragraphs vary greatly in length. Narrators’ and characters’ voices become indistinguishable. Jane Austen’s style, her choice of words, of punctuation, of tenses, of mode of stylistic address, interweaving between indirect free discourse conveying Emma’s thoughts and omniscient direction, are important. They provide a guide to an understanding of her techniques and narrative development. How genuine is Emma’s remorse is left somewhat ambiguous. The narrator notes that “the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits.” Emma concludes “that there could be no necessity for any body’s knowing what had passed except the three principals,” herself, Elton, and Harriet. Her father is rarely out of her mind and she is “especially [concerned] for her father’s being given a moment’s uneasiness about it” (133, 135, 137–138).
Chapter 17 is relatively brief. Several important narrative transitions occur. Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley and their three children leave Hartfield for London. Elton leaves Highbury for the fashionable spa town of Bath. Emma tells Harriet what has occurred between her and Elton. Harriet, while upset, does not blame Emma. For Harriet, “she never could have deserved him,” Elton. Whether or not Harriet would have felt like that before being taken up by Emma and made aware of differences in social status is left unclear. In reaction to Harriet’s genuine distress and humility—“Her tears fell abundantly—but her grief was so truly artless that no dignity could have made it more respectable in Emma’s eyes”—Emma feels even more ashamed. She determines from now on to “being humble and discreet.” Also, she will be “repressing imagination all the rest of her life.” This is a hyperbolic resolution that leaves Emma’s intentions open to considerable doubt. The final paragraph of the chapter draws out the pressures involved in the world of Jane Austen’s fiction. There is not only Harriet herself to consider but also the world in which she lives. Elton was “the adoration of all the teachers and great girls” at Mrs. Goddard’s educational establishment. Therefore, “it must be at Hartfield only that she could have any chance of hearing him spoken of with cooling moderation or repellant truth.” However, to use a medical metaphor, Emma unlike her father or others in the novel, does not run for advice at every opportunity to Perry, “where the wound had been given, there must the cure be found if anywhere.” Emma felt this particularly, as “till she saw her in the way of cure, there could be no true peace for herself.” The use of the pronoun “her” is somewhat ambiguous as it may relate both to Emma and to Harriet (141–143).
Chapter 18 is the final one of the first volume of Emma. Mrs. Weston proves to be correct in her doubts about Frank Churchill’s imminent appearance. His visit to his father at Randalls has once again been delayed. The reasons this time provoke yet another disagreement between Emma and Knightley, who chastised Churchill for his apparent neglect of his father. Emma tells Knightley, “You are the worst judge in the world . . . of the difficulties of dependence. You do not know what it is to have tempers to manage.” Her dogmatic tone is ironic in view of her total misjudgment of Elton and reveals that in spite of her resolution of good intentions, Emma still has much to learn. Perhaps Emma is speaking from recent experiences when she tells Knightley, “It is very unfair to judge of any body’s conduct, without an intimate knowledge of their situation.” She adds, “Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be.” Knightley’s reply is placed in general gender terms: “There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chuses, and that is, his duty,” as if “duty” does not also apply to women. He goes on at some length, unlike his previous short sentences, about Churchill’s lack of responsibility and family duty. He even makes a distinction between the French and English usage of the word “amiable.” Knightley tells “Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very ‘amiable,’ have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people; nothing really amiable about him” (146, 149). Knightley is making a distinction between the French aimable—which he construes as mere politeness—and its English cognate, “amiable,” which in Austen’s era belonged in “ ‘a much more serious register:’ an innate, fundamental warmth of temper or disposition” (Pinch, 395–396, citing M. Stokes, 162–165).
It is Emma who brings the argument to an end. She is surprised by the strength of Knightley’s feeling on the matter and takes his role as mediator. Emma is the voice of moderation, telling Knightley, “I will say no more about him . . . you turn everything to evil. We are both prejudiced; you against, I for him; and we have no chance of agreeing till he is really here.” This leads to yet another outburst from the usually even-tempered Knightley. In the last paragraph of the chapter consisting of a single lengthy sentence, dialogue is replaced by omniscient narration, with elements of inner thought processes. Knightley’s reaction, she thinks, “was unworthy [of] the real liberality of mind which she was always used to acknowledge in him.” Further, “she had never before for a moment supposed it could make him unjust to the merit of another.” The pronoun “it” refers to their disagreement and to what Emma perceives to be Knightley’s prejudice against Frank Churchill. The remainder of the novel will reveal why he reacts so strongly in this way (146, 149–151).
Volume 2, Chapter 1
The second volume focuses on Emma and her social position in Highbury society. It opens with Emma and Harriet walking together. To divert Harriet’s attention from continuously dwelling on Elton, Emma does something she does not like doing, calling on Mrs. and Miss Bates. The visit, seen largely from Emma’s perspective, introduces other characters who will play a prominent role in the narrative. It also reveals a good deal about Emma and the role Miss Bates plays in the novel. In the third paragraph of the first chapter of the second volume, Emma remembers hints from Knightley concerning her negative attitudes to Mrs. and Miss Bates. She finds them “a waste of time—tiresome women.” Her visits to their rented accommodation in a house belonging “to people in business” may well result in “all the horror of being in danger of falling in with the second rate and third rate of Highbury, who were calling on them for ever, and therefore she seldom went near them.” In this instance, to divert Harriet from thoughts of Elton, Emma conquers her snobbery.
On one level the visit is dominated by health concerns and Mrs. Bates’s deafness, as well as the illness of Jane Fairfax: Again Perry apparently will prove to be her salvation. Miss Bates believes that though Perry “would not mean to charge anything for attendance, we could not suffer it to be so, you know. He has a wife and family to maintain, and is not to be giving away his time” (, 162). On another level, the visit is replete with information conveyed in a special way by Miss Bates. These data are important for the plot, as viewed through Emma’s lenses, and are misinterpreted by her. Miss Bates’s manner of conveying information has special characteristics. First, her sentences are rarely completed. Second, “each sentence flies off at a tangent from the last, but so characteristic are the trains of thought that, when need is, every sentence elucidates its curtailed predecessor.” In other words, Miss Bates uses “fragmentary speech” (Lascelles, 94–95). What she says consists of very detailed accounts of daily events and the conversations she has had, interladen with positive valuations concerning the kindness of her neighbors. She shuffles from each point by way of elementary chronology, and regularly goes off her subject into something else. Her speeches are marked by an abundance of dashes, or parentheses and digressions.
Initially Miss Bates mentions her friends the Coles, Highbury citizens who watch over her and Mrs. Bates, then she moves to Elton, to social activities in Bath, and then to a letter from her niece Jane Fairfax she has just received. Her speech is full of detail, repetition, the necessities of daily living, not among the rich like Emma, but those like Miss Bates existing on the breadline and the charity of others in rented accommodation. She is unable initially to find Jane’s letter as “I had put my huswife upon it, you see, without being aware, and so it was quite hid but I had it in my hand so very lately that I was almost sure it must be on the table.” She relates how much Jane writes. She “in general . . . fills the whole paper and crosses half” (157). According to Pinch, “that Jane Fairfax crosses her letters is in part an indication of her frugality, as paper and postage could be quite costly” (396).
After dwelling for some time on the consequences of her mother’s apparent deafness and its effects upon herself and Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates conveys the actual content of the letter. In it, she informs Emma that Jane was due to visit Ireland to visit Miss Campbell, who readers are subsequently told is the daughter of Colonel and Mrs. Campbell, with whom Jane went to live when she was nine years old. Miss Campbell recently had married a Mr. Dixon and gone to live in Ireland. Emma, on hearing this, does what she had promised earlier not to do, lets her imagination wonder. “At this moment, an ingenious and animating suspicion entering Emma’s brain with regard to Jane Fairfax, this charming Mr. Dixon, and the not going to Ireland.” She speculates why Jane prefers to spend three months with Mrs. and Miss Bates. In the rambling answer related by Miss Bates, Emma learns that Mr. Dixon saved “Jane at Weymouth,” a popular West Country seaside resort, “when they were out in that party on the water, and she, by the sudden whirling round of something or other among the sails, would have been dashed into the sea at once, and actually was all but gone.” She continues, “if he had not, with the greatest presence of mind, caught hold of her habit. . . .”
Emma continues to ask Miss Bates, “Miss Fairfax prefers devoting time to you and Mrs. Bates?” She is fishing for further information, even going so far as eliciting data from Miss Bates on the relative physical attractiveness of Jane and Miss Campbell, now Mrs. Dixon. Miss Bates’s concern is with Jane’s health. She “caught a bad cold, poor thing!” She even gives the date on which it was caught, “so long ago as the 7th of November (as I am going to read to you,) and has never been well since.” Subsequently, readers will learn that Emma has only too quickly forgotten her mistake with Harriet. Her imagination is running away with her concerning an assumed illicit relationship between Jane and Mr. Dixon. So the first chapter of the second book of Emma introduces new characters, presents the realities of everyday Highbury existence, and shows that Emma has learned little. Mention should also be made of the fact that Miss Bates introduces a world beyond Hartfield, Highbury, and Weymouth, and even England. She mentions that Jane, in her letter, mentions Dublin and a “country-seat, Balycraig, a beautiful place that I [Miss Bates] fancy.” Earlier, Miss Bates refers to “different kingdoms, I was going to say, but however different countries” (160–161, 159). In this way, through the seemingly most innocuous, less political of all characters (although one loved by her neighbors and content with her life), Jane Austen is able to convey a political reality and allusion to a recent political event. Following the abortive 1798 Irish uprising against British rule, the 1800 Act of Union “abolished Ireland’s state as a separate kingdom, dismantling the Irish parliament and the Irish church” (Pinch, 396).
Volume 2, Chapter 2 (Chapter 20)
The first half of the second chapter supplements through omniscient narration biographical information about Jane Fairfax gleaned from Miss Bates’s reportage. The second half of the chapter then moves to Emma’s perspective. Jane Fairfax is an orphan. In common with Frank Churchill, she has been adopted. Both have lost mothers when young, and in Jane’s case, she has lost both parents rather than one. Another character, Harriet Smith’s parentage is unknown. The author as narrator relates that Jane “by birth . . . belonged to Highbury.” She lost her mother when she was three years old, her father being an army lieutenant from an infantry regiment. The second paragraph consists of a single sentence in which the transition from happiness to sorrow is movingly conveyed: “The marriage of Liet. Fairfax, of the — Regiment of infantry, and Miss Jane Bates, had had its day of fame and pleasure, hope and interest; but nothing now remained of it, save the melancholy remembrance of him dying in action abroad—of his widow sinking under consumption and grief soon afterwards—and this girl.” Such a paragraph moves from the microcosm of a wedding day to the macrocosm of war. The army was on active duty. Mr. Weston as a member of the locally raised militia served at home. Members of the regular army served also overseas, for instance, in Ireland, in the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent, or in the Peninsula Wars fought in Spain and Portugal during the first decade of the 19th century. Jane herself seems to suffer from fragile health: A severe cold in the previous chapter is given as part of the reason why she did not go to Ireland.
The third paragraph is also a single sentence. It relates what happened to young Jane, “this girl.” The vocabulary used is interesting: “she became the property, the charge, the consolation, the fondling of her grandmother and aunt.” The language is stark, apart from “consolation,” unemotional and factual. The young girl becomes “property.” The rest of the paragraph emphasizes that she grew up “with no advantages of connections or improvement to be engrafted on what nature had given her.” Her only “advantages” consist of “a pleasing person, good understanding, and warm-hearted, well meaning relations.” Jane Austen as narrator does not evade the harsh realities of existence in her world. Life for the Jane Fairfaxes of the world is going to be harsh. She is fortunate: “the compassionate feelings of a friend of her father gave a change to her destiny.” The friend, her father’s commanding officer, Colonel Campbell, is “indebted to him for such attentions, during a severe campfever, as he believed had saved his life.” The realities of army life are made evident. Camp fever, or typhus epidemics, were frequent occurrences in the confined restricted quarters of many camps during the 19th century. Jane is brought up from before she was nine by Colonel Campbell and his wife. “The plan was that she should be brought up for educating others.”
Work opportunities for women such as Jane were severely limited in early and mid-19th-century England. Without husbands, families, or an inheritance to sustain them, the outlook was bleak. One possibility was to work as a governess in a private home. Governesses were badly paid, had almost no privacy, and were dependant on their employers and the whims of their children. Such is the situation in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, written during the 1840s. Jane Fairfax knew this would be her fate but it is made even harsher by the kindness of the Campbells. Colonel Campbell’s “income, by pay and appointments, was handsome, his fortune was moderate and must be all his daughter’s.” On his military income he can live and support his family in some style but is unable to leave anything to his widow and daughter or to Jane. Jane, however, has been fortunate, “She had fallen into good hands, known nothing but kindness from the Campbell’s and been given an excellent education.” The possibilities of having “fallen into” bad or indifferent “hands” are left open to the reader’s fears and imagination.
Jane’s adopted sister, Miss Campbell, too, has been fortunate in the game of life presented by Jane Austen in which a fortuitous marriage plays such an important part. The narrator writes “that luck which so often defies anticipation in matrimonial affairs, giving attraction to what is moderate rather than to what is superior, engaged” her to “a young man, rich and agreeable, almost as soon as they were acquainted.” She, Miss Campbell “was eligibly and happily settled, while Jane Fairfax had yet her bread to earn” in the harsh real world of survival. Jane has similarities with Harriet Smith: Both are alone in the world. Harriet has also been given “a taste of such enjoyments of ease and leisure” that must make a return to the harsh realities even more difficult. Jane, subsequent to the marriage of her stepsister, has been physically unwell. The narrator reveals that “with regard to her [Jane] not accompanying” the Campbells “to Ireland, her account to her aunt contained nothing but the truth.” She adds “though there might be some truths not told,” and refers to “motive or motives, whether single, or double, or treble.” These ought to serve as warning signs to readers that there is much more to Jane’s decision to visit Highbury, and not go to Ireland, than is evident. Her absence and return is contrasted with Frank Churchill’s—he still remains away from Highbury.
At this point in chapter 20, the viewpoint changes to that of Emma. For the rest of the chapter, Jane is seen through her lenses in a mixture of omniscient narration and inner thought processes. “Why she did not like Jane Fairfax might be a difficult question to answer.” Knightley has supplied an answer: “it was because she saw in her the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself.” Regarding Jane, Emma’s “fancy,” or imagination, which earlier she had promised to suppress, interferes. She is fascinated by Jane’s physical appearance, especially by Jane’s “eyes, a deep grey, with dark eye-lashes and eye-brows,” and indeed her whole appearance. Emma is aware “what all this elegance was destined to, what she was going to sink from, how she was going to live.” Already Emma is wishing she could “scheme” to find Jane a suitable husband. However, her sympathetic feelings toward Jane do not last long. In the presence of Mrs. and Miss Bates, Jane’s “grandmother and aunt,” Jane’s superior ability at the piano, and her “reserve,” Emma’s reservations and animosity toward Jane resurface. Emma “saw . . . artifice, and returned to her first surmises” concerning a supposed relationship between Jane and Mr. Dixon, the latter having neglected Jane “for the sake of the future twelve thousand pounds.” This is all supposition, however. “Emma could not forgive” Jane for revealing so little, especially on the topic of Frank Churchill (163–169).
Volume 2, Chapter 3 (Chapter 21)
Chapter 3 uses Hartfield as a stage for various visitors to Emma and her father. First of all there is Knightley. Then Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax join them. Knightley and the two ladies leave, and Emma is left alone with her father. Outside there is a short but heavy shower, “and it had not been over five minutes, when in came Harriet.” The main topic of conversation among Emma, her father, and Knightley is the previous night, and Jane Fairfax with Knightley trying to get Emma’s opinion of Jane sensing that she has reservations. There is in addition discussion of food, which moves from the muffins handed around to guests, to “Hartfield pork.” Emma “sent the whole hind-quarter” on her father’s behalf to the Bateses: His generosity is repeatedly dwelled upon by Miss Bates, who appears with Jane Fairfax. Miss Bates has come to impart the news that “Mr. Elton is going to be married” to a Miss Hawkins. Miss Bates’s dialogue is punctuated by parentheses and moves from the height of Miss Hawkins, to a comparison with the height of the apothecary Perry, Elton’s attention to the needs of her mother, the deafness of her mother, and Jane saying “that Colonel Campbell is a little deaf.” She then moves to a remedy for deafness, bathing, then to Colonel Campbell being “quite our angel,” then to the positive characteristics of Mr. Dixon. Miss Bates’s world is inhabited by the worthy: “It is such a happiness when good people get together—and they always do.” There are permanent silver linings in her vision. Further, “there never was a happier or a better couple than Mr. and Mrs. Perry,” and addressing Mr. Woodhouse, she says, “we are quite blessed in our neighbours,” before returning to the pork.
Miss Bates’s circular reasoning, her garrulousness is stopped by Emma trying to discover “As to who, or what Miss Hawkins is.” Emma is surprised at Jane Fairfax’s apparent disinterest in the subject. She learns, however, from Miss Bates that Elton and Miss Hawkins met within the four weeks that Mr. Elton was away from Highbury. However, as Miss Bates confesses, “I do not think that I am particularly quick at these sorts of discoveries. I do not pretend to it. What is before me, I see.” She is an empiricist knowing realistically that Emma “lets [her] chatter on, so good-humouredly.” Miss Bates adds, “she knows I would not offend for the world,” which makes Emma’s behavior toward her subsequently even more painful. Miss Bates then directs her attention and questions to concern for others such as Mrs. John Knightley’s children.
Miss Bates and her niece briefly discuss the grounds for making judgments of others. Jane freely confesses that “Where I have a regard, I always think a person well-looking.” Miss Bates then leaves with Knightley and Jane, but not before once again mentioning such members of local society as Mrs. Cole and Mrs. Goddard, and pork. Emma, left alone with her father, feels now, “Sorry for Harriet.” Following a shower Harriet appears and, in a lengthy passage using simplistic vocabulary and excessive use of the personal pronoun “I,” tells Emma of an encounter in Ford’s—“the principal woollen-draper, linen draper, and haberdasher’s shop united; the shop first in size and fashion in the place”—with Elizabeth and Robert Martin. She needs Emma to talk to her “and make me comfortable again.” This is a task Emma is not good at, and she tells Harriet about Elton’s forthcoming marriage. However, Harriet seems more preoccupied with the meeting with the Martins. At the end of the chapter, Emma reflects on how rarely Harriet would in future encounter them (172–180).
Volume 2, Chapter 4 (Chapter 22)
Chapter 4 conveys more information about Miss Hawkins. The youngest daughter of a Bristol merchant, her fortune is considerable; she “was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten.” Miss Hawkins is exceedingly wealthy. Such information is conveyed by the omniscient narration in the fourth paragraph of the chapter. This consists of a single sentence, 163 words in length containing the total narrative of Elton’s capture of his bride (181–182). It contains their first initial meeting to her acceptance of his proposal. Page comments that “the compression of the material within a single sentence constitutes an ironic comment on the haste and determination with which the business was, on both sides, pushed to a conclusion” (Page, 107).
The vocabulary provides a commentary on the underlying meaning of the paragraph and a reflection on the cynical contract made in it. “The charming Augusta Hawkins” has “all the usual advantages.” These are “perfect beauty and merit.” The words are appropriately vague but explained more specifically in term of “an independent fortune.” The phrase “the story told well” appeals to public perceptions of a romantic alliance in which an impoverished young man captures through a whirlwind courtship a wealthy, beautiful bride. The “delightful rapidity” of the proceedings is preceded by the word “gained” repeated twice and associated with a business transaction. Augusta, the reader is told, is “so sweetly disposed.” This raises the question whether she may have favored or been attracted to Elton her suitor, or been under other pressures to accept him. There is a nice ambiguity reinforcing the mercenary nature of the quick events, in the final words of the sentence. She had “been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.” She will possess Elton. She and his “vanity” are satisfied; they act out of mutual self-interest dictated by “prudence,” the necessity for Elton to marry for money and for “the lady” to marry.
Augusta Hawkins has entered into a necessary transaction. The reader learns from Emma’s free indirect discourse that “She brought no name, no blood, no alliance. Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol merchant” (181–183). She has just purchased Mr. Elton for “so many thousands as would always be called ten” (181). It is appropriate that she is from Bristol, a leading slave-trading port “inferior to none, except London, for wealth, trade, and number of inhabitants” (Encyclopaedia Britannica: cited Pinch, 397). Bristol was the central port for the slave trade until it was abolished in 1807 and especially for the transportation of slaves to and form North America, the West Indies, and Africa. Probably the daughter of a merchant engaged in such trade, she, Augusta Hawkins, is prepared, too, to sell herself and what she offers.
The rest of the chapter moves to Emma’s thoughts concerning the effects of Elton’s forthcoming marriage on Harriet, and Emma’s reactions to the visit of Robert Martin’s sister to see Harriet. At the end of the chapter, Emma decides to take Harriet to visit the Martins. Her final rhetorical question of the chapter, “what would become of Harriet?” (185), contains the implication that Emma is willing to reconsider the connection and possible alliance of Harriet with Robert Martin.
Volume 2, Chapter 5 (Chapter 23)
Chapter 5 moves from Emma collecting Harriet and conducting other local social responsibilities such as visiting “an old servant who was married,” to her initial meeting with Frank Churchill. The chapter is pervaded by time. The precise minutes, “fourteen,” are given to Harriet’s first visit to the Martins; Frank Churchill arrives a day earlier than expected and is anxious to renew an old acquaintance, Jane Fairfax. This chapter is replete with deception and deliberate false hopes and perceptions. The eagerly anticipated arrival of Frank Churchill changes Emma’s perspective on life: “every thing wore a different air; James and his horses seemed not half so sluggish as before. When she looked at the hedges, she thought the elder at least must soon be coming out.”
Emma is immediately attracted to Frank Churchill on their first meeting. Jane Austen uses dialogue between characters and direct authorial narration to convey many strands of meaning. Both Frank Churchill and Emma, for instance, compliment Mrs. Weston on her appearance and youthfulness. Emma is also flattered by Frank Churchill, for “Miss Taylor had formed Miss Woodhouse’s character,” and also the reverse, “Miss Woodhouse Miss Taylor’s.” On one level this is a mutual superficial flattery and social conversation. Emma then tells Frank “were you to guess her to be eighteen, I should listen with pleasure; but she would be ready to quarrel with you for using such words.” In other words, Emma is saying to Frank, “Look, you are a flatterer, however, the truth is different.” Frank’s reply reveals that he is aware of this: “I hope I should know better.” but then he adds that Mrs. Weston will understand that he is merely indulging in complimentary banter.
So Emma and Frank are playing games of deception with each other. Emma is concerned by “what might be expected from their knowing each other.” The hint of their falling in love is reinforced by a shifting away of the narrative focus from Emma’s thoughts of Frank to her thoughts of her father, who “Happily . . . was not farther from approving matrimony than foreseeing it.” Frank, on the other hand, as the plot will reveal, is engaged in an elaborate covering up of his attachment to Jane Fairfax. In this chapter, Frank introduces her name and wishes to know where she lives. The last section of the chapter is concerned with Mr. Woodhouse’s insistence that one of his servants accompany him on his visit and Frank’s and Mr. Weston’s refusal to accept such an offer. Frank learns that Jane “is with a poor old grandmother, who has barely enough to live on,” but according to Mr. Woodhouse she is with “very worthy people.” In this sense as used by Mr. Woodhouse, “worthy” refers not to financial, economic worth but moral stature.
The chapter ends with Emma’s perspective: She is “very well pleased with this beginning of the acquaintance” (186, 189, 192, 194–195). It has proceeded through dialogue and narration revealing, first, the superficial words and utterances on a surface playful level of social interaction. Second, there is the implication of what has been said between them, concerning, for instance, their perceptions of each other. On a third level there is the unspoken, what Emma and Frank are really thinking as they speak to each other. Finally, there is at work our perceptions as readers, given what we know from other parts of the novel that relate to them as they speak to each other.
Volume 2, Chapter 6 (Chapter 24)
The next chapter is also replete with dialogue between Emma and Frank. The surface meanings disguise different agendas. In the company of Mrs. Weston, they spend the following morning walking around Highbury. Emma asks Frank about his relationship with Jane Fairfax. Frank initially evades her question by going into Ford’s which sells “gloves and every thing.” Following some reflection and after ascertaining that Jane has not revealed anything, Frank says that he “met her frequently at Weymouth.” He does not expand on this. Previously during the morning walk, they enter the Crown Inn, where Frank praises dancing, and then they go to Elton’s vicarage. Here Frank “could not believe it a bad house; not such a house as a man was to be pitied for having. If it were to be shared with a woman he loved, he could not think any man to be pitied for having that house.” This observation makes Emma think that Frank “did perfectly feel that Enscombe could not make him happy.” Placed in the context of the total novel and of what Frank is concealing, his praise of the vicarage takes on a different meaning. Similarly, the discussion between Emma and Frank of the merits of Jane Fairfax and her piano playing is seen from a different perspective. Emma is totally deceived: “after walking together so long, and thinking so much alike, Emma felt herself so well acquainted with him, that she could hardly believe it to be only their second meeting.”
“Thinking so much alike” and “Emma felt” (200– 204), clearly are Emma’s thoughts and assumptions. These are undercut in the opening sentence of the next chapter: “Emma’s very good opinion of Frank Churchill was a little shaken the following day, by hearing that he was gone off to London, merely to have his haircut.” The next sentence introduces an element of doubt concerning Frank’s intentions, for he “seemed to have [been] seized” by “a sudden freak . . . at breakfast” resulting in his decision to go to London; also his visit “appeared” to have no other intent than “merely to have his haircut” (205). The words “seemed” and “appeared” suggest that his visit to London may well have other motives and reasons. However, Frank’s 16-mile journey from Highbury to London to have a haircut is not as curious as it may appear. Wigs, dominant among male fashion in the 18th century, were increasingly going out of fashion, and by the second decade of the 19th century, short hairstyles for men were becoming fashionable.
Volume 2, Chapter 7 (Chapter 25)
The seventh chapter of the second book of Emma serves as a prelude for the Coles’ dinner party. Apart from the apparent “foppery and nonsense” of Frank’s sudden decision to go to London, there are other elements to notice in the chapter. Knightley is one of the few “throughout the parishes of Donwell and Highbury” who has a negative opinion of Frank, regarding him as a “trifling, silly fellow.” The Coles have been neighbors of the Woodhouses for 10 years. Emma and the narrator regard them “of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel.” A social pecking order is revealed in the area through Emma’s attitude to the Coles. The “best families” live at “Donwell,” the home of Knightley; “Hartfield,” her own home; and “Randalls,” where the Westons live. For Emma, “the Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them.” She is persuaded to attend a dinner party with the Coles by their thoughtfulness in specially ordering “a folded-screen from London, which they hoped might keep Mr. Woodhouse from any draught of air” and the fact that all her other friends are attending. Mr. Woodhouse will not go and encourages his daughter to go, telling the Westons “as you will both be there, and Mr. Knightley too, to care of her”—an insight that proves only too true placed in the context of the total novel.
After Emma agrees to attend, the remainder of the chapter is taken up with arrangements for her and her father’s welfare during her absence at the Coles. A seemingly trivial dialogue among Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Weston, and Emma reintroduces themes of the novel never far from the surface: concern for others’ feelings, especially in this instance on the part of Mr. Woodhouse, health, and comfort. Nobody seems to be concerned for Frank Churchill’s welfare when he announces that he will ride 16 miles to London and back for a haircut. A visit by Emma to the Coles’ for an evening out raises all sorts of issues concerning Mr. Woodhouse’s comfort, such as who will look after him, and the health of Mr. Cole, the host. Once again, the name of the apparent health miracle worker is introduced by Mr. Woodhouse, Perry. Questions are raised as to transportation, the use of servants, how late Emma will stay out, and the problem of accommodating her “if she came home cold” and hungry (205–211). The basic realities of life such as health, comfort, and not becoming ill are never far away or forgotten in a narrative often focusing on illusions people have of each other.
Volume 2, Chapter 8 (Chapter 26)
The Coles’ dinner party is an important one and one of the longest chapters in the novel. It is divided into two main sections, an introduction and a conclusion. The prelude, or introduction, focuses on Frank’s return from London with his hair cut short. As is revealed much later in the narrative, his real purpose in visiting London is to buy a piano, a Broadwood, the best kind of piano that money can buy, for Jane Fairfax. Who bought the piano for Jane is the subject of intense speculation at the Cole house. This is the setting, the venue, for the introduction to the chapter consisting of Emma and Frank discussing Jane’s piano. They are agreeing to some extent that it is a love token, and there is an apparent mutual agreement that Mr. Dixon, the admirer or lover, must have sent the piano to the Bateses’, where Jane is living. The second section of the chapter is largely preoccupied with Emma’s conversation with Mrs. Weston. The discussion again centers on the issue of who purchased the expensive piano for Jane. Mrs. Weston, much to Emma’s annoyance, believes that Knightley is in love with Jane and is the source of the gift. In this way, Mrs. Weston reflects Emma’s belief that she too discerns others’ motives and arranges marriages. The conclusion of the chapter focuses not on Jane’s Broadwood piano but on the Coles’ new piano, on which Emma plays and sings less favorably than Jane does. Their performances are followed by Mrs. Weston, who plays country dances for the others to dance to. Frank compares Emma’s dancing to Jane’s, regarding Emma’s as superior. This contrasts with Knightley’s consideration for Jane. He sends her home in his carriage. Emma correctly observes that Knightley “is not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one” (223).
There is much detail and plotting in the chapter, which moves almost in a musical structure. Its prelude is the discussion of Frank’s haircut and results in Emma’s inner thoughts on how people should behave. Emma then views Knightley arriving in a carriage at the Coles’. This is unusual for him, as he does not usually use one, and they discuss his actions as a “gentleman” and hers as a “nonsensical girl” after she has praised him for being without artifice. Emma tells him, “You are not striving to look taller than any body else. Now I shall really be very happy to walk into the same room with you” (214). The lack of artifice and pretense highlights the role-playing and performance, which then unfolds at their destination, the Coles’. There is then a lengthy conversation between Frank and Emma, as has been indicated, of the person most likely to have given the piano. Frank is, of course, as the narrative reveals, covering up for himself and misleading Emma in suggesting that his preference is for her. Then after a break, “in the awkwardness of a rather long interval between the courses” (218), which suggests that the Coles’ servants are not up to the task of behaving as servants of the upper class rather than of tradespeople, “the less worthy females,” such as “Miss Bates, Miss Fairfax, and Miss Smith” (214) arrive. The larger assembly of men and women then mingle with a focus on who is sitting next to whom and opposite whom. At the conclusion of the chapter, Frank talks to Emma. Both are the focus of attention at the start of the chapter.
Four motifs emerge in the plethora of detail contained in this chapter depicted against the backdrop of an evening out at the Coles’. First, there is the perpetual concern running through the novel with food. Interestingly, the specific details of the meal, what was actually eaten, are not given. Second, there is the concern with property. The Coles are rising in the world; they wish to rise to the same social standing as the Woodhouses, the Knightleys, and the Westons. Property is also commented upon in the gift of the best piano that money can buy, the Broadwood, and the Coles’ own acquisition of a grand piano. Third, the piano is central to this chapter. H. R. Haweis observed in Music and Morals (1876), “a good play on the piano has not infrequently taken the place of a good cry upstairs.” Earlier in 1798, Maria Edgeworth noted in her Practical Education “that musical skill improves ‘a young lady’s’ chance of a prize in the matrimonial lottery.” Further, the piano “offered opportunities for representation of women’s active sexual desire” (Vorachek, 38:22,37). A fourth motif is seen in the constant comings and goings during the dinner party: As characters in the novel, they also have their exits, and their entrances, their eventual reconciliations, unions, and separations.
This chapter has an enormous amount of revealing detail. Frank’s deception will rebound upon him. Emma’s emotional overreaction to Mrs. Weston’s near certainty that Knightley is in love and will marry Jane Fairfax bring to the surface Emma’s hitherto more or less repressed feelings for Knightley and her jealousy of Jane Fairfax. Further, Emma’s meanness of spirit toward Miss Bates, for which she is rightly chastised by Mrs. Weston, “For shame, Emma! Do not mimic her” (225), prefigures Emma’s disgraceful behavior toward Miss Bates at Box Hill. It prepares the reader for what is to come, as does so much else in the chapter.
Volume 2, Chapter 9 (Chapter 27)
The morning following the Coles’ dinner party, Emma considers her “suspicions of Jane Fairfax’s feelings to Frank Churchill”; she also acknowledges to herself, and then to Harriet, that Jane is the superior musician. Emma “did most heartily grieve over the idleness of her childhood”: Her self-education is beginning. Harriet, however, as Knightley earlier feared, has through her friendship with Emma become aware of social differences. She tells Emma that Jane, “will have to teach” and expresses concern that Robert Martin will be attracted by one of the daughters of Cox the lawyer. Emma regards them as “the most vulgar girls in Highbury.” Emma then accompanies Harriet to Ford’s. From the door of the shop she can observe the world of Highbury carrying on its daily round of activity with people passing to and fro. She then views Frank Churchill and Mrs. Weston in the distance and learns that they are stopping off at Mrs. Bates’s before visiting Hartfield. Harriet reminded Mrs. Weston that she promised Miss Bates last night “that I would come this morning. I was not aware of it myself . . . but as he says I did, I am going now.” Following a bit of fortuitous luck, Frank Churchill goes alone to Miss Bates’s. After Harriet has deferred to Emma as to where the ribbon she has purchased should be sent, to Mrs. Goddard’s, the school, or to Hartfield, where she spends most of her time, they are met at the shop by Mrs. Weston and Miss Bates. The latter, in her garrulous, disconnected way, manages to convey a good deal of information. First, that Frank Churchill has been “so very obliging” and fastened a “rivet” in her mother’s spectacles. Second, that Knightley has been exceedingly generous and benevolent by sending a “most liberal supply” (231–233, 237–238) of apples so that they and especially Jane can eat them.
Volume 2, Chapter 10 (Chapter 28)
The party—Emma, Harriet, Mrs. Weston, and Miss Bates—then proceed to Mrs. Bates’s home. Mrs. Bates is found, at the start of the next chapter, “slumbering on one side of the fire.” Frank Churchill is “most deedily occupied about her spectacles, and Jane Fairfax, standing with her back to them, intent on the pianoforte” (240). In her Our Village: Sketches of Rural Character and Scenery (1824), Mary Russell Mitford comments on the use of “deedily,” or actively, busily. She writes, “I am not quite sure that this word is good English, but is genuine Hampshire . . . It means . . . any thing done with a profound and plodding attention, an action which engrosses all the powers of mind and body” (cited Pinch, 399). The word is used ironically. Frank uses the spectacles and Mrs. Bates’s lack of vision to spend time with Jane Fairfax. His motivation and actions are almost discerned by Mrs. Weston, who remarks on the amount of time he has taken to fix the spectacles. Emma notices that Jane’s “state of nerves” are not what they should be so that she is not “quite ready to sit down at the pianoforté again” (240). Frank insists on duplicity and encouraging “conjecture” in making comments about Ireland and Colonel Campbell directly to Jane. However, as noted by the rest of the company, he speaks truthfully to Jane, asking her to play “one of the waltzes we danced last night; let me live them over again.” He is concerned about her health and tells Jane, “I believe you were glad we danced no longer; but I would have given worlds—all the worlds one ever has to give—for another half hour.” Unbeknown to all but Jane, he has even supplied her with sheet music, with “Cramer,” the popular music of the London-based composer and pianist Johann Baptist Cramer. Also he has provided Jane with “a new set of Irish melodies” by Thomas Moore. Perceptively Emma notices a “deep blush of consciousness” and “a smile of secret delight” on Jane’s face. Emma thinks correctly, “This amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings.”
The subtext of intense feeling between Jane and Frank is further suggested by the popular song from Moore’s Irish melodies, which Jane plays. It is supposed to be Colonel Campbell or Dixon’s favorite. “Robin Adair,” the lyrics of which concern a young woman’s secret love for the young man she eventually marries, exactly describes the situation between Jane and Frank. The chapter ends with Knightley being spotted by Miss Bates riding on horseback. The others overhear their conversation. Knightley’s negative feelings for Frank Churchill are revealed. At first he agrees to Miss Bates’s invitation to come in. As soon as he hears that Frank is present, Knightley makes an excuse: “No, no, your room is full enough. I will call another day, and hear the pianoforté” (242–244).
Volume 2, Chapter 11 (Chapter 29)
Emma and Frank plan another ball initially to be held at Randalls, but the venue is transferred to the Crown Inn, which has more room. Mr. Woodhouse, in chapter 11 of the second book, makes two remarks both related to Frank, which are worthy of notice. In the first he tells Mrs. Weston that Frank “is very thoughtless . . . I do not mean to set you against him, but indeed he is not quite the thing!” (249). This reveals that Mr. Woodhouse, in spite of his fussiness and obsession with health, is not as stupid as he may appear. In the second, he tells Frank, “I live out of the world, and am often astonished at what I hear.” His world is circumscribed by what he knows, the health and welfare of those he loves and knows. He remembers when his daughter, his “little Emma! . . . were very bad with the measles; that is, you would have been very bad, but for Perry’s great attention” (252–253). He disagrees with Frank when he implies that Perry “might have reason to regret” that they might not catch cold so that he could charge more for his services. Mr. Woodhouse tells Frank “rather warmly, ‘You are very much mistaken if you suppose Mr. Perry to be that sort of character. Mr. Perry is extremely concerned when any of us are ill” (251).
Other points of interest are Emma’s reiterated hostility to Miss Bates. Emma tells Mrs. Weston that she will gain nothing in consulting Miss Bates, who “will be all delight and gratitude, but she will tell you nothing” (255). Not for the first time, Jane Austen in her narrative refers pointedly and humorously to the controversial political discourse of her contemporaries. Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, published in 1791, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men, published the previous year, and her A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) emphasize gender rights. During the discussion of arrangements of the hall at the Crown Inn: “A private dance, without sitting down to supper, was pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women” (254). Jane Austen’s microcosm of English life, Hartfield and its activities, is placed somewhat incongruously through the author’s choice of language in the macrocosm of English life and radical ideas.
Volume 2, Chapter 12 (Chapter 30)
Somewhat surprisingly given what has taken place in the narrative in the last 11 chapters or so, Frank Churchill has been in Hartfield only for two weeks. Once again he is to disappoint others’ expectations. He is recalled to Enscombe, where apparently “Mrs. Churchill was unwell,” although “he knew her illnesses; they never occurred but for her own convenience” (258). His parting from Emma gives her misleading signals, although Frank seems to be on the point of confession. She misreads his protestations as directed at her. “Such a fortnight as it has been! . . . every day more precious and more delightful than the day before! . . . Happy those, who can remain at Highbury!” He does not say Hartfield. Frank does confess to calling at Miss Bates’s, “It was a right thing to do. I went in for three minutes, and was detained by Miss Bates’s being absent” (260). He does not add how long he stayed. In the final paragraph of this 12th chapter of the second volume, the narrator tells her reader that Jane subsequently “has been particularly unwell . . . suffering from headache to a degree” (263). As so often in this novel and in the world of Jane Austen’s fiction, physical health is determined by psychological well-being.
Volume 2, Chapter 13 (Chapter 31)
Emma considers her feelings toward Frank. She has “no doubt of her being in love. Her ideas only varied as to how much.” However, after reflection in a passage combining inner thought processes with authorial direct narration, she decides that she would “refuse” Frank Churchill: “in spite of her previous and fixed determination never to quit her father, never to marry, a strong attachment certainly must produce more of a struggle than she could foresee in her own feelings.” She misperceives whom Frank is in love with: “He is undoubtedly very much in love—every thing denotes it—very much in love indeed,” assuming it is with her. There are fewer letters in Emma than in some of Jane Austen’s other novels, such as for instance Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. In this chapter, Emma reads a lengthy letter Frank has sent to Mrs. Weston. The contents are summarized through her reading rather than being quoted directly. She finds that the letter “had not added any lasting warmth, and that she could still do without the writer, and that he must learn to do without her” (264–266).
Attention is now turned to the wedding day of Mr. Elton, and Emma transfers her focus once again to Harriet and her feelings. She admits yet again to Harriet, “[I] deceived myself, I did very miserably deceive you”—she is again mistaken in believing that Frank Churchill is in love with her. Emma manages apparently to persuade Harriet that her continually speaking of Elton reflects “wanting gratitude and consideration” for herself, Emma. Harriet bursts out in response that “Nobody is equal” to Emma and that she cares “for nobody as [she]” does for Emma. This leads Emma to reflect, in the last paragraph of chapter 13 of the second volume, that the virtues of “warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction.” These are qualities Harriet, her “superior” in these attributes, shares with her father and her sister, Isabella. She reflects on “the coldness of a Jane Fairfax!” and thinks little of herself, “happy the man who changes Emma for Harriet!” (268–269).
Volume 2, Chapter 14 (Chapter 32)
Chapter 14 of the second book continues the shift in narrative focus away from Frank Churchill. One world of deception is now replaced by another. Personal deception on the part of Frank and Jane, their effort to disguise their relationship, is replaced by the artifice of social pretense and snobbery represented by Elton’s bride. The Eltons’ pretensions dominate the closing five chapters of the second book of Emma. Mrs. Elton immediately is revealed in chapter 14 as arrogant, vulgar, and full of herself. She reveals her pretensions in her initial meeting with Emma. Continually boasting about her exceedingly wealthy sister and brother-in-law who live on the outskirts of Bristol at “Maple Grove,” she expects a visit from them in “their barouchelandau” (274). This is equivalent to saying in modern parlance that they will visit in the latest Porsche or bring their own private plane, since it was a luxurious carriage. As she continually plays a game of one-upmanship on Emma, Mrs. Elton’s solecisms are reflected in her calling her husband “caro sposo,” the Italian for “dear husband.” Of this Emma comments to herself, “A little upstart, vulgar being, with her Mr. E., and her caro sposo, and her resources, and all her airs of pert pretension and under-bred finery.” Emma’s anger has its genesis in her snobbery. Emma is also offended by Mrs. Elton’s affronting of accepted social modes of address: “Knightley!—I could not have believed it. Knightley!—never seen him in her life before, and call him Knightley!” (278–279). Page writes that “one is reminded . . . forcibly that forms of address . . . were regarded in this period as very important and very revealing; the code determining which forms might and might not be used in the context of different relationships was, in well-bred society, a strict one” (152).
At the conclusion of the chapter, Emma’s father observes that Mrs. Elton “speaks a little too quick. A little quickness of voice there is which rather hurts the ear.” He does “not like strange voices,” and these are increasingly entering into Highbury and its surroundings. In the final sentence of the paragraph, Emma’s “mind returned to Mrs. Elton’s offences, and long, very long, did they occupy her” (279–280), the omniscient narrator relates. The similarities and differences between Emma and Mrs. Elton, who has pretensions to control the social activities of Highbury, are the prime subject of the next few chapters.
Volume 2, Chapter 15 (Chapter 33)
Chapter 15 opens with the narrator affirming Emma’s harsh judgment of Mrs. Elton: “Her observation had been pretty correct.” On their second encounter, Mrs. Elton “appeared to her [Emma] . . . self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant, and ill-bred.” In addition, “she had a little beauty and a little accomplishment, but so little judgment.” Mrs. Elton exhibits “ill-will” toward Emma and she and Elton “were unpleasant towards Harriet.”
Jane Fairfax becomes the focus for the rivalry between Mrs. Elton and Emma. The latter seems alone in her dislike of Mrs. Elton, who locally is praised by Highbury society. The rivalry is referred to as “a state of warfare.” Mrs. Elton’s solecisms are shown in her inaccurate quoting from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” when she mistakes “fragrance” for “sweetness” (281–282). Her language is full of personal pronouns such as “I” and “me” intermixed with “we” directed at Emma. Mrs. Elton assumes that she and Emma will cooperate in directing Jane Fairfax’s future and finding a suitable position for her. Emma, Mrs. Weston, and Knightley unite in their reactions to Mrs. Elton’s pretensions and are surprised to see Jane Fairfax accepting Mrs. Elton’s company and assistance. Knightley tries to find a rationale for Jane’s actions. He too is disturbed by Mrs. Elton’s violation of recognized codes. He tells Emma and Mrs. Weston, “We all know the difference between the pronouns he or she and thou, the plainest- spoken amongst us.” Knightley, though, tells Emma and Mrs. Weston that Mrs. Elton is the only person of any social consequence in the neighborhood who has taken notice of Jane. “Could she have chosen with whom to associate, she would not have chosen her. But (with a reproachful smile at Emma) she receives attentions from Mrs. Elton, which nobody else pays her” (286). Emma is provoked into asking Knightley what his intentions are toward Jane. He praises Jane but finds that she “wants openness. She is reserved, more reserved, I think, than she used to be.” He “love[s] an open temper” but has no intentions of proposing to her (289).
Volume 2, Chapter 16 (Chapter 34)
The dinner party organized by Emma at Hartfield for the Eltons occupies chapters 16 and 17 of the second book. Emma invites Jane, too, after Harriet has declined to attend. Emma “was more conscience-stricken about Jane Fairfax than she had often been—Mr. Knightley’s words dwelt with her. He had said that Jane Fairfax received attentions from Mrs. Elton which nobody else paid her” (291). John Knightley reappears on the scene for a brief visit accompanied by two of his young children. During his conversation with Jane while they are waiting for dinner, it is revealed that Jane went to the post office in the rain to collect the post: “I always fetch the letters when I am here.” There follows a subsequent discussion between them about the future and Mr. Woodhouse’s comment that “Young ladies are delicate plants. They should take care of their health and their complexion.” Mr. Woodhouse adds the incongruous and hence comic observation and question, “My dear, did you change your stockings?” (293–294).
Mrs. Elton displays much concern for Jane’s welfare. Her “effusive and officious anxieties” (Page, 122) are expressed in direct speech. “My dear Jane, what is this I hear?—Going to the post-office in the rain:—This must not be, I assure you.—You sad girl, how could you do such a thing?—It is a sign I was not there to take care of you.” This receives a put-down comment expressed not in direct speech but in indirect speech form: “Jane very patiently assured her that she had not caught any cold.” Jane resists Mrs. Elton’s commands that she be allowed to arrange for a servant to collect the mail for her. A discussion on the lack of “negligence or blunders” (295–296) gives way to reflections on handwriting. Before they go into dinner, Emma reflects on the reasons why Jane insists on going to collect letters in all weathers, suspecting that the letters are coming from Ireland. She even “thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual—a glow both of complexion and spirits.” But she refrains from raising the subject with Jane, showing at least that she, Emma, has learned something: “She was quite determined not to utter a word that should hurt Jane Fairfax’s feelings” (298).
Volume 2, Chapter 17 (Chapter 35)
The actual dinner and what is eaten are not described. The next chapter, 17, focuses on what happens after the dinner. Several matters of interest are found in the chapter. On the narrative level, Mrs. Elton draws Jane Fairfax away from the others and insists on her finding an appropriate position as a governess. Jane again resists her interference and insists on not making any move in that direction until late in the summer. Mr. Weston makes an appearance with a letter from his son, saying that the Churchills are relocating to London. Frank will be spending half his time at Highbury and the other half in London. The conversation between Mrs. Elton and Jane contains a sustained analogy between being a governess and the slave trade (the source of Mrs. Elton’s family wealth being centered in Bristol, with its slave-exporting and -importing activities). Jane speaks of being “glad to dispose of herself.” She tells Mrs. Elton that if she intended to seek employment as a governess, “There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something—Offices for the sale—not quite of human flesh—but of human intellect.” This remark Mrs. Elton takes personally as a reflection upon her friends and family, her brother in Bristol: “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.” Jane replies, “I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade . . . governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view” (300). Mrs. Elton’s allusion to abolition refers to the 1807 outlawing by a Parliamentary Act of participation in the slave trade. However, it was not until 1833 that slavery was abolished in British colonial possessions. Up till 1833, the issue was a leading political one and the comparison was frequently made between the situation of women as governesses and the lot of slaves.
Volume 2, Chapter 18 (Chapter 36)
The final chapter of book 2, chapter 18, concentrates on a lengthy conversation between Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Elton ranging over various subjects. These include Frank Churchill, Weston’s son, and further evidence of Mrs. Elton’s snobbery is provided. In the course of the dialogue information is offered about geographical location, health resorts, and other provincial cities. Enscombe in Yorkshire is “about 190 miles from London. A considerable journey,” or 65 miles farther than Bristol from London. Mrs. Elton recommends Bath or Clifton, near Bristol, as the best spas for those who are “really ill” (306–307). Mrs. Elton’s wealthy Bristol relatives have been joined by wealthy companions: “how they got their fortune nobody knows. They came from Birmingham” in the Midlands “which is not a place to promise much. . . . One has not great hopes from Birmingham.” In addition, Mrs. Elton has “quite a horror of upstarts,” which is ironic in view of the fact that Emma, Mrs. Weston, and Knightley regard her as an “upstart.” At the end of the chapter and of book 2, John Knightley “proved more talkative than his brother,” who is silent after learning of Frank Churchill’s imminent appearance. John Knightley’s remark to Emma, “Your neighborhood is increasing, and you mix more with it,” adequately sums up what has taken place in the second book of Emma. She laughs at this for literally all that has taken place is “dining once with the Coles—and having a ball talked of, which never took place.” But John Knightley has correctly sensed that she has become more socially engaged and committed—the chapter and book ends appropriately with Knightley “trying not to smile” (310–312) at Emma’s protestations that she rarely leaves Hartfield.
Volume 3, Chapter 1
The first chapter of the third and final book opens appropriately with Emma’s reflection on the “news of Frank Churchill.” Events in this chapter move quickly from February to May, winter to spring. Frank appears once again briefly in Highbury two months after his previous visit. Emma is somewhat relieved to find that his ardor for her has cooled. Apparently nervous, Frank spends little time with her, “only a quarter of an hour,” before “hurrying away to make other calls in Highbury.” Following only 10 days in London, Mrs. Churchill decides “to move immediately to Richmond,” a fashionable town on the river Thames, eight miles southwest of London, “an hour’s ride” and nine miles away from Highbury. This information is conveyed in letters Frank sends to the Westons. The information means that the projected ball at the Crown Inn can now go ahead.
Two interesting sentences from this chapter should be noted. One is indirect narration conveying Emma’s thoughts. The other is direct authorial comment. In the first, Emma “felt as if the spring would not pass without bringing a crisis, an event, a something to alter her present composed and tranquil state.” Her sense of foreboding, of foreshadowing, is apposite and serves as a signpost of transformation for Emma and the reader. Second, at the end of the chapter, the narrator directly states, “Mr. Weston’s ball was to be a real thing” and adds, “A very few to-morrows stood between the young people of Highbury and happiness” (–318). The elegiac note is a preparation by the author for the resolution of her narrative: the beginning of the end.
Volume 3, Chapter 2 (Chapter 38)
The relatively lengthy second chapter of the final book begins the resolution of problems in the narrative. Its focus is the ball at the Crown Inn. Much occurs in this chapter on various levels. It opens with a prelude to the ball, focusing on the arrivals at the inn, where “Frank Churchill seemed to have been on the watch.” Emma begins to have reservations concerning her judgment of Mr. Weston: “a little less of open-heartedness would have made him a higher character—General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be.” The chapter will reveal Emma’s development into much more mature judgment of others. She notices that Frank has “a restlessness, which showed a mind not at ease.” The Eltons then appear, there is a misunderstanding concerning who is to send a carriage for Miss Bates and Jane, Frank telling his father, “Miss Bates must not be forgotten.” Emma overhears Mrs. Elton giving Mr. Weston her opinion of Frank Churchill, his son. There follows an “incessant flow” (319–322) of speech from Miss Bates. This is characterized by dashes, parentheses, short sentences, a lack of direction, a continual going off into tangents. Miss Bates also has another lengthy speech toward the end of the chapter (328–330). In the words of J. F. Burrows, “By virtue of her incessant talk of everything about her, she becomes an unofficial assistant to the narrator” (101). Her perceptions are acute. She, for instance, notes Mrs. Elton’s obsessive wish to be “the queen of the evening” (329). Miss Bates is aware that Jane Fairfax is distracted during the dancing. She praises Frank Churchill’s kindnesses to her and her mother, rhetorically asking Jane: “Do not we often talk of Mr. Frank Churchill?” (323). She also tells us about other inhabitants of Highbury, of Dr. Hughes and his family, and the Otway family. She provides information on dresses and hairstyles, on the heating, lighting, and kind of food eaten. Miss Bates comments on behavior, on character, and on atmosphere.
Emma is another observer of behavior at the Crown Inn. She overhears Mrs. Elton speaking to Jane Fairfax about her gown and looking for compliments from Jane. She observes Frank Churchill’s objection to Mrs. Elton’s over-familiarity when she refers to “Jane” by her first name, thus breaking social convention yet again in referring to people in this way. She asks Frank, “How do you like Mrs. Elton?” and receives the direct reply, “Not at all.” Emma notes that Frank “seemed in an odd humour.” The narrator notes that she “must submit to stand second to Mrs. Elton, though she had always considered the ball as peculiarly for her.” This is followed by what appears to be Emma’s curious thought, “It was almost enough to make her think of marrying,” implying that with her husband, she, Emma, would regain social pre-eminence and position. Emma is attracted to Knightley, who is not dancing: “She was more disturbed by Mr. Knightley’s not dancing, than by anything else.” Emma is attracted to him, “so young as he looked!” She notes “his tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men” (324–326). She also notices that nobody is dancing with Harriet Smith and observes Elton rudely, deliberately, and openly snubbing Harriet. Emma finds it difficult to control her anger and then sees “Mr. Knightley leading Harriet to the set!—Never had she been more surprised, seldom more delighted” (328). After supper Emma’s “eyes invited [Knightley] irresistibly to come to her and be thanked.” He roundly condemns the Eltons, and she asks Knightley, “Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?” She admits “to have been completely mistaken in Mr. Elton.” They then discuss Harriet Smith, and the chapter ends with them dancing. Knightley asks Emma, “Whom are you going to dance with?” She replies, “With you, if you will ask me,” which of course he does. The last line of the chapter is her somewhat ambiguous reply to Knightley’s “We are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.” She responds, “Brother and sister! no, indeed” (330–331).
The chapter contains much of interest. The metaphor of “eyes” and seeing runs as a motif through it. At first Frank Churchill “seemed to have been on watch” with “his eyes” (319). Then the perspective moves to Emma’s overhearing conversations, then to Miss Bates as commentator on the proceedings. Then the perspective shifts back to Emma as observer: “she saw it all” (327), then once again to Miss Bates for a more overall, wider perspective on proceedings in general. At the conclusion of the chapter, the omniscient narrator controls the dialogue between Knightley and Emma. There is much else at work in the chapter. The Eltons, especially Mrs. Elton, are trying socially to dominate Highbury society and gain revenge upon Emma for attempting to arrange a marriage between Elton and what they perceive as the socially inferior Harriet. Mrs. Weston tries to create a superficial harmony. Mr. Knightley again comes to the rescue and does the decent thing by dancing with Harriet. Emma is realizing that on a personal level she is more and more attracted to him and is beginning to become aware of her previous errors of perception.
Volume 3, Chapter 3 (Chapter 39)
Chapter 3 opens the next morning, and Emma reviews what took place at the ball. Emma has Knightley’s behavior utmost in her mind and remembers their “understanding respecting the Eltons . . . his praise of Harriet, his concession in her favor.” She also has “strong hopes” that Harriet’s “eyes were suddenly opened, and she were enabled to see that Mr. Elton was not the superior creature she had believed him.” However, an external event intrudes upon Emma’s thoughts, demonstrating that there are less fortunate people in society and there is a world beyond Hartfield, its “great iron sweepgate,” and Highbury. In the previous chapter, the Eltons’ behavior threatened to challenge the status quo, the stability of Highbury proceedings. In this chapter, the very fabric of a stable, prosperous, structured society is threatened by the perception of threat posed by “a party of gipsies.” Frank Churchill appears at Emma’s “with Harriet leaning on his arm.” She “looked white and frightened, and he was trying to cheer her.” He relates how “she had suffered very much from cramp after dancing” and had been unable to run away from “a party of gipsies” who had come “to beg” (332–333). The fear of the gypsies, the wanderers, is clearly depicted by Frank Churchill in his description of how Harriet and her party run from them in panic: “There was a clearly delineated picture in the English mind of Gypsies as thieves, fortune-tellers, and tricksters” (Olsen, All Things Austen, I:341).
In the previous chapter, Knightley rescued Harriet from being snubbed by the predatory Eltons. In this chapter, Frank rescues her from other perceived predators, the Gypsies. The news of the episode with the Gypsies spreads quickly throughout Highbury; in spite of Emma’s efforts, even her father cannot be protected from it, “last night’s ball seemed lost in the gipsies.” The Gypsies, fearful for themselves, “did not wait for the operation of justice; they took themselves off in a hurry.” The “whole history dwindled soon into a matter of little importance.” They are only remembered by Emma’s “imagination” and ironically by her young nephews, who insist on “the story of Harriet and the gipsies” being repeated every day accurately (336). In this way legends are preserved, stereotypes reinforced, and fears of the outside are perpetuated. The Gypsies represent the world outside the comfortable surrounds of Highbury and its environs. In the outer world, an “era of social upheaval for the poor, due to the wars and to economic changes in the countryside, fears” (Pinch, 401) lay not far from the seemingly tranquil surface of society and its social structures.
Emma, “an imaginist,” seeing Harriet on Churchill’s arm was led to “speculation and foresight” concerning a romantic entanglement. But this time she proceeds cautiously, her scheming has to be “a mere passive” one, for she is learning from experience (335).
Volume 3, Chapter 4 (Chapter 40)
In the next chapter (4), Harriet confesses to Emma her stupidity and foolishness over Mr. Elton and brings mementos of Elton, “a small piece of court plaister,” or adhesive plaster made of silk, and “the end of an old pencil,—the part without any lead,” to throw on the fire. Emma too is full of remorse, exclaiming to Harriet in a melodramatic fashion “Oh! my sins, my sins! . . . my senseless tricks!” (338–339). Harriet tells Emma that she now admires someone who has an “infinite superiority to all the rest of the world” (341), whom she cannot hope to marry. Emma again misjudging believes that the person is Frank Churchill—it is in fact Knightley, who is now the object of Harriet’s obsessions. Emma and Harriet share in common delusions.
Volume 3, Chapter 5 (Chapter 41)
The theme of “appearances,” (351), of mistaken judgments, underlies chapter 5. In a real sense this chapter brings to the fore a basic motif for the total novel: dreams and reality; the creation of illusions by the imagination; the need for hard evidence to corroborate what is imagined. Seeing provides such evidence. The chapter opens with the movement of the seasons, of time to June and early summer. Knightley, who “for some reason best known to himself, had certainly taken an early dislike to Frank Churchill” (343), looks for reasons why he is suspicious of Frank’s relationship with Jane Fairfax. Instead of jumping to conclusions not based on evidence, Knightley tries to find reasons for his judgment. He quotes William Cowper’s (1731–1800) lines from “The Winter Evening” in his poem The Task (1785): “Myself creating what I saw” (344). The poet imagines seeing “a waking dream of houses, towers / Trees, churches, and strange visages,” the fireplace and its dying flames (cited Pinch, 401). So Knightley is not only commenting on his own fantasies but on those of Harriet and Emma in the previous chapter. To corroborate his fancies, Knightley uses his perceptions as observer, a spectator. He watches closely the behavior of Jane and Frank at an informal after-dinner evening at Hartfield. Frank makes a tactless error when he speaks of Perry’s plans to set up or maintain a carriage. Only Miss Bates and Jane knew about this. Frank attempts to change the subject and say that he was dreaming, leading his father, ironically, to comment to his son and to the others, “What an air of probability sometimes runs through a dream! And at others, what a heap of absurdities it is!” Mr. Weston then adds, “Well, Frank, your dream certainly shows that Highbury is in your thoughts when you are absent,” which is indeed the case. Weston then tells Emma that “you are a great dreamer, I think?” (345). Frank, unbeknown to his father, is dreaming, thinking of Jane. Emma, as the reader has seen, has various dreams and imaginings that are not grounded in reality: she is “[herself] creating what I saw”—to misquote Cowper. Knightley also observes that Frank causes Jane to “blush” by using the words “blunder” and “Dixon” during a word game played with a child’s alphabet. He observes and notes but is unable to interpret or provide a satisfactory explanation except that “Disingenuousness and double-dealing seemed to meet him at every turn” (348).
Hints of Knightley’s isolation are dropped in the chapter. He is used to dining at Hartfield “round the large modern circular table which Emma had introduced” rather than “the small-sized Pembroke” (“a small, drop-leaf table” (Pinch, 401) “on which two of his daily meals had, for forty years, been crowded” (347). At the end of the chapter, “irritated” by the fire and Emma’s reaction to his sharing of his observations and suspicions concerning Frank and Jane, Knightley “took a hasty leave, and walked home to the coolness and solitude of Donwell Abbey.” As “an anxious friend,” Knightley feels it “his duty” to share his feelings with Emma. On the other hand, in spite of what she may feel, “interference—fruitless interference . . . he would speak. He owed it to her, to risk any thing that might be involved in an unwelcome interference.” He seeks corroboration and support from Emma, recognizing the negative aspects of interference and that Emma has opinions of her own, and perceptions that are as valid as Knightley’s in terms of belonging to her as an independent being. It is Emma who chastises Knightley for letting his “imagination wander” and being influenced by “appearances“ (349–351).
Volume 3, Chapter 6 (Chapter 42)
Chapter six of the final book centers upon Donwell Abbey. The chapter operates on several levels. There is knowledge that is concealed from the other characters to be subsequently revealed in the novel. Emma does not know that Jane Fairfax’s distress evident in the chapter is due to an argument she has had with Frank Churchill. He has arrived late. The reason is that he has been quarreling with Jane: one of the main reasons for the argument is his flirting with Emma. He is using this as a cover, it later emerges, but Jane resents it. Second, the landscape, the setting, and the weather should not be ignored. The environs of Knightley’s estate at Donwell Abbey play a similar role in making Emma aware of his virtues, as the environs of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice play in reflecting Darcy’s strengths. Emma “felt an increasing respect for” Knightley’s house, its grounds, and the views of a river, woods, meadows, and even Abbey Mill Farm. They represent “the residence of a family of such true gentility, untainted in blood and understanding” (358)
. Knightley plays along with the strawberry-picking idea of Mrs. Elton’s, made as the Box Hill expedition suggestion, as part of her social war with Emma. The food Knightley offers his guests is symptomatic of his common sense. He tells Mrs. Elton, “When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house” (355). As Maggie Lane indicates, “Strawberries here represent the more superficial things of life, which can be safely compromised on in the interest of social harmony, while cold meat stands in for the fundamentals of human conduct.” Further, as is reflected in the next chapter set at Box Hill, on the Surrey Downs near Dorking, a popular picnicking and sightseeing site, “the cold meat part of life cannot be tampered with, as Mr. Knightley knows, without dangerous consequences” (161).
Hints and clues that Knightley and Emma will join together are scattered throughout the chapter. Emma “felt all the honest pride and complacency which her alliance with the present and future proprietor could fairly warrant.” Knightley goes out of his way to accommodate her father, Mr. Woodhouse. Knightley becomes associated with England and its positive qualities. Emma views his estate: “It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive” (358, 360). The negative qualities of Frank Churchill are brought to the foreground in a conversation between Emma and him. He tells her, “I am sick of England—and would leave it to-morrow if I could.” To which she replies, “You are sick of prosperity and indulgence!” (365). He denies possessing either.
Volume 3, Chapter 7 (Chapter 43)
The inner tensions between the characters simmer in the Donwell Abbey chapter and come fully to the surface in the next chapter, the Box Hill adventure. In the summer heat Emma and Harriet, Weston, Knightley, and Frank Churchill, Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax, the Eltons, Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Woodhouse gather on Box Hill. Frank and Emma attempt to make playful and witty conversation, leading Emma to be very rude to Miss Bates. Frank, in addition to pointed observations about the apparent success of Elton’s marriage after “they only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath!” (372), half-seriously asks Emma to seek out a suitable wife for him. She takes this at face value and thinks of Harriet. Jane takes her aunt Miss Bates and leaves them. Before leaving for home, Knightley chastises Emma for her disgraceful rudeness to Miss Bates. Emma returns home in tears, realizing the truth of what Knightley has said.
There are many points of interest in this chapter to attract attention. “The beauties of Box Hill and all the pleasures of the picnic are wasted. There is division instead of unity: Jane Fairfax avoids Frank Churchill, and takes away her aunt with her, to find refuge in the Eltons’ company” (Hardy, 114). The strain of the secret engagement between the two, an engagement unknown to others, is showing in the tensions between them and the consequences of their disguise on others. Frank’s flirtation with Emma is misperceived by her and by Knightley. It leads Jane Fairfax to tell Frank openly, “A hasty and imprudent attachment may arise—but there is generally time to recover from it afterwards.” Mrs. Elton patronizes the others, Emma’s exasperation with Miss Bates finally boils over and she insults her publicly. After Knightley’s frank chastisement of her behavior, she has spoken “in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of her moment” made worse being directed at somebody of Miss Bates’s “character, age, and situation,” Emma’s feelings are “only of anger against herself, mortification, and deep concern” (373–376). The reactions and remorse are expressed in what C. S. Lewis refers to as “the great abstract nouns of the classical English moralists . . . unblushingly and uncompromisingly used” (Essays in Criticism, 4: 363).
Previously in the novel, Emma has been a successful hostess. At Box Hill the several groupings disintegrate, people go off alone, and she leaves the party in tears of self-recrimination. In the next chapter following an evening of disquiet, only relieved by an escape into a game of backgammon with her father, the next morning Emma visits Miss Bates “in the warmth of true contrition” (377).
Volume 3, Chapter 8 (Chapter 44)
To describe Emma’s feelings, the author in an erlebte Rede passage, in the opening paragraph of the eighth chapter of the final book, uses a word that does not occur elsewhere in Emma. The transitive verb “abhorred” is found only twice elsewhere in Jane Austen’s works—in both cases in Sense and Sensibility. In this instance in Emma, the Box Hill morning was “a morning more completely misspent, more totally bare of rational satisfaction at the time, and more to be abhorred in recollection, than any she had ever passed” (377). At Miss Bates’s, Emma finds that Jane is ill and unable to see her. Jane’s illness is yet another example in the novel of psychological distress and anxiety displayed physically. When Miss Bates does appear, as usual her lengthy speeches are replete with information. Among the information conveyed by Miss Bates, Emma and the readers learn that Jane Fairfax, following the Box Hill incident, has reversed her previous stance and accepted a governess’s position arranged by Mrs. Elton. She is due to leave the Bateses within a fortnight. Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates, and Jane spent the previous evening with the Eltons, Mrs. Elton playing the role of hostess. During the evening, Miss Bates relates, the local rumor mill confirmed that Frank Churchill departed for Richmond and the Churchill family as soon as he returned from Box Hill.
Apart from learning of Elton’s parish duties as the local clergyman, the interrelationship of Highbury society emerges. Frank’s departure is conveyed through information received from Mr. Elton. His source is John the hostler, and “the chaise having been sent to Randalls to take Mr. Frank Churchill to Richmond. That was what happened before tea. It was after tea that Jane spoke to Mrs. Elton” (383) to accept the governess position. None of the characters at this stage in the narrative makes a connection between the sequence of events so precisely conveyed by Miss Bates: the events of the morning at Box Hill, Jane’s outspokenness, Frank’s leaving for Richmond, Jane’s acceptance of the position and imminent departure from Highbury. Also of interest are examples of unconscious irony from Miss Bates. She, no doubt sincerely, tells Emma, “you are always kind.” Shortly after, she tells Emma concerning Box Hill, “I shall always think it a very pleasant party, and feel extremely obliged at the kind friends who included me in it!” (380– 381). Coming after Emma’s cruelty and unkindness to her at Box Hill, these comments are especially ambiguous, yet given Miss Bates’s lack of guile, not overtly deliberately so. At the end of the chapter Emma movingly compares “the contrast between Mrs. Churchill’s importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax’s . . . ; one was every thing, the other nothing—and she sat musing on the difference of woman’s destiny” (384). To Emma, this may well appear to be the case. As the narrative shortly will reveal, with Mrs. Churchill’s death, the situation reverses, and Jane’s destiny is transformed.
Volume 3, Chapter 9 (Chapter 45)
Chapter 9 moves from Knightley and Harriet awaiting Emma’s return from the Bateses’, news of the death of Mrs. Churchill, the immediate reaction to it, to Jane’s illness and rejections of Emma’s offers of friendship. Knightley praises Emma for her visit to the Bateses’, eye contact and physical contact is made between them. Without giving reasons, Knightley tells Emma that he is “going to London, to spend a few days with John and Isabella” (385). Following the announcement of the death of Mrs. Churchill, Emma speculates on the effect it might have for Harriet Smith’s future—of course, she has once again misread the situation as the unfolding of the narrative will reveal. In a lengthy paragraph interweaving omniscient narration and erlebte Rede, Jane Fairfax’s condition is described partly through the viewpoint of Perry the apothecary. Jane’s “health seemed for the moment completely deranged.” The adjective “deranged” is infrequently used in Jane Austen’s novels. There are three other instances, and the word has the meaning of unhinged with physical and mental implications as if Jane is totally disoriented. She steadfastly and pointedly, however, rejects Emma’s attempts at reconciliation and her offers of assistance. Jane’s short note to Emma saying that she “is quite unequal to any exercise” is subsequently revealed to be an excuse “when Emma afterwards heard that Jane Fairfax had been seen wandering about the meadows, at some distance from Highbury.” Jane has seen “the Mrs. Eltons, the Mrs. Perrys, and the Mrs. Coles,” but not Emma. She, Emma, “did not want to be classed with” them. At the end of the chapter she consoles herself by thinking that Mr. Knightley would have not “found any thing to reprove” (389–391) concerning her actions.
Volume 3, Chapter 10 (Chapter 46)
Chapter 10 is important for the unraveling of the plot. Ten days after Mrs. Churchill’s death, Mr. Weston calls Emma to Randalls, where his wife will impart important news to her. On the way, Emma’s immediate thoughts are that something has occurred at Brunswick Square to the Knightley family. She exclaims with reference to them “Good God!” and charges Weston “by all that is sacred” not to conceal anything relating to them. The word “sacred” is used very sparingly in Jane Austen’s work, in fact only on three other occasions. Its use here (393) reveals the depth of Emma’s feelings toward Knightley and his family. Mrs. Weston reveals Frank Churchill’s secret engagement since October to Jane Fairfax. One reason for the revelation of the news now is the death of Mrs. Churchill. Mrs. Weston tells Emma that “while poor Mrs. Churchill lived . . . there could not have been a hope, a chance, a possibility;—but scarcely are her remains at rest in the family vault, than her husband is persuaded to act exactly opposite to what she would have required.” Mrs. Weston adds, “What a blessing it is, when undue influence does not survive the grave!” The other reason for the revelation of the engagement is due to Frank’s chance hearing of Jane’s intention to become a governess.
Emma, after reassuring Mrs. Weston that she has no emotional attachment to Frank Churchill, becomes aware of the errors she has been making. She condemns: “What has it been but a system of hypocrisy and deceit,—espionage and treachery?— To come among us with professions of openness and simplicity; and such a league in secret to judge us all!” She excuses Jane Fairfax’s behavior by misquoting lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet V.i.72. Emma tells Mrs. Weston, “If a woman can ever be excused for thinking only of herself, it is in a situation like Jane Fairfax’s—Of such, one may almost say, that ‘the world is not theirs, nor the world’s law” (398–400). The line citing Romeo’s words to the poor apothecary, “the world is not thy friend, nor the world’s law,” Jane Austen’s Emma misquotes to transform Romeo’s words “into a sympathetic comment on the outcast lot of women constrained by circumstance” (Pinch, 402).
Volume 3, Chapter 11 (Chapter 47)
The next chapter deals with Emma’s thoughts on the engagement, and from Emma’s point of view, surprising developments relating to Harriet Smith. It also contains Emma’s realization “that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” (408). The insight, a moment of self-awareness of previous misreadings and misperceptions, is induced by Harriet’s further blunder, that Knightley shows her personal preference. Emma is full of self-recrimination. Harriet has indeed been “the dupe of her misconceptions and flattery” (402). Harriet still idealizes Emma, telling her that she is “too good” (407). Harriet tells Emma her perception of Knightley’s changed attitude to her from the time of the dances at the ball at the Crown Inn. Harriet’s account is corroborated by Emma’s observation of Knightley’s behavior toward her. He had walked with Harriet “apart from the others, in the limewalk at Donwell.” Second, Emma reflects that Knightley had “sat talking with [Harriet] nearly half an hour before Emma came back from her visit, the very last morning of his being at Hartfield.” On this occasion Knightley had told Emma “that he could not stay five minutes” as he had to go to London but then he remained with Harriet.
Their conversation is cut short by Mr. Woodhouse’s appearance. Once more he acts as a saving relief for his daughter in times of trouble and distress. Emma wishes she “had never seen” Harriet. She goes through acute recrimination once again: “She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last hours . . . the deceptions she had been then practicing on herself, and living under!—The blunders, the blindness of her own head and heart!” She examines her own past thoughts and actions. The positive that emerges is “her affection for Mr. Knightley.— Every other part of her mind was disgusting” in the sense of offensive as opposed to the modern one of revolting or nauseating. The word “disgusting” (410–412) is used only on nine other occasions in Jane Austen’s work. She “intends only the comparatively mild etymological force of ‘distastefully,’ not the stronger modern connotation of ‘nauseatingly’ ” (Phillipps, 22). Emma thinks initially of herself and Knightley before turning to the impact of her misperceptions on others: “she was proved to have been universally mistaken . . . she had done mischief.”
Emma reflects on the mismatch between Knightley and Harriet Smith and how others would perceive it. She asks herself whether it was anything new “for a man of first-rate abilities to be captivated by very inferior powers?” Philosophically she sees that “in this world” it is not new for the “unequal, inconsistent, incongruous—or for chance and circumstance (as second causes),” as distinct from God or Providence, “to direct the human fate?” She wishes that “she had never brought Harriet forward!” Emma realizes “how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley” (413–415). She has obtained self-knowledge, knowledge of herself and what she feels and desires. She, however, misjudges Knightley.
Volume 3, Chapter 12 (Chapter 48)
The 12th chapter of this final book opens with Emma’s continual self-reflection, focusing on her past relationship with Knightley and hoping that he will remain a bachelor. “Marriage, in fact, would not do for her. It would be incompatible with what she owed to her father, and with what she felt for him” (416). Mrs. Weston calls on Emma and tells her that Jane has also been indulging in self-recrimination. Emma’s recall of how badly she treated Jane is accompanied by gloomy July weather: “A cold stormy rain set in” (421) paralleling Emma’s state of mind. In the penultimate paragraph of the chapter, we learn that Mrs. Weston is expecting a baby, hence she too will no longer be at Hartfield. The future for Emma does indeed appear as the “winter of her life” (423).
Volume 3, Chapter 13 (Chapter 49)
The opening of chapter 13 of the final book reinforces the emotional, mental, and social isolation of Emma. Once the dominating, initiating influence in Highbury and Hartfield affairs, she is now dejected and alone: “The weather continued much the same the following morning; and the same loneliness, and the same melancholy, seemed to reign at Hartfield.” The afternoon brings a transformation in the weather and Emma’s mood: “in the afternoon it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off; the sun appeared; it was summer again” (424). Perry comes to be with her father and Knightley appears. This important chapter resolves perhaps the most important unresolved issues in the novel: the nature of the relationship between Emma and Knightley. Mutual misperceptions are cleared up. Knightley assumed that Emma had feelings for Frank Churchill; Emma perceived that Knightley, similarly, was attached to Harriet. The chapter is dominated by the imagery of “eyes” being opened, “a blind to conceal his real situation” (427), in the case of Frank Churchill, and awareness of the limitations of individual perceptions. At the start of the meeting between Emma and Knightley, Jane Austen conveys both physical and emotional attraction: “She found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his heart, and heard him thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility”— mutual confessions then follow (425).
Knightley has heard the news of Jane and Frank’s engagement and information that they will live in Yorkshire. He learns from Emma that she has no emotional attachment to Frank and he condemns Frank, trumpeting Jane’s virtues. Fearing that Knightley will now raise the issue of Harriet and his assumed feelings for her, Emma attempts to quiet him. However, when the question of Harriet seems to come into the conversation, it is Emma who is the object of his love and proposal of marriage. Jane Austen does not use erlebte Rede in this chapter but dialogue and omniscient narration, conveying and relating the way in which Knightley surprisingly and unplanned makes his proposal. She comments, “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken,” adding “but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material.” The immediate context is Knightley’s “anxiety to see how she [Emma] bore Frank Churchill’s engagement” (431– 432). Her words as narrator provide a commentary on the whole novel where different perspectives, especially those of Emma, the central protagonist, are revealed to be limited. Vision is restricted with fuller sight demonstrated as the narrative unfolds and draws to a conclusion.
There are, at the end of chapter 13 of this final book and Emma’s acceptance of Knightley’s proposal, still issues to be resolved. The transformation of Emma’s fortunes, from despair, reflected by the summer weather, to happiness, is reflected in the appearance of the sun and the lifting of the clouds, within the course of a chapter. There are, however, still some problems to be dealt with. Her father has to be won over to the marriage; he detests change, and Harriet has to be dealt with. The novel has a remaining six chapters and 50 pages to go.
Volume 3, Chapter 14 (Chapter 50)
The next chapter, 14, focuses on Emma’s feelings— “What totally different feelings did Emma take back into the house from what she had brought out!” and a very lengthy letter addressed to Mrs. Weston from Frank Churchill. Her father is “totally unsuspicious of what” Emma and Knightley, who stayed with Emma following the proposal, “could have told him in return”: again another illustration of limited perspective and vision. Emma decides during “the course of the sleepless night” that follows (434) to have a prolonged engagement while her father lives. She decides to arrange to send Harriet to London for a visit to her sister, Isabella, and her family.
Emma has fewer letters than Jane Austen’s earlier novels. “The secretive Jane Fairfax is evidently an industrious correspondent as well as a talented stylist, but none of her letters is actually quoted” (Page, 182). Frank Churchill’s lengthy letter written to Mrs. Weston is, however, cited in its entirety (436–443). It explains events from his perspective and provides a review, from Frank’s point of view, of what previously has taken place in the narrative of the novel, filling in missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of Emma. He describes the situation with Jane Fairfax. Frank admits: “My behaviour to Miss Woodhouse indicated, I believe, more than it ought” and explains why it was necessary for him to act in that way—“concealment” being “essential to me.” Frank wishes Mrs. Weston to show Emma his explanation of his actions. He explains the gift of the piano: “its being ordered was absolutely unknown to Miss F.” He had “to blind the world to our engagement,” whereas even before “the morning spent at Donwell,” Jane “disapproved” of his behavior to Emma. Frank explains from his point of view why Jane accepted “the offer of that officious Mrs. Elton.” He still smarts from Mrs. Elton’s familiarity at addressing Jane by her first name. Jane meanwhile “dissolved” their engagement. Following the death of his aunt, he spoke to his uncle again about his marriage to Jane: he was “wholly reconciled and complying” (438–443).
Volume 3, Chapter 15 (Chapter 51)
Chapter 15 opens with Emma’s reactions to Frank Churchill’s letter. She shares it with Knightley, who reads it aloud to her, providing a running commentary as he does so. Knightley agrees with Frank’s self-assessment, “You did behave very shamefully,” and comments, “You never wrote a truer line” (446). Tactfully, he glosses over Emma’s conduct at Box Hill. Knightley then turns to his marriage to Emma and how they will win over her father. He agrees to come to live at Hartfield rather than remaining at Donwell. For Emma, “this proposal of his, this plan of marrying and continuing at Hartfield—the more she contemplated it, the more pleasing it became” (450). Consequently, Emma remains a “dutiful daughter” and gains “a loving husband.” Knightley’s solution, the move to Hartfield, is an incredible one in that he leaves his seat of power at Donwell. However, his move “permits the hero and heroine to be husband and wife, yet live and rule together” over Hartfield and its surroundings (Johnson, 142–143). A problem remaining is Harriet, and the chapter ends on an ironic note of inner thought process, of exaggeration: “it really was too much to hope even of Harriet, that she could be in love with more than three men in one year” (450).
Volume 3, Chapter 16 (Chapter 52)
The next chapter, 16, begins the resolution of the Harriet problem troubling Emma. They communicate through letters that are briefly related by Emma. She uses Harriet’s need “to consult a dentist”—such basics are not ignored in Jane Austen’s fictional world—to engineer for Harriet a stay for a fortnight at least with Isabella and her family in London. Emma then can “enjoy Mr. Knightley’s visits . . . unchecked by that sense of injustice, of guilt, of something most painful” that she feels in Harriet’s actual company (451). Emma also feels a “sense of past injustice towards Jane Fairfax” (421). She visits her, only to find Mrs. Elton with her, and consequently neither Emma nor Jane can openly speak of the new situation. Jane has made a remarkable recovery in terms of health and state of mind: “There was consciousness, animation and warmth.” Mrs. Elton largely attributes this transformation to Perry, who she believes “has restored her in a wonderful short time!” (453–454). Mrs. Elton tries to annoy Emma, recalling that not everybody was allowed to see Jane when she was sick, and she alludes to events at Box Hill. On this occasion, Emma chooses not to be provoked. Elton appears, having gone on a fruitless quest searching for Knightley, thus confirming Emma’s account of where Knightley may well be and exposing Mrs. Elton’s inaccuracies. She maintained formerly that they had agreed to meet at the Crown Inn. Jane accompanies Emma downstairs when she leaves, apologizing to her. Emma compliments Jane on her frankness: “if you knew how much I love every thing that is decided and open!” (460). This represents a reversal from the previous misunderstandings reverberating through the novel.
Volume 3, Chapter 17 (Chapter 53)
The next chapter focuses on two main concerns. First, Mrs. Weston has moved from “Poor Miss Taylor” of the first chapter of the novel (8) and her wedding day, to giving birth, to being “the mother of a little girl.” So the narrative has moved forward nine months from her wedding day and its opening chapter. Almost nothing is related of the labor or childbirth and its dangers, or even of Perry’s role in it. Focus rather is on Emma’s and Knightley’s reactions to the birth of “poor little Anna Weston.” Both reinforce the advantages to be gained from having a daughter: having the “fireside enlivened by the sports and nonsense, the freaks and the fancies of a child never banished from home” or being sent away from home to school as boys are. Knightley is provided with the opportunity to reflect on “spoilt children” like Emma. In their witty and affectionate conversation on Mrs. Weston’s giving birth, Emma refers to Knightley’s first name “George.” This gives them both the opportunity to comment upon “the elegant terseness of Mrs. Elton” (461–463).
The second major focus of the chapter is their conveying news of the engagement to Mr. Woodhouse, Isabella, and John Knightley. Jane Austen uses omniscient narration, rather than dialogue or inner thought processes, to convey Emma’s telling her father the news. She then moves into a combination of omniscient narration and erlebte Rede to convey her father’s and Emma’s reactions: “Did not he love Mr. Knightley very much?” and “Why could not they go on as they had done?” (466). The news of the engagement also spreads through Highbury with different reactions conveyed especially to the news that Knightley is leaving Donwell for Hartfield. The only dissenting voice is that of the “very much discomposed” Mrs. Elton, who reflects, “How could he be so taken in?” by Emma (469).
Volume 3, Chapter 18 (Chapter 54)
The penultimate chapter of the novel returns to the unresolved problem Emma has to face—Harriet. It opens on an elegiac note, “Time passed on. A few more to-morrows, and the party from London would be arriving” (470). Knightley, called still “Mr. Knightley” by Emma rather than “George” (473), tells Emma that Robert Martin and Harriet Smith are engaged. Knightley wishes that their “opinions were the same” on the matter “but in time they will. Time, you may be sure,” he tells her, “will make one or the other of us think differently.” He relates how he sent Martin to London, to deliver papers to his brother, John, thus affecting a reconciliation and remeeting between Martin and Harriet. Knightley speaks of Martin’s “good sense and good principles.” Emma, after gaining verification from Knightley that Harriet has actually accepted Martin, confesses to having behaved foolishly. “I was a fool.” Knightley responds by saying, “I am changed also” (471–472, 474).
Not for the first time, they are interrupted by Mr. Woodhouse. Plans have been made to drive to Randalls. At Randalls, Emma encounters unexpectedly Frank and Jane in addition to Mrs. Weston. Emma and Frank review the misunderstandings between them and in this manner revisit from a different perspective key narrative events, such as her perception of Dixon and his imagined liaison with Jane. Emma compares her situation to Frank’s, confessing “there is a likeness in our destiny; the destiny which bids fair to connect us with two characters so much superior to our own.” Toward the end of the chapter the focus moves away from Frank and Emma to Mrs. Weston and a mistaken fear that her little girl might be unwell. Once again, Perry is reintroduced into the narrative, Mr. Woodhouse assuring her that “though the child seemed well now . . . it would probably have been better if Perry had seen it” (478–479). Mention of Perry leads Emma to recollect the incident earlier in the narrative concerning the carriage. Perry yet again then plays the role of linking characters and situations to one another and to reinforcing a central motif in the novel: its fascination with health and illness, “issues of physical, psychological, even moral health that are vital to life itself” (Wiltshire, “Health, Comfort, and Creativity,” 178).
At the end of the penultimate chapter, Emma “had never been more sensible of Mr. Knightley’s high superiority of character” (480).
Volume 3, Chapter 19 (Chapter 55)
In the final chapter, Mr. Woodhouse, somewhat reluctantly, accepts that Emma is getting married. Harriet’s parentage is revealed: “She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been hers.” So Emma’s inference concerning Harriet’s origins, “the blood of gentility,” proves not to be totally inaccurate. But as Jane Austen, in an erlebte Rede observation, satirically comments “The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed.” Money or birth in her world covers a multitude of “sins.” Increasingly Harriet disappears from Hartfield to the Martins, “but Emma attended Harriet to church” for her wedding. In the November Jane and Frank are to be married, both have left Highbury. The date is settled for Emma’s wedding, a month following the Martins’ marriage, that is, before the end of October. An external event finally persuades Mr. Woodhouse that he needs “his son-in-law’s protection” owing to the fact that “Mrs. Weston’s poultry-house was robbed one night of all her turkeys—evidently by the ingenuity of man.” The security and seeming placid surface of Highbury is yet again threatened. There is both a comic and a serious element to the poultry-house robbery. Mr. Knightley’s “strength, resolution and presence of mind” allows Mr. Woodhouse to give “cheerful consent” to his daughter’s marriage.
The final paragraph of the novel briefly relates the wedding, “where the parties had no taste for finery or parade.” The dissenting voice being that of Mrs. Elton, whose husband conveyed the details leading her to consider “it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.” In the final sentence of the novel, “the wishes, the hopes the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” Taken at face value, “the perfect happiness of the union” (481–484), would mean closure on the novel and its characters’ lives. Perhaps this final sentence is not without its ironies and ambiguities always present in Jane Austen’s writing. In an earlier chapter, Knightley had paradoxically observed that Emma is “faultless, in spite of all her faults” (433). Whether or not marriage and the lessons she has learned, or not learned in the course of the novel, will dampen Emma’s ardor to interfere in the lives of others is open to question. Also, as the stealing of Mrs. Weston’s turkeys demonstrates, there are always unforeseen dangers lurking around the corner of the world of Hartfield and Highbury.
Immediate reactions of readers of Emma reflect subsequent ones indicating the novel’s qualities. John Murray, Jane Austen’s publisher, sent the manuscript of Emma to William Gifford (1756–1826) for a report. Gifford, who edited Murray’s prestigious journal the Quarterly Review, responded that he had “nothing but good to say. I was sure of the writer before you mentioned her” (Letter, September 29, 1815). On December 25, 1815, Murray wrote to his most eminent contributor, Sir Walter Scott, asking if he had “any fancy to dash off an article on Emma?” Scott’s review, extending to about 5,000 words, published anonymously as was the custom, constitutes the initial significant assessment of Jane Austen as a novelist. The review goes beyond Emma, drawing attention to the writer’s use of detail, fineness of prose style, and depth of characterization. These elements of technique Scott relates to Jane Austen’s creation of a universe of fiction that retains fidelity to everyday life. This is placed in historical perspective: In Jane Austen there is “the modern novel” in contrast to “sentimental romance, in which the nature imitated is la belle nature” or “an imitation of nature.” Scott writes that he “bestow[s] no mean compliment upon the author of Emma, when we say, that keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality.” Jane Austen “confines herself chiefly to the middling classes of society: her most distinguished characters do not rise greatly above well-bred country gentlemen and ladies; and those which are sketched with most originality and precision, belong to a class rather below that standard” found in other contemporary writers. Scott compares Jane Austen’s art with “the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader” (Southam, Critical Heritage: I, 13, 61, 63–64, 67).
Private comments responding to the initial publication of Emma were not so favorable. Jane Austen sent Maria Edgeworth (1767–1849), a fellow writer and rival novelist, complimentary copies of Emma. She wrote in 1816 to her half brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth that “There was no story in [Emma], except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet’s lover was an admirer of her own—& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willowand smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel!!” However, another contemporary novelist, Susan Ferrier (1782–1854), praised Emma highly. She wrote to a friend, also in 1816, “I have been reading ‘Emma,’ which is excellent; there is no story whatever, and the heroine is not better than other people; but the characters are all so true to life, and the style so piquant, that it does not require the adventitious aids of mystery and adventure” (Gilson, 71).
The author herself collected opinions of Emma, mostly by members of her family or family friends. One preferred it to Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. “There might be more Wit” in the former, “and an higher Morality” in the latter. But “on account of it’s peculiar air of Nature throughout,” it was preferable to either. Another was “dissatisfied with Jane Fairfax” and for Jane Austen’s friend Miss Bigg the “language [was] superior to the others.” Jane Austen’s mother “thought it more entertaining than MP.—but not so interesting as” Pride and Prejudice. “No characters in it equal to [Lizzy], Catharine, & Mr. Collins.” Jane Austen also notes that Judge Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850), the influential editor of the Edinburgh Review, and a stern critic, “was kept up by it three nights” (Southam, I, 55–57).
An unsigned notice in the Literary Panorama, June 1816, commented, “The story is not ill conceived; it is not romantic but domestic.” For the Monthly Review, July 1816, “the character of Mr. Woodhouse, with his ‘habits of gentle selfishness,’ is admirable drawn, and the dialogue is easy and lively.” In general, published reviews found Emma “amusing, if not instructive” (Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1816). Richard Whately’s (1787–1863) influential unsigned review of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published in the Quarterly Review in January 1821, apart from a mention of Miss Bates and Knightley in the context of a comparison with Shakespearean characters, pays little attention to Emma. For Whately, “Jane Austen is fundamentally a serious writer whose morality and values are communicated implicitly, wholly in terms of her fiction,” unlike a contemporary such as Maria Edgeworth (Southam, I, 70, 70, 72, 19). Writing in 1837, John Henry Newman (1801–90), the distinguished theologian, observed in a letter following a reading of Emma, “Everything Miss Austen writes is clever, but I desiderate something. There is a want of body to the story. The action is frittered away in over-little things. There are some beautiful things in it. Emma herself is the most interesting to me of all her heroines. I feel kind to her whenever I think of her. But,” Newman adds, “Miss Austen has no romance—none at all. What vile creatures her persons are! . . . That other woman, Fairfax, is a dolt—but I like Emma.” The distinguished actormanager William Charles Macready (1793–1873) wrote in his diary, February 15, 1834, after finishing Emma that Jane Austen “is successful in painting the ridiculous to the life.”
The great essayist and historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) considered Jane Austen a “Prose Shakespeare” (Southam, I, 117–118, 130), a judgment also of George Henry Lewes (1819–1878). Writing in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in July 1859, he notes, “Mrs. Elton . . . is the very best portrait of a vulgar woman we ever saw: she is vulgar in soul, and the vulgarity is indicated by subtle yet unmistakable touches, never by coarse language, or by caricature of any kind” (Southam, I, 165). Sir William Frederick Pollock (1815–88), a distinguished lawyer, writing in Fraser’s Magazine in January 1860, in an essay on Samuel Richardson, Scott, and Jane Austen, believes that Emma “will generally be recognized by the admirers of Miss Austen as the best of her works.” For Pollock, Mr. Woodhouse is “as finely drawn as one of Shakespeare’s fools,” and “No other novels but Miss Austen’s have ever excited so much minute as well as general interest.” The novelist Margaret Oliphant (1828–97), in an assessment of “Miss Austen and Miss Mitford” published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in March 1870, prefers Emma to the author’s other work, believing it to be “the work of her mature mind” (Southam, I, 172–173, 222). In the same year, Richard Simpson’s (1820–76) unsigned review of Austen-Leigh’s acclaimed Memoir appeared in the North British Review. Simpson makes many of the points found in criticism of the post–World War II period. Austen’s vision is ironic; her fiction reveals a pattern of coherent development; she is a moralist depicting personal self-discovery and the growth to maturity through interaction with others. In Emma she “perfects her processes for painting humorous portraits” (Southam, I, 259).
Others, too, regarded Emma as the summit of Jane Austen’s achievement. The distinguished Shakespearean critic and professor of English at Liverpool, Glasgow, and Oxford Universities, A. C. Bradley (1851–1935), in a 1911 lecture given at Cambridge noted that Emma “is the most vivacious of the later novels, and with some readers the first favourite.” Bradley thought that “as a comedy [Emma is] unsurpassed . . . among novels” (Southam, I, 237–238). Another essay anticipating much subsequent criticism is by Reginald Farrer (1880–1920), writing in the Quarterly Review, July 1917. Farrer regards Emma as “the Book of Books.” He writes, “this is the novel of character, and of character alone, and of one dominating character in particular”—Emma (Southam, II, 265–266). In a lengthy discussion of the novel he draws attention to its author’s “delicate balance of sympathetic identifications and critical detachment in our response to her heroine” (Lodge, Jane Austen’s Emma: 19).
D. W. Harding’s “Regulated Hatred” essay published in Scrutiny in 1940 uses the treatment of Miss Bates to indicate its author’s depiction of the “eruption of fear and hatred into the relationships of everyday social life.” In a later exploration of the novel, Harding points to an element of “civil falsehood” permeating the novel: “When social peace and comfort are maintained through one person’s making allowances and being forbearing the cost is sacrifice of full personal equality” (Harding, Regulated Hatred: 10, 174). Writing in Scrutiny in 1941–42, Mrs. Q. D. Leavis sees Emma as the illustration of Jane Austen “at the climax of her art and in completest possible control over her writing” (Leavis, Scrutiny, 75). Subsequent critics are concerned with explaining why Emma is so important in Jane Austen’s artistic achievement. As Edmund Wilson noted in 1944, Emma “is with Jane Austen what Hamlet is with Shakespeare. It is the book of hers about which her readers are likely to disagree most” (Wilson).
Two areas dominate recent critical discourse on Emma. First, assessment of the character of Emma. Second, the relationship of the world of the novel to the actual world. C. S. Lewis in 1954 believes that Austen’s work is concerned with her heroines’ discovering “that they are making mistakes both about themselves and about the world in which they live.” In the case of Emma, it is her “awakening” to her mistakes that makes the ending possible (Watt, 27). Marvin Mudrick, unsympathetic to Emma, observes in Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery (1952), that at the conclusion “there is no sign that Emma’s motives have changed, that there is any difference in her except her relief and temporary awareness” (200). Writing almost four years later in 1956, Edgar F. Shannon argues that Emma in the course of the novel undergoes a genuine transformation. Emma “discloses a valid progression of the heroine from callousness to mental and emotional maturity—a development psychologically consistent and technically consonant” (Lodge, 130–131). Marilyn Butler in Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975) regards Emma as “the greatest novel of the period” and sees Emma’s role as “to survey society, distinguishing the true values from the false; and, in the light of this new knowledge of ‘reality,’ to school what is selfish, immature, or fallible in herself” (250). More recently, for Claudia Johnson in her Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel (1988), “female authority itself is the subject of Emma.” For Johnson, “with the exception of Mr. Knightley . . . all the people in control are women” (122, 126).
Critics such as Arnold Kettle are troubled by what they perceive as a limited vision of society presented in Emma. Kettle writes in his section on the novel found in the first volume of his An Introduction to the English Novel (1951), “We do not get from Emma a condensed and refined sense of a larger entity. Neither is it a symbolic work suggesting references far beyond its surface meaning.” Lionel Trilling, in 1956, suggests, however, that it is false to assume that “Jane Austen’s world really did exist” (Lodge, 24–25). Other critics such as Malcolm Bradbury in 1962 have seen the novel as “concerned with two kinds of world—the social world and the moral world—and their interaction, an interaction that is intimate, but also complete” (Lodge, 217). Alastair Duckworth in his The Improvement of the Estate (1971) sees Emma as preoccupied with class consciousness. Emma’s subjective truth is continually tested by the external reality of Highbury.
Critics today pay greater attention to the world in which Jane Austen lived and worked, and to the subtle manner in which that world is reflected in a novel like Emma. The novel’s relevance is reflected in the number of recent films based on it. Recently, other manifold perspectives have been brought to bear on the novel—for instance, Jane Austen and the Body, with its subtitle taken from “Emma, the picture of health” (Emma 39, 1992), by John Wiltshire, focuses on the emphasis in Emma and other Jane Austen novels, on physical health and its close relationship to psychological well-being. The same author’s “Health, Comfort and Creativity: A Reading of Emma,” in M. C. Folsom’s Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Emma (2004), focuses on the importance of Perry in a novel that “addresses issues of physical, psychological, even moral health that are vital to life itself” (178).
The son of Mr. Weston and his first wife (a Miss Churchill), adopted when he was three years of age on the death of his brother by the exceedingly wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe, Yorkshire. Emma on their first meeting, which does not take place until chapter 23 (book 2) thinks “he was a very good looking man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father’s; he looked quick and sensible” (190). Indulged by the Churchills, and Mrs. Churchill likes to have Frank near her when unwell. The Churchills move to London and then to Richmond—her illnesses, whether physical, psychological, or both, are not a creation of Frank’s. When he initially appears in the novel, he is 23 and by reputation admired in Highbury, where his presence is eagerly awaited.
While in Highbury, he is engaged in an elaborate game of deception to conceal his commitment to Jane Fairfax, whom the Churchills would not approve of. He and Emma flirt, although Knightley has reservations about his character, finding it surprising that he visits his father Weston so infrequently and is so dominated by his stepmother. His character is the subject of a disagreement between Emma and Knightley. The former uses Frank as the center for her imaginative schemes, by for instance planning that he will be attracted to Harriet Smith. Frank dallies with Emma, he enjoys riddles, and continually flatters. He traveled 16 miles to London for a haircut, although this is an excuse to purchase a piano for Jane Fairfax. Frank enjoys dancing, especially waltzing. Knightley views him as a “chattering coxcomb” (150) possessing “smooth plausible manners” who leads a “life of mere idle pleasure” (148–149). Knightley, once Frank’s relationship with Jane has been made known, condemns him as “a disgrace to the name of man” (426).
In spite of his duplicitous behavior, his comings and goings in and out of Highbury, and his manipulation of Jane’s difficult position, Frank is on the whole excused by most of those he is acquainted with in Highbury. “Jane Fairfax’s character,” according to Knightley, “vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour . . . Frank Churchill is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good” (428). The writer of the longest letter in the novel, one in which he explains to the new Mrs. Weston his actions and requests forgiveness (436–443), three of the central voices in the novel remain somewhat mixed in their feelings toward him. Frank Churchill plays a crucial role at some of the key moments of the novel; for instance, he rescues Harriet from the Gypsies, quarrels with Jane on the day of the Donwell strawberry-picking party, and behaves curiously at Box Hill. His attitudes are implicitly contrasted with Knightley’s. The latter represents England, Churchill wants to leave England as quickly as he can: “I am sick of England—and would leave it to-morrow, if I could” (365). At the conclusion of Emma, Frank and Jane, his bride, return to live at Enscombe, Yorkshire, where they are joined by Mr. Churchill.
Elton, Mrs. Augusta, née Hawkins
The younger of two daughters of a Bristol merchant, she and her family spent some of their winters in fashionable Bath. Has an independent fortune “of so many thousands as would always be called ten” (181). According to Emma, “Her person was rather good; her face not unpretty; but neither feature, nor air, nor voice, nor manner, were elegant.” After visiting her following her marriage, Emma is “quite convinced that Mrs. Elton was a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance; . . . she meant to shine and be very superior, but with manners which had been formed in a bad school, pert and familiar” (270, 272). Following her marriage to Mr. Elton and Emma’s hostility, she sets herself up as a social rival to Emma. She continuously refers to her wealthy elder sister, Selina, and her brother-in-law, Mr. Suckling of Maple Grove, near Bristol; her speech is laden with foreign phrases. She refers to her husband as “caro sposo” (Italian, “dear husband”) (278–279, 302, 356), although her poor grammar (“Neither Mr. Suckling nor me”: 321) reveals her lack of education. However she is capable of citing poetry and misquoting lines from Thomas Gray. She believes incorrectly that the ball planned by Weston was in her honor and considers that the talents of Jane Fairfax, to whom she “took a great fancy,” are wasted “on ‘the desert air’ ” (282). Her too conscientious efforts to find Jane Fairfax a governess position considerably annoy Frank Churchill. She and her husband seem suited to each other, and she has the final spoken words in the novel. Hearing from her husband the details of Emma and Knightley’s wedding, she “thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own—‘Very little white Satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it” (484). Poplawski observes, “Vain, showy, insensitive, and rude, she represents a classic early example of the vulgar nouveau riche character who would become such a mainstay of later” 19th-century fiction (129). She has some discernment, however, regarding Knightley as “quite the gentleman” (278).
Elton, Mr. (Rev. Philip)
Around 26 or 27. Emma thinks “he was reckoned very handsome; his person much admired in general, though not by her, there being a want of elegance of feature which she could not dispense with.” He was “quite the gentleman himself, and without low connections” (35). After a year in Highbury as its clergyman, he made the vicarage livable. Emma tries to find him a suitable wife, perceives his liking for Harriet Smith, and makes every effort to encourage the relationship. Elton, “a young man living alone without liking it,” willingly exchanges “any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse’s drawing-room and the smiles of his lovely daughter” (20). He is anxious to please, and John Knightley comments, “I never in my life saw a man more intent on being agreeable . . . when he has ladies to please every feature works” (111). At the Westons’ reception, Elton was “continually obtruding his happy countenance on [Emma’s] notice” (118). On the way home, probably because “he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine,” he seizes Emma’s hand and makes “violent love to her” (129).
Following his rejection by Emma, Elton goes to Bath and after a month returns to Highbury engaged. At the Crown Inn ball, he attempts to gain revenge on Emma by deliberately snubbing Harriet Smith. Emma “did not think he was quite so hardened as his wife, though growing very like her” (328). Elton’s speech is replete with affected compliments. When he had turned his attentions to Emma, he tells her that in her inaccurate drawing of Harriet “the attractions you have added are infinitely superior to what she received from nature” (42). In short, Elton is a social climber willing to flatter. His observations on the wedding of Emma and Knightley, at which he officiated, are deliberately aimed at pleasing his wife, who “thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own” (484).
Orphaned at the age of three, daughter of Lieutenant and Jane Fairfax, she is brought up by her aunt Hetty Bates and her grandmother, and the Campbells, and destined to become a governess. “She had . . . been given an excellent education. Living constantly with right-minded and well-informed people, her heart and understanding had received every advantage of discipline and culture” (164). A very talented pianist, she is disliked by Emma, who had known her since they were children. Ironically, in view of Frank Churchill’s secret engagement to Jane, Emma confesses to him, “we should have taken to each other whenever she visited her friends. But we never did. I hardly know how it has happened; a little, perhaps, from that wickedness on my side which was prone to take disgust towards a girl so idolized and so cried up as she always was, by her aunt and grandmother, and all their set. And then, her reserve—I never could attach myself to any one so completely reserved” (203).
Emma perceives her as “very elegant, remarkably elegant . . . her face, her features—there was more beauty in them all together than [Emma] had remembered; it was not regular, but it was very pleasing beauty” (167). Following the Campbells’ decision to extend their visit to their daughter in Ireland, Jane chooses to stay with her aunt and grandmother in Highbury. She is especially reserved because of her secret engagement to Frank Churchill, who is unable to make the engagement public because he is afraid that his rich aunt will disinherit him. Jane is irritated by Frank’s overattentiveness to Emma and her refusal to walk with him after the Donwell Abbey visit leads him to behave erratically at Box Hill. Jane breaks their engagement and accepts Mrs. Elton’s help in finding her a governess position. After knowing this, Frank reveals the engagement to his uncle, whose approval he gains following the death of Mrs. Churchill. Secrecy and deception cause Jane to become ill, and she refuses to see Emma. However, when the news of the engagement is made public, she quickly recovers, apologizes to Emma, and they form a friendship.
Primarily viewed through Emma’s viewpoint, Jane is admired by Knightley. At one point, Emma thinks that he is likely to marry Jane, leading Emma to realize that she must marry him. Knightley tells Emma that “I am very ready to believe [Frank’s] character will improve, and acquire from [Jane’s] the steadiness and delicacy of principle that it wants” (448). Deirdre Le Faye notes that Jane Austen told her family that “the letters placed by Frank Churchill before Jane Fairfax, at the end of the irritating alphabetgame . . . which she swept away unread, contained the word ‘pardon.’ ” Additionally, Jane Fairfax “only lived another nine or ten years after her marriage—succumbing, no doubt, to an inherited tendency to tuberculosis” (227).
“A sensible man about seven or eight-and-thirty” (9), owner of Donwell Abbey and much of the Highbury parish. He “serves as the catalyst for Emma’s growth” (Auerbach, 220). An old and very close friend of the Woodhouse family, he has known Emma since she was born and has always taken a very close interest in her. John, his younger brother, married Emma’s older sister, Isabella. Plainspoken, he is not afraid to criticize Emma when he considers she has acted incorrectly. “Mr. Knightley, in fact, was one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse” (11). For instance, he is far from pleased when she persuades Harriet to stop seeing Robert Martin and encourages her to court Mr. Elton. A gentleman farmer, Knightley is most conscientious about his civic duties, as for instance being a magistrate or looking after his tenant farmers and other employees. He participates fully in the life of Highbury, is kind, considerate, and highly respected. Kind to Miss Bates and her mother, he annually sends them his best cooking apples and brings his carriage to take them and Jane Fairfax to the party at the Coles. Perceptive, he notices, for instance, Frank Churchill’s overattentiveness to Emma. Emma’s treatment of Miss Bates results in his chastising her. His jealousy of Frank Churchill, whom he regards as an “Abominable scoundrel” (426) owing to his flirtation with Emma, leads to his visiting the Knightleys in London. He finds them too happy and Isabella too much like Emma. His proposal to Emma is unpremeditated. The concern then is how they are able to marry “without attacking the happiness of her father,” which he discusses “in plain, unaffected, gentleman-like English” (448). The solution is for him to live at Hartfield.
Auerbach writes that “Austen contrasts Mr. Knightley’s character with that of all the other versions of ‘gentleman’ in the novel” (221). His speech is plain and frequently monosyllabic, contrasted, for instance, with Frank Churchill’s French-influenced “manoeuvring and finessing” (146). He has known Emma for so long that it is hardly surprising their relationship will be “something so like perfect happiness” (432). The final words of the novel refer to “the perfect happiness of the union” (484). According to Le Faye, “Jane Austen told her family . . . that Mr. Woodhouse survived his daughter’s marriage, and kept her [Emma] and Mr. Knightley from settling at Donwell about two years” (277).
The eponymous heroine, closely attached to her father, “handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her” (5). The narrative is mainly viewed from her perspective. There are two exceptions. In the fifth chapter of the first volume, Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston talk about Emma when she is not present (36–41). In the fifth chapter of the third volume, Knightley watches the behavior of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill over a game of cards (343–349). Otherwise, Emma is the lens through which the narrative is presented, and as the story unfolds the limitations of her character, she had “rather too much her own way” (5), become evident. Emma perceives, or misperceives, herself as vital to the community and able to arrange marriage for others. For instance, she notices Harriet Smith: “she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance. . . . she would form her opinions and her manners” (23–24).
As the novel develops, assisted by Mr. Knightley’s honesty with her, Emma slowly begins to be aware of her “insufferable vanity” and “unpardonable arrogance” (412–413), trying to arrange the lives of others such as Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, and rudeness to Miss Bates at Box Hill. She becomes aware that she has to be less of an “imaginist” (335), indulging in fantasies concerning others and their emotions, and “more rational, more acquainted with herself” (423). Emma’s is also a love story as much as a voyage of self-discovery. During her planning of the romance of others, she gradually becomes aware of the depth of her feelings for Knightley; her awareness of her real feelings for him coexist with her recognition of her misplaced judgments. She wishes “to grow more worthy of him, whose intentions and judgment had been ever so superior to her own” (475). She dismissed, for example, the tenant farmer Robert Martin as unsuitable to marry Harriet Smith, whom she took, erroneously, to be a gentleman’s daughter. Emma realizes Martin’s “sense and worth” and approves of his marriage to Harriet. However, she recognizes that their relationship “must sink,” for Harriet will be a farmer’s wife. Following the discovery that Harriet “proved to be the daughter of a tradesman,” Emma reflects that if Harriet had married Knightley, Frank Churchill or Elton—one of the three Emma or Harriet had pretensions Harriet might marry—“the stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth” would have entered into their family (481–482).
The novel concludes with Emma’s wedding to Knightley. The final words of Emma predict “the prefect happiness of the union” (484) between Emma and Knightley. For Claudia Johnson, Emma “does not think of herself as an incomplete or contingent being whose destiny is to be determined by the generous or blackguardly actions a man will make towards her” (124). However, for Alastair Duckworth, “Emma is so egotistical that she seems unaware that other characters have as real an existence as she” (cited McDonald, 110).
Woodhouse, Mr. Henry
The wealthy owner of Hartfield in Highbury, Surrey, a widower, the “most affectionate, indulgent” (5) father of the married Isabella and of Emma: “having been a valetudinarian all his life, without activity of mind or body, he was a much older man in ways than in years; and though everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper, his talents could not have recommended him at any time.” Further, “he was a nervous man, easily depressed, fond of every body that he was used to, and hating to part with them; hating change of every kind” (7). Throughout much of the novel he resists change, agreeing to Knightley’s living at Hartfield at its conclusion only because he can offer protection from the poultry thieves. A hypochondriac, he continually relies on the advice of the local apothecary, Mr. Perry, who appears to respond to Mr. Woodhouse’s every whim. Exceedingly careful of what he eats, “his horror of late hours and large dinner-parties made him unfit for any acquaintance, but such as would visit him on his own terms” (20). Food is prepared only in the way he is used to: Serle boils pork or egg better than anyone else. His son-in-law, John Knightley is too rough with Mr. Woodhouse’s grandchildren. He is fearful of people catching cold. According to Le Faye, the author told her family “that Mr. Woodhouse survived his daughter’s marriage, and kept her and Mr. Knightley from settling at Donwell, about two years” (277).
Primary Texts Austen, Jane. Emma. Edited by R. W. Chapman. The Novels of Jane Austen. 3d ed. Vol. 4. Reprint. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1986. (All textual references are to this edition.) ———. Emma. Edited by R. Cronin and Dorothy McMillan. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ———. Emma. Edited by James Kinsley, an introduction and notes by Adela Pinch and Vivien Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. ———. Jane Austen’s Letters. Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye. Oxford: Oxford University Press 3d ed., 1995.
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