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Emma enters the Bates’ sitting room and finds Frank occupied with fixing Mrs. Bates’s glasses and Jane seated at the piano. Frank asks Jane questions about how she imagines the piano came to her, and his comment, “True affection only could have prompted it,” makes Jane blush. Believing that Frank is teasing Jane unkindly about Mr. Dixon, Emma whispers that he should stop, and she regrets having shared her speculations about Jane with him. Mr. Knightley stops by to check on Jane’s health but refuses to come in when he hears that Frank is there.
While the Woodhouses are visiting Randalls, Frank and Emma work on planning a ball so they can finish the dancing inaugurated at the Coles’. They decide the room at Randalls is too small. Mr. Woodhouse privately tells Mrs. Weston his concern that Frank is so thoughtless about opening and shutting doors that he exposes Emma, Harriet, and Mrs. Weston to dangerous drafts. The next solution proposed by Frank on behalf of Mr. Weston is that the ball be given at the Crown Inn. Though Frank does a poor job reassuring Mr. Woodhouse that this plan will not give them all colds, Emma comforts her father, and she agrees to the plan. There are further practical difficulties, and Frank proposes he go fetch Miss Bates along with her niece, whom Frank admits he does not immediately recollect, for advice. By the time he returns, the difficulties have been resolved, the date of the ball has been set, and Frank secures from Emma a promise to dance the first two dances with him.
Emma is worried that Frank’s aunt, Mrs. Churchill, will refuse Frank permission to stay on for the ball, which is scheduled for a few days after his visit is scheduled to end. To everyone’s relief, he receives this permission. Only Mr. Knightley refuses to look forward to the ball: he does not seem interested in dancing. Emma takes Knightley’s diffidence as further proof that he is not interested in Jane, who in a rare moment of openness confesses how much she looks forward to the ball.
Two days later, Frank is called back to Enscombe because his aunt is ill. The ball is postponed indefinitely, and Frank comes to Emma to say goodbye. He is clearly dejected and speaks haltingly—for a moment, it seems as if he is going to declare something serious. Interrupted by his father, Frank departs, and Emma is depressed. Highbury society is, it seems for Emma, severely diminished without Frank’s charms. Emma concludes that she must be “a little in love” with Frank after all.
During Emma and Frank’s visit to the Bates’, Emma, Frank, and Jane are all aware that the dialogue taking place has a subtext, but Austen crafts Frank’s words so that the subtexts Emma and Jane read differ from one another. At this point in the novel, our misperceptions are likely to closely match Emma’s, and we follow her in believing that Frank’s teasing of Jane about the origins of her piano cruelly refers to Mr. Dixon.
Read more about visits as a motif.
Though Emma gossips maliciously about Jane, her selfless protectiveness of Jane when she believes Frank to be teasing her shows that Emma’s willingness to amuse herself at the expense of another has limits. When we later learn that the piano is actually a gift from Frank, Jane’s secret fiancé, we realize that his teasing is more good-natured, emphasizing his own gesture of affection.
Frank’s request that Jane play one of the waltzes from the previous night’s dance is similarly misinterpreted by Emma. He says:
If you are very kind, [you will play] one of the waltzes we danced last night; let me live them over again. You did not enjoy them as I did; you appeared tired the whole time. I believe you were glad we danced no longer; I would have given worlds—all the worlds one ever has to give—for another half-hour.
As Frank’s dance partner, Emma believes that Frank’s directs his compliment toward her—that he implies to Jane that she did not enjoy the dancing because Emma and Frank were not dancing together. Once Frank’s relationship with Jane is revealed, it becomes clear that that Frank would have given worlds for another half-hour not because he wished to dance more with Emma, but because he wanted the opportunity to ask Jane. When Jane complies with Frank’s request by playing a tune that Frank recognizes as one that was danced at Weymouth, Jane flushes, and Emma assumes Jane is embarrassed because she had danced with Mr. Dixon to that song. In hindsight, it is clear that Frank was Jane’s partner.
When Frank takes his leave of Emma before returning to Enscombe, our confusion about his feelings for Emma increases. After mentioning to Emma that he has already said goodbye to the Bateses and Jane, Frank hesitates, then says, “[P]erhaps, Miss Woodhouse—I think you can hardly be quite without suspicion—.” This remark sounds to us, as it does to Emma, like the prelude to some sort of admission of love. Once we know Frank’s true circumstances, though, it becomes clear that Frank is considering making Emma a genuine friend by letting her in on his and Jane’s secret.
Emma’s thoughts about Frank reveal to us that she is lying to herself about loving him; she only enjoys the attention Frank’s courtship brings her. She takes pleasure in dancing with him because everyone else admires what a fine couple they are, not because the two share any intimacy. She is excited with the prospect of seeing him each day because she knows that he admires her and because she suspects that he harbors feelings for her. She misses his company because it has enlivened Highbury, but she does not miss him as a person. At the conclusion of Chapter 30, Emma’s attempt to convince herself that she loves Frank—“I must be in love; I should be the oddest creature in the world if I were not—for a few weeks at least”—shows us that Emma does not (yet) truly understand what love feels like.
Read more about Frank Churchill’s values and his understanding of manhood.