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Emma imagines the course that her and Frank’s love affair
will run. In her mind, her fantasy always ends with her refusing
Frank. She believes she loves him, but not so much that her happiness
depends upon him, and that he loves her, but that his feelings are
probably changeable. She reads his first letter to Mrs. Weston after
returning to Enscombe and admires the genuineness of the warm feelings Frank
expresses for Highbury. His brief mention of Harriet makes Emma
speculate that Harriet could replace her in his affections, but she
reaffirms her resolution to cease matchmaking.
Village gossip turns to Mr. Elton, who will soon arrive
in Highbury with his new bride. Harriet is flustered by the prospect
of Elton’s return, and Emma suggests that if Harriet will not forget Elton
for her own sake, she should do so for Emma’s, for Harriet’s persistent
attachment is a reminder of Emma’s guilt. Harriet repents, and Emma
is moved by the warmth of Harriet’s love for her. Emma concludes
that tenderness of heart, which Harriet possesses and which Emma
believes she herself lacks, is tremendously valuable.
Mr. Elton returns with his bride, and Emma decides that
she and Harriet should visit the newlyweds early on in order to
reestablish normal social relations. In this first meeting and shortly
thereafter Emma reserves judgment on Mrs. Elton, and attributes
Mr. Elton’s lack of ease to the awkwardness of the situation. When
the couple returns the visit and comes to Hartfield, Emma is able
to observe Mrs. Elton at greater length, and Emma is horrified by
the over-familiarity of her manners. Mrs. Elton is attached to superficial tokens
of wealth, such as her sister and brother-in-law’s “barouche-landau”
(carriage); she presumes to take Emma under her social wing; and
she prides herself on the inner “resources” of self-worth and foresight
that she clearly lacks. Mr. Woodhouse, never particularly discerning,
considers the new bride pleasant enough and expresses guilt that
he has not visited her. He cannot understand Emma’s consternation
when he suggests that “[a] bride, you know, my dear, is always the
first in company,” and that a bride receives the utmost in politeness
and good manners.
Emma continues to dislike Mrs. Elton, who, noting Emma’s
reserve, begins to return the sentiment. Emma assumes that Mr. Elton
has told his wife something of the unfortunate episode with her
and Harriet, to whom the Eltons are especially rude. Mrs. Elton
takes on Jane Fairfax as her project, attempting to bring her out
socially. Emma is puzzled that Jane refuses another invitation to
join Mr. and Mrs. Campbell and Mr. and Mrs. Dixon in Ireland. She
is also puzzled that Jane accepts Mrs. Elton’s attentions, and she
discusses Jane’s actions with Mrs. Weston and Mr. Knightley. Mr.
Knightley defends Jane’s acceptance of Mrs. Elton’s attentions,
and Emma takes the opportunity to probe Mr. Knightley on his feelings
for Jane, telling him, “The extent of your admiration may take you
by surprise one day or other.” Knightley seems flustered, uneasy,
and embarrassed and wonders whether Emma has been playing matchmaker
for him. She assures him that she has not, and he insists her that
he is not in love with Jane—for one thing, Jane is too reserved. Emma
is satisfied that she has been right about Knightley’s feelings for
Jane and that Mrs. Weston has been wrong, but Mrs. Weston wonders
if his eagerness in denying it indicates otherwise.
In these chapters, Emma’s imaginative preoccupations again
shift their focus from meddling in others’ lives to understanding
the intrigue in her own. Earlier in the novel, Emma occupies herself
by envisaging Jane Fairfax’s supposed affair with Mr. Dixon, but
Jane’s reserve and Emma’s growing compassion for her have made this
line of speculation less worthwhile for Emma; now, for the first
time in the novel, Emma imagines herself as the heroine of her own
plot. Even so, her sentiments for Frank Churchill are no more real
than the feelings that she wrongly attributes to Mr. Elton, Jane,
and Mr. Knightley. Notably, her feelings for Frank flourish only
in his absence, which leaves Emma not unhappy but “busy and cheerful.” She
relishes the chance to envision her and Frank’s courtship, picturing
“a thousand amusing schemes for the progress and close of their attachment,
fancying interesting dialogues, and inventing elegant letters.”
She does not seem to relish the prospect of a courtship itself.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Elton seems like a crude parody of the
earlier Emma, exhibiting Emma’s mistakes in an exaggerated form.
Mrs. Elton is constantly in search of young women to whom she can attach
herself and introduce into her society, and she holds matchmaking
an important goal. Emma immediately resents Mrs. Elton’s presumptuousness
in thinking she can make matches between strangers, and Mrs. Elton’s
blunt, outspoken nature makes us share Emma’s resentment. Still,
no great difference exists between Mrs. Elton’s behavior toward
Jane and Emma’s behavior toward Harriet, though Emma herself cannot
recognize the similarity. Both Emma and Mrs. Elton are guilty of
The conversation Emma and Mrs. Weston have with Knightley presents
another example of a dialogue with a subtext that can be understood
only upon a second reading of the novel. Knightley is obviously
uncomfortable when Emma suggests that he has feelings for Jane,
and his uneasy reaction could be interpreted a number of ways. Knightley
may flush simply because he resents personal questions, or because,
as Mrs. Weston suspects, he is fighting or concealing his feelings
for Jane. We suspect that he flushes because he is displeased that
Emma so blithely imagines him with someone else, and he seems relieved
when she assures him that this has not been the case. Mrs. Weston’s
willingness to read between the lines and have faith in Knightley’s
refutation at the end of the chapter reinforces the novel’s message
that seeking subtexts can alert one to a hidden truth but can just
as easily lead one into error.