Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 16, 2023
December 9, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
The Woodhouses and Knightleys are invited to the Westons’ for Christmas Eve dinner. Harriet and Mr. Elton are also included, but Harriet comes down with a sore throat and is forced to miss the gathering. Emma meets Mr. Elton while visiting Harriet and is pleased by his attentions to her friend, but she remains puzzled that he refuses her suggestion to skip the party since Harriet will not be there. Mr. John Knightley witnesses the exchange and suggests to Emma that Mr. Elton has feelings for her. Amused, Emma dismisses the suggestion. When she and Mr. Elton travel to the gathering in the same carriage, she is surprised that Mr. Elton’s concern for Harriet gives way to cheerful anticipation of the evening ahead.
Entering the party, Emma attempts to put Mr. Elton’s strange behavior out of her mind, but his constant hovering presence makes her worry that Mr. John Knightley’s suggestion that Mr. Elton cares for her may be correct. Meanwhile, Mr. Weston announces that Frank Churchill is due to visit in early January. Emma feels some interest in this news because she has half-seriously thought of Frank as a potential suitor, though she does not anticipate giving up her vow to remain single. Mrs. Weston confides to Emma that she has some anxiety about meeting her stepson, and she fears Mrs. Churchill will prevent him from coming. She and Emma speculate about the situation at Enscombe, the Churchill estate, and Emma wonders why a young man should be so dependent upon the impulses of his guardian.
Mr. Elton joins Emma in the drawing room and displeases her by acting more concerned with her health than with Harriet’s. John Knightley’s report that it has begun snowing leads to a small crisis, and Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella are beside themselves with worry about traveling the three-quarters of a mile home. Mr. Knightley assesses the situation and reassures everyone that they will make it back safely.
In the confusion created by the party breaking up, Emma finds herself alone in one of the carriages with Mr. Elton. He immediately declares his love for her and proposes. Hoping that he is merely drunk, Emma attempts to remind him that Harriet is the true object of his affections. Astonished, Elton assures Emma that he has never been interested in Harriet. Moreover, he is convinced that Emma has known of and encouraged his sentiments. Emma sharply rebukes him and refuses his proposal, and the two travel the remainder of the journey in angry silence.
Emma’s belief that she is different from others cannot merely be attributed to her sense of superiority; it also results from her ambition to make her life more interesting and more useful than the limitations of village life seem to allow. Observing and imagining the destinies of other lives exercises her intellect. We might think of Emma as a kind of novelist creating plots for the characters that people her world. In this sense, she may be closer to Austen than her mistakes would lead us to believe. In fact, Emma is somewhat prudish, afraid to consider marriage for herself, despite her belief that “a good match” is the key to happiness for her friends. Alert to what she believes are the subtleties of flirtation between Harriet and Mr. Elton, she is incapable or unwilling to see that she might be engaging in such social games herself.
Emma’s confrontation with Mr. Elton is the novel’s first major crisis. The true turning point is not Elton’s proposal, however, but his accusation that Emma has known that she was the object of his affections all along. He says, “I am sure you have seen and understood me,” and for the first time in the novel Emma is at a loss for words, fiercely angry. This is the first instance in which Emma is implicated in the social interactions that she believed she was manipulating from a position of control and detachment. She has understood her own calculating behavior as beyond reproach, in a sense invisible, and suddenly she is seen and placed within the society from which she believed she has separated herself, forced to realize that she has been lying to both Harriet and herself.
Read more about the blinding power of imagination as a theme.
Austen has sometimes been accused of a failure of nerve when it comes to depicting emotional scenes because she generally switches from dialogue to indirect language when relating moments of passion. Instead of reporting Elton’s speech directly, Austen writes, “Mr. Elton [had] actually [begun] making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping-fearing-adoring-ready to die if she refused him. . . .” From this statement and from what we know of Mr. Elton, we can imagine his actual words, but their shock value is softened by the indirect description. The information Austen gives us about Emma’s feelings is similarly vague: “It would be impossible to say what Emma felt on hearing this; which of all her unpleasant sensations was uppermost.” It is up to us to decide whether such language weakens the effect of these scenes or makes them more powerful by preserving the characters’ privacy and challenging us to supply the emotional details.
Read more about how Emma experiences several major revelations in the novel that fundamentally change her understanding of herself and those around her.