Chapter Twenty-two: Not a week after Miss Augusta Hawkins' name had been mentioned among Highbury, she had already been revealed to be handsome, elegant, accomplished and highly amicable, although Emma notes that she has no truly respectable family connections. Mr. Elton returns to Highbury with renewed spirits as he is to be married shortly. Harriet’s spirits worsen upon Mr. Elton's return, although she has now resumed contact with Elizabeth Martin. Emma suggests that Harriet visit the Martins out of considerations for propriety.
Analysis: Wealth is the primary motive for Mr. Elton's marriage to Miss Hawkins. She has a fortune that she brings to the marriage, but certainly not the social status that Emma has. It is here that Austen makes the distinction between wealth and status. Miss Hawkins is certainly wealthy, but the source of this wealth is important. Her family's fortune comes from the somewhat disreputable trade industry, not from the ownership of property, which is the source of the income for the Woodhouses and Mr. Knightley.
For the first time, Emma assents to Harriet's contact with the Martins. It is significant that Harriet is so dependent upon Emma for her decisions, virtually unable to decide anything without first checking with her friend. In addition, Harriet's preoccupation with Mr. Elton borders on obsession. She has a limited attention span. If she does not think or speak about Mr. Elton, the subject is Mr. Martin. This may be part of the reason that Emma suggests that Harriet visit the Martins, if only to give her an opportunity to think of something other than Mr. Elton. An additional concern, as always, is propriety. Whatever embarrassment there may be between Harriet and the Martin family, she must be kind and civil to them.
Chapter Twenty-three: Harriet gives Emma the details of her visit with the Martins. Fatigued by the business of Harriet, the Martins, and Mr. Elton, Emma visits the Westons. Frank Churchill, a very good looking man, finally arrives in Highbury, and Emma immediately likes him, for he is quite charming and well spoken. Emma, Mr. Woodhouse and the Westons socialize with Frank Churchill, and Emma is pleased by the beginning of this acquaintance.
Analysis: Through Harriet's long tale of her visit with Robert Martin, Austen gives some insight into Harriet's limited imagination. The mere sight of a trunk that will be delivered to Mr. Elton disturbs poor Harriet and ruins her visit to the Martins. This reaches past mere shame and mourning over her unsuccessful courtship with Mr. Elton and absolves Emma of some blame for her pain. Emma may have attempted to design a romance between Harriet and Mr. Elton, but it is now Harriet's duty to let go of her obsessive pain.
Frank Churchill's final arrival at Highbury reveals little substantial information about the young man, who still remains a mystery. More significant is that, despite this lack of any more tangible information, Emma is quite pleased with Frank. She knows that she will like Frank at first sight, when he has had no opportunity to exhibit any personal qualities, positive or negative, and she takes every minor shading to his personality as an example of his excellence, just as she earlier idealized Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton when she had designs for them.
Although the two plotlines have no apparent connection, Austen continues to tie together Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Since there is little reason for the two plotlines to connect with one another, this must be taken as foreshadowing for later developments between the two characters.
Chapter Twenty-four: Frank Churchill and Mrs. Weston visit Emma, who decides that Mr. Knightley must have been wrong about him. When visiting the Crown Inn and seeing its ballroom, Frank suggests to Emma that she, with her resources, should hold dances there. Surprisingly, Frank disparages Jane Fairfax to Emma, who defends her. While they shop for gloves at Ford's, Frank tells Emma more about Jane Fairfax and how she is destined to be a teacher. He even mentions Mr. Dixon. Emma finds Frank to be more moderate and warmer than she expected, and less a spoiled child of fortune.
Analysis: Frank Churchill reveals himself to be more complicated than Emma originally imagined in this chapter, more interested in his family and Highbury society and also more intelligent and engaging. This seems to confirm suspicions that Frank Churchill was kept from Highbury through his aunt's influence. Yet one must take into account perspective: these positive shadings to his character are taken from Emma's eyes and not those of a more objective or authoritative source such as Mr. Knightley. Emma seems to take every detail of Frank’s personality to be a credit to him; even when he makes a catty comment, it is about the one person with whom Emma competes. This seems to echo Mr. Elton's earlier manipulation of Emma. Frank Churchill flatters her vanity, but in a more subtle way, by disparaging the one person for whom Emma holds any jealousy.
Also, Frank Churchill's comments seem to presume a knowledge of Jane Fairfax that goes beyond mild acquaintance. Earlier comments connecting the two indicated that they had met each other only briefly, but Frank Churchill knows a considerable deal about Jane Fairfax, even the gossip about Mr. Dixon. This foreshadows later developments: what does Frank know about Jane Fairfax, and how does he know it?
Chapter Twenty-five: Emma's good opinion of Frank Churchill is shaken when she hears that he has gone to London simply to get a haircut. The Coles, a family of low origin involved in trade, invite the better families of Highbury to dine with them. Although Emma thinks that this is an affront to her high place in society she should decide her social circle and not have it decided for her she accepts the invitation.
Analysis: Frank Churchill's trip to London for a haircut reveals a suspicious arrogance—travel is difficult, and to go to London simply for a haircut is an immense waste of time and resources—but Emma thinks only slightly less of him for it. She has made up her mind that she would like him, and perhaps marry him, far before she actually met him, and vain, indulgent actions such as this are downplayed or ignored. This resembles how she ignored Mr. Elton's faults until it was too late. However, in this situation it is Emma herself, not Harriet Smith, who risks humiliation and heartbreak. Austen, however, gives a more negative appraisal, noting that his actions show "vanity, extravagance, love of change, restlessness of temper."
The Coles' party indicates how social life in Highbury is stratified. The Cole family may be wealthy, but they are involved in trade and thus should not presume to set the terms under which they interact with the higher members of their society (the Woodhouses, Mr. Knightley, the Westons). The chapter also returns to the idea that different segments of society have different forms of acceptable behavior: Emma is at its peak, and thus must consider how she treats others leaving the Coles' party early would be an embarrassment to them. The Coles, in contrast, should know that they cannot presume to set social functions for their superiors and must wait for the Woodhouses, Westons and Mr. Knightley to reach out to them.
Chapter Twenty-six: Frank Churchill returns from London, unashamed of what he had done. At the Coles' party, Mrs. Cole tells how Jane Fairfax received a new piano from an unknown source. Frank Churchill is obviously amused by the story, and Emma tells him her suspicions that it is a gift from Mrs. Dixon. He suggests to Emma that Mr. Dixon has fallen in love with her, and that is why she chose to come to Highbury instead of accompanying the Campbells to Ireland. He also tells how Mr. Dixon saved Jane Fairfax's life when she nearly fell overboard during a water party. In passing, Frank notes that Mr. Knightley must have provided a carriage to transport Jane Fairfax and Miss Bates to the party. Emma wonders if this indicates Mr. Knightley’s partiality for Jane and becomes upset when she considers that he might marry her. She speaks with Mr. Knightley to assuage her fears, and he disparages Frank Churchill for showing off his own voice by singing at the party.
Analysis: Frank Churchill's sense of etiquette is crucial in this chapter. He realizes that people think that his journey for a haircut was a foolish choice, and, although he is shows no sense of shame about his actions, he is able to downplay this fault as neither something to be gloried in nor something to be ashamed of. The greater fault of Frank Churchill is not his foolishness, but his constant need for attention. As Mr. Knightley points out, Frank Churchill revels in showing off his singing voice at the Coles' party.
This chapter also features another instance in which Frank mentions Jane Fairfax to Emma. After suggesting that Jane may be involved with Mr. Dixon, he suggests that Mr. Knightley may have an interest in her. This is obvious manipulation, for Frank wants to suggest that any man is interested in Jane Fairfax except for him. His insults and rumors, always delivered with a self-regarding smile, are obviously sincere and are clearly meant to indulge Emma. He feeds her information about Jane Fairfax that is ambiguous yet likely disparaging, playing into Emma's tendency to gossip.
Austen uses jealousy as a primary motivation for her characters' actions and realizations. Emma shows an inclination toward Mr. Knightley for the first time when she believes that he might marry Jane Fairfax. Her argument is that he must remain single so that her nephew will inherit Donwell Abbey, but her intense feelings on the matter suggest that she might have other motivations. In turn, Mr. Knightley appears quite jealous of Frank Churchill for his attentions to Emma. He is preoccupied with Frank Churchill's vanity and self-absorption and points out these qualities to Emma at every opportunity.
Chapter Twenty-seven: Harriet Smith visits Emma and tells her that she suspects Robert Martin to be involved with Anne Cox. They shop at Ford's together, and Emma sees Mrs. Weston and Frank Churchill going to visit Miss Bates. While Emma and Harriet continue to shop, Miss Bates invites them to hear Jane Fairfax play at her new piano.
Analysis: Just as jealousy over Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, respectively, seem to motivate romantic feelings in Emma and Mr. Knightley, Harriet Smith's suspicions about Anne Cox cause a rekindling of her worry over Robert Martin and whether or not she made the right decision.
Frank Churchill is deliberately ambiguous toward Emma when she meets him on his way to Mrs. Bates' home. He wavers between shopping with Emma and visiting with the Bates family, but chooses to go with his stepmother to Mrs. Bates' home. His words favor spending time with Emma, but his actions favor visiting with Mrs. Bates. Since Jane Fairfax is staying with Mrs. Bates, this decision proves an obvious choice between the two. There are other indications that Frank Churchill might match well with Jane Fairfax. Both are musical (he sings and she is a pianist).
Chapter Twenty-eight: At the Bates' home, Emma listens to Jane play. Mr. Knightley stops by the Bates' while Emma and Frank are there, but because of the numerous visitors he promises to call another time. Miss Bates thanks Mr. Knightley for sending them his store of apples.
Analysis: At the Bates home, Jane Fairfax is the obvious center of attention. When Emma arrives, Frank Churchill is helping her fix her new piano so that she may play. Mr. Knightley arrives to call on Mrs. and Miss Bates, and by extension, Jane Fairfax. Austen is deliberately ambiguous about Jane Fairfax's courtship possibilities. The actions of both Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightley indicate a possible romantic interest in her, but Frank disguises any possible interest by showing such great attention to Emma, while Mr. Knightley behaves with such dignity that no action can be perceived as outwardly romantic. The main subtlety in the chapter is that Mr. Knightley's behavior is consistent throughout the novel. It seems more likely that he would treat Jane Fairfax kindly without having an ulterior motive, since he has such a high regard for decency and benevolence.