Chapter Thirty-six: Mr. Weston discusses Frank Churchill and his aunt with Mrs. Elton and reveals more about the Churchill family. They are proud people and, while his pride is harmless, her pride manifests as arrogance and insolence, even though she has no great familial connections. Mr. John Knightley leaves his sons, Henry and John, to stay with Emma, although he worries that they will be a burden to her, considering her increasing social life. He notes that Emma has been more social in the past six months and spends time with more different people. Mr. Knightley suggests that the children stay with him instead, but Emma reminds him that he has as many social functions as she does, for they attend the same ones, and that she is never absent from her estate.
Analysis: Just as Mr. John Knightley serves as the voice of things that one cannot properly say in Emma, Mrs. Elton serves as the voice for questions that normally would be too rude to ask. Through her persistent questioning about Frank Churchill, we learn more about the ill feelings that Mr. Weston has toward the Churchill family. Mrs. Elton even makes the comparison between Mrs. Suckling (her low-born relative in Maple Grove) and Mrs. Churchill, which is apt considering they are both somewhat low-born but exert influence through 'new' money.
Mr. John Knightley indicates that Emma cares too much for social functions and amusements. Although this fits with his dour character, it nevertheless wounds Emma's pride, for her brother-in-law has suggested that her social activity takes precedence over her family. Mr. Knightley made a similar criticism about Frank Churchill, which foreshadows his later concerns about Frank Churchill's influence over Emma.
Chapter Thirty-seven: Emma's attachment to Frank Churchill has subsided, but she is now concerned that he is in love with her. When Frank returns, he and his aunt and uncle decide to stay a house nine miles away from Mr. Weston. He begins preparations for a ball at the Crown Inn, and Emma is surprised that he only visits her once in ten days.
Analysis: Emma's concern for Frank Churchill distresses her because she believes that he must be in love with her even though she does not share his feelings. The likelihood that he is in love with her is slim, considering his lack of attention to her in the two months since he left Highbury, but she still worries. When he does arrive, she is convinced that he is no longer infatuated with her if he ever was but this does not worry her. If her belief that Frank Churchill must love her indicates some vanity and self-delusion, her reaction to his apparent indifference to her shows some improvement. She does not feel slighted to have less attention.
Chapter Thirty-eight: Frank Churchill behaves oddly towards Emma at the ball at the Crown Inn. During the first dance, Emma and Frank dance second to Mr. Weston and Mrs. Elton, and Mrs. Elton is completely gratified by this. Emma wishes that she could like Frank better than she actually does. When Mrs. Weston encourages Mr. Elton to dance with Harriet, he blatantly refuses, much to Harriet’s humiliation. To recover Harriet's dignity, Mr. Knightley asks her to dance. After the ball, Mr. Knightley tells Emma that the Eltons' intention was to wound both Emma and Harriet. They cannot forgive her for wanting Harriet to marry Mr. Elton.
Analysis: Although Emma enjoys Frank Churchill's company and his attention during the Crown Inn ball, this is the extent of her feelings. The only regret she feels is that she cannot feel more towards him. The two can now be completely comfortable with each other's company. Nevertheless, all is not right with Frank Churchill. He is in an uncharacteristically bad mood during the ball, yet the reason remains as yet unclear.
The Eltons' actions in this chapter continue to develop the theme of propriety and the difference between overt behavior and subtle signals. Mr. Elton does not do anything outwardly rude toward Harriet, but it is clear that he intends to snub and humiliate her. The Eltons hide behind the façade of propriety, but their behavior is anything but well-mannered. It is important that Harriet is the victim of the snub rather than Emma because she is an easy target. They can snub the socially inferior Harriet with few consequences, but a similar snub against Emma could not be tolerated.
In rescuing Harriet Smith from humiliation, Mr. Knightley is the paragon of behavior for Emma. For the first time he exhibits a change of behavior toward Harriet: he admits her positive qualities and takes pity on her situation. This is not the only change in Mr. Knightley: his feelings toward Emma become more clear. He dismisses the idea that Emma and he are like siblings, giving greater indication of possible romantic feelings.
Chapter Thirty-nine: Frank Churchill and Harriet arrive at Hartfield the day after the ball. The night before, when Harriet was walking home, a party of gypsies approached Harriet and her companions and chased them. Harriet was assaulted by a group of them and was saved by Frank Churchill, who was on his way to return a pair of scissors to Mrs. Bates. Emma still wonders if Harriet and Frank Churchill might make a good couple but vows not to meddle. Soon the news of Frank's heroism is known throughout Highbury.
Analysis: The story that Harriet Smith tells about Frank Churchill is a reminder that there are less reputable elements outside of the genteel estates of Hartfield and Randalls. The story is told from Harriet's point of view, therefore one can assume that some of the details of her assault have been exaggerated (she was accosted mainly by children, who could hardly prove too great a threat). Also notable is that Frank Churchill's destination is Mrs. Bates' home. It seems odd that, immediately after the ball, he would want to visit merely to borrow a pair of scissors. This seems like a feeble excuse for his visit and yet more evidence that he has a secret liaison with Jane Fairfax.
Chapter Forty: Harriet visits Emma several days later to make a confession. She has a parcel with items that remindher of Mr. Elton, including a small box with a court plaster that was used to cover a small cut that Mr. Elton had. Harriet claims that she is now done obsessing over Mr. Elton and vows never to marry, for the person she prefers is too great her superior. Emma gives Harriet some hope that she might be able to marry this unnamed man.
Analysis: Harriet Smith shows her more absurd and immature side in this scene, revealing a childish obsession with Mr. Elton. The remnants that she keeps as mementos are foolish trifles: a bit of a bandage, a small pencil, and such. This makes it quite clear that Harriet does not have very good judgment, an appraisal that causes some concern when she vows never to marry. Considering Harriet's lowly rank, vowing never to marry is as foolish a choice as keeping a bandage as a memento. In this declaration, Harriet continues to mirror and emulate Emma, vowing never to marry just as Emma did. Yet while Emma refuses to marry because she feels that she could never find someone who would measure up to her, Harriet refuses to marry because she feels she will never measure up to the unnamed man she adores.
Harriet and Emma are deliberately ambiguous about the object of Harriet's affection. The two only establish that the man saved her the night of the Crown Inn ball and is someone of high rank, so much so that it is unlikely that the match would ever be successfully made. Emma assumes that Harriet is referring to Frank Churchill, who rescued her from the gypsies, but both of these characteristics also apply to another respectable man of Highbury who showed kindness to Harriet Smith.
Chapter Forty-one: Mr. Knightley only grows to dislike Frank Churchill more, as he suspects double-dealing in Frank’s pursuit of Emma. It seemed indisputable that Emma was the object of his affections, but Mr. Knightley suspects that he had an interest in Jane Fairfax the whole time. Over tea at Hartfield, Emma, Frank, Harriet and Jane play word games in which they must guess words. The word that Frank gives Jane to guess is "Dixon," which greatly annoys Jane, who promptly quits the game. Mr. Knightley tells Emma about his suspicions about Frank and Jane, but she thinks that there is no romance between them. Mr. Knightley is irritated by the entire situation.
Analysis: Even though Emma is convinced that Frank Churchill has no romantic interest in her, Mr. Knightley is concerned that he is still pretending to have an feelings for her. He believes that Frank and Jane are having an affair and, as Mr. Knightley has been consistently correct in judging others’ actions, this suspicion is almost significant evidence of the affair. Where he errs is in the idea that Frank Churchill will harm Emma through the deception. Emma is perfectly clear that she does not love Frank, but Mr. Knightley still feels threatened by him. This continues to build the possibility that Mr. Knightley is interested in Emma. His greatest care in this situation is that Emma does not get hurt.
Still, although Emma will not be hurt by Frank Churchill, his behavior is still inappropriately deceptive. He does have a manipulative nature, but does not direct it towards Emma. During the game, Frank teases and taunts Jane Fairfax to the point that she must leave the game. The purpose of Frank Churchill's games seems to push Jane Fairfax into losing her sense of reserve and to reveal her true emotions. This scene parallels the earlier incident in which Mr. Elton uses the riddle "charade" to declare his feelings to Emma via Harriet Smith. Emma finds herself yet again in the middle of a romantic game in which true feelings and emotions cannot properly be conveyed.
Chapter Forty-two: Mrs. Elton plans a picnic, and Mr. Knightley offers Donwell Abbey as the location. She presumes to make all of the invitations herself, even though it takes place at his estate, but Mr. Knightley tells her that only one woman can invite anyone to Donwell Abbey, and that is the future Mrs. Knightley, whoever she may turn out to be. During the picnic, Emma sees Mr. Knightley and Harriet together, which she finds odd. Jane Fairfax leaves early while Frank Churchill arrives late, primarily due to delays from Mrs. Churchill. Frank is not in a good mood during the party and, while talking with Emma, claims that he is not at all a fortunate person and that he wishes to leave England. He turns down Emma's invitation to a picnic at Box Hill the next day, but finally relents.
Analysis: Mrs. Elton receives a long-awaited comeuppance in this chapter when her presumptions and breaks of etiquette reach an unreasonable level. Her great mistake is to demand the power to invite whomever she pleases to Donwell Abbey, a power that only Mr. Knightley may have. Mr. Knightley's reproach of Mrs. Elton contains an interesting comment. When he says that only the future Mrs. Knightley may invite whomever she chooses to his estate, he gives the first indication that he is interested in marriage. The automatic assumption before this point was that Mr. Knightley had resigned himself to remaining a bachelor.
It now seems more and more likely that Jane Fairfax will suffer the indignation of becoming a governess, and even worse, she may owe her position to Mrs. Elton's intervention. This chapter bolsters the suspicions that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are involved, considering the strange circumstances of his late arrival and her early departure both are unhappy during their separate visits to the picnic at Donwell Abbey.
Also, Harriet spending time with Mr. Knightley is a notable change in events. This is a reminder of Harriet's earlier claim that she was in love with a man of great status. Harriet has shown no interest in Frank Churchill, so it must be assumed that Emma was mistaken and Harriet has developed feelings for Mr. Knightley.