Emma Summary and Analysis of Chapters 43-49

Chapter Forty-three: The next day, the party goes to Box Hill for a picnic. Frank Churchill is still in a bad mood, but his mood improves when he concentrates only on amusing Emma. The party is listless, so Frank proposes a little game: everyone must say one thing very clever to Emma, or else two things moderately clever, or three things dull. When Miss Bates begins to chatter on incessantly, Emma puts her down harshly, telling her that she is limited to only three dull things. Later on, Emma, Jane and Frank discuss marriage. Jane speaks about how quick marriages can be salvaged, while Frank tells Emma to choose a wife for him and mold her (in her own image). Emma returns to the idea of Frank and Harriet. Afterwards, Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for treating Miss Bates so rudely, telling her that Miss Bates deserves her compassion and not her scorn.

Analysis: Although Miss Bates previously acted only as comic relief in Emma, she serves a greater purpose in this chapter. No matter how absurd, chattering or boorish she may be, even Miss Bates deserves to be treated with some dignity. Her low situation makes her deserving of even kinder treatment, which makes Emma's sharp remark particularly cruel.

As Mr. Knightley reminds Emma, she made a great mistake when she puts down Miss Bates. As one of the highest members of Highbury society, Emma has a duty to treat those of lesser rank with kindness and to take pity on those such as Miss Bates. This is a turning point in Emma's behavior. Although she has thought ill of a number of Highbury residents before (the Eltons, Jane Fairfax), this is the first time that Emma has not behaved politely to one of them.

This parallels the events of Chapter Forty-two, in which Mr. Knightley acts as the voice of propriety and good manners in terms of Mrs. Elton. He upbraids Emma just as decisively, but there is a genuine warmth to his criticism. When he speaks to Emma about her mistake, he points out how admired and warmly considered Emma is. His wish is to improve Emma and not to put her in her place, as he did Mrs. Elton.

Chapter Forty-four: Ashamed of what she has done, Emma visits Miss Bates to apologize for her behavior at Box Hill, but she is not home. Emma waits for her with Mrs. Bates. Miss Bates does arrive and tells Emma that Jane was crying and writing letters to Colonel Campbell and Mrs. Dixon. She will be going to be the governess for Mrs. Smallridge of Maple Grove, thanks to Mrs. Elton, and will be paid well, according to Miss Bates. She also learns that Frank Churchill has suddenly left, since the Churchills requested that he return home.

Analysis: Emma is appropriately ashamed of her behavior, and her attempts to remedy her situation with Miss Bates are sincere and commendable. But Austen spends little time on Emma's newfound modesty, instead switching to news of Jane Fairfax. It is confirmed that Jane must enter a profession as a governess, a job that she earlier compared to the slave trade, and now she is in ill health. Despite Miss Bates' protests that she will be happy as a governess, Jane Fairfax is quite upset by this turn of events. Emma explicitly contrasts her fate with that of Mrs. Churchill. Jane Fairfax is a gracious, talented woman who must take a subservient position merely because of status, while Mrs. Churchill is a demanding, cruel woman who is important in society.

There is now some explanation for Frank Churchill's recent bad mood. Mrs. Churchill yet again demands that Frank Churchill return home. There is more evidence that the fates of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill are connected. Both suffer depression almost simultaneously, and both are set to leave Highbury around the same time.

Chapter Forty-five: When Emma returns home, she finds that Mr. Knightley and Harriet have arrived. He tells Emma that he is going to London to spend time with John and Isabella,and is touched to learn that Emma has gone to see Miss Bates. He takes her hand and is about to kiss it, yet suddenly lets it go. The following day, there is news that Mrs. Churchill has died. Emma now realizes that there is no obstacle between Frank and Harriet. She also learns that Jane Fairfax is now in ill health, likely depressed that she must go to Maple Grove.

Analysis: In this chapter, Emma is determined to set right her previous ill will toward Jane Fairfax. She strenuously attempts to visit her and wish her better health. Not only does she think well of Jane, she now wishes to do something about it. Emma acts with a newfound modesty. She is even embarrassed when her devoted but delusional father compliments her for kindness toward Miss Bates.

Mr. Knightley's romantic attentions toward Emma become more overt in this chapter, although he remains reluctant. He takes her hand when he senses her embarrassment over the false praise, a subtle physical gesture that represents a shift from verbal expressions of emotion that predominate the novel. He is at the verge of expressing his love for Emma but still hesitates.

The death of Mrs. Churchill is a truly unexpected event in the novel, for whatever illness she earlier claimed seemed to be a false pretense for getting Frank Churchill to be near her. Still, the major obstacle for Frank Churchill is now removed. He no longer is prevented from declaring his love for anyone. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that he must be in love with Jane Fairfax, Emma persists in believing that he could love Harriet Smith.

Chapter Forty-six: Mr. Weston urgently requests Emma's presence at Randalls, for Mrs. Weston has important news. When Emma arrives, Mrs. Weston looks quite disturbed. She has news that Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax have been secretly engaged. Emma tells Mrs. Weston honestly that she was once interested in Frank, but that interest subsided. Still, she criticizes Frank for pretending to show affection for her when he was engaged to Jane, particularly when Jane was present.

Analysis: Whether or not Frank Churchill was wrong in devoting his attention to Emma and hiding his engagement to Jane Fairfax is up for debate. As Emma points out, he came to Highbury with professions of openness and simplicity but instead duped everyone. Still, it was evident from his first introduction that Frank harbored some secret and was deliberately deceptive. And although he gave the appearance that he had an interest in Emma, she realized almost immediately that this was not the case and that his interest was more out of vanity and their shared sociability. Also, Mrs. Churchill made it impossible for him to make his romance public without retribution.

The one unqualified positive circumstance of the engagement is that Jane Fairfax will no longer have to become a governess. While Frank does have his faults, he will certainly improve Jane Fairfax's situation, while her impeccable manners will improve his sometimes disreputable behavior. The parallels between Frank Churchill and his father are striking. Both men were constrained in their actions by the Churchill family, and both found happiness with an educated and respectable governess whose status they improve.

Chapter Forty-seven: Emma realizes that Harriet might be upset by the turn of events, for this is the second time that Emma has suggested that someone might be interested in the poor woman. Emma is angry with Frank Churchill for the deception but is at least relieved that Jane will not sink into an insignificant life. When Emma sees Harriet, Mr. Weston has already told her about Frank Churchill. Harriet denies that she ever had an interest in Frank Churchill, instead, Harriet has been fixated on Mr. Knightley. (When she earlier spoke to Emma about her feelings, she mentioned that the man in question saved her. While Emma assumed she meant Frank's actions with the gypsies, in fact she meant Mr. Knightley's kind behavior at the Crown Inn ball after she had been slighted). Emma finally realizes that nobody should marry Mr. Knightley but Emma herself, and that she has lead Harriet to believe that Mr. Knightley could be in love with her. Emma realizes that she has made Harriet believe that her claims are greater than they actually are; she has made the humble Harriet now vain.

Analysis: Mr. Knightley's words to Emma, "you have been no friend to Harriet Smith," prove prophetic in this chapter, as Emma herself realizes. She believes that she has yet again misled Harriet Smith into expecting the wrong romantic attachment. Nevertheless, Mr. Knightley's warning was not prophetic in the manner that Emma imagines. Emma did not damage Harriet Smith by setting her up for another heartbreak. Rather, Emma's great fault is that she made Harriet believe that she could aspire to an unreasonable social status. Emma realizes that part of her vanity is the belief that she knows the secrets of everybody else's feelings. She has been proven consistently wrong on this account because she views the world as she would like it to be. She assumed that Mr. Elton loved Harriet because she wanted it to be so. As her own feelings for Frank Churchill grew, she was convinced that he loved her; as they waned, she believed that his did as well.

Jealousy once again motivates romance in this novel: it takes Frank Churchill to make Mr. Knightley show greater affection toward Emma, and now it is Harriet Smith who makes Emma realize that she loves Mr. Knightley. The great horror of the possible match between Mr. Knightley and Harriet Smith is that, from his actions, Emma believes it to be possible. But, the match must be prevented, for it would cause Mr. Knightley constant difficulties and expose him to intense mockery.

Class once again enters into discussions of marriage. Even if Mr. Knightley does love Harriet Smith, Emma cannot imagine the marriage taking place. Whatever love the two of them have would be fraught with such difficulties that there is virtually no possibility of success.

Chapter Forty-eight: Emma gives up hope that Mr. Knightley is in love with her. Even if he were, she would still not be able to marry him because of her father's need for constant attention. Mrs. Weston tells Emma that Jane Fairfax regrets being involved in a suspicious private engagement and wishes that she had handled the situation with greater decorum. Emma feels disheartened and alone, since the pregnant Mrs. Weston will soon be preoccupied with her child and Frank Churchill will no longer visit frequently.

Analysis: Emma Woodhouse has thus far been completely satisfied with the condition of her life. In her mind she has everything that she desires: fortune, status, and a comfortable social circle. Yet in this chapter she realizes that an integral part of her happiness depends on Mr. Knightley's affections. Although they have no romantic attachment as of yet, it is important to Emma that she is the most important woman in his life. Realizing that she might lose this position to Harriet Smith makes Emma aware how deeply she cares for him. This helps to explain why no attachment between Emma and Mr. Knightley has been formed earlier. Both already realized that they were the most important person in the other's life.

The discussion between Mrs. Weston and Emma concerning Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax brings up the important point that the two must certainly be in love with one another. Both endured a great deal of pain during their secret engagement and risked their reputation among society by deceiving their friends and family. As Emma states, "her affection must have overpowered her judgment." Yet love cannot entirely excuse deception; both Jane and Frank behaved improperly. Since all turned out well for the two of them ­ they hurt nobody during their deception and will be properly married soon ­ Austen's major point is that their behavior was wrong for reasons of manners. Even without any negative consequences, the deception was wrong as a breach of decorum.

At this point in the novel, Emma is alone, outside the social interactions of her friends. Everyone else has already married (the Westons) or plans to (Frank and Jane). She may always have her wealth and status, but Emma still may risk loneliness by clinging to her self-absorption. This isolation will not come from becoming a social pariah but will instead occur if she remains immature and vain among responsible adults with greater responsibilities to consider.

Chapter Forty-nine: Mr. Knightley stops by Hartfield to see Emma, and they discuss Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. He fears that Jane will be miserable with a man as intolerable as Frank Churchill but hopes that she will improve him. Mr. Knightley admits that he envies Frank in one respect. Emma fears that he will mention Harriet, but Mr. Knightley then professes his love for Emma. The two are now reassured of their love for one another.

Analysis: The final decision on Frank Churchill's actions comes when Emma discusses his engagement with Mr. Knightley. While Mr. Knightley has always held a low opinion of Frank Churchill out of jealousy for his apparent affection for Emma, he now realizes how he underrated him. Mr. Knightley serves as the final judge of character in the novel, and, when he comes to forgive Frank Churchill this is a cue from Austen that Frank, for all of his faults, should not be considered disreputable.

Once again, manners and etiquette obscure the true emotions and cause dangerous mixed signals. The great propriety that Emma shows in dealing with Frank Churchill makes it unclear what feelings she may have. Mr. Knightley from this concluded that she might be in love with Frank. It is necessary to discern what each character does or does not feel under the heavy veil of polite behavior. In believing that Emma might love Frank, Mr. Knightley made his one major error.

Mr. Knightley professes love in a measured and utterly dignified manner that is very different from the fawning adoration that Mr. Elton showered upon Emma in the carriage ride. When he and Emma declare their love for one another, it is occasion for relief, rather than for abundant joy. Austen suggests that a match between the two was inevitable as they are the two highest members of Highbury society. Moreover, Mr. Knightley's criticisms of her were merely preparation for making her a suitable wife.