Emma Summary and Analysis of Chapters 8-14

Chapter Eight: Harriet sleeps at Hartfield that night, as she now does frequently. Mr. Knightley, speaking alone with Emma, credits her with improving Harriet by curing her of her schoolgirl temperament. When Mr. Knightley tells Emma that he suspects that Mr. Martin will propose soon, Emma proudly informs him that Harriet has already rejected Mr. Martin’s marriage proposal. Mr. Knightley is furious, thinking that Harriet is a simpleton for refusing. He claims that Mr. Martin is Harriet's superior, for while he is settled, she is a foolish girl with dubious origins. Angered by Mr. Knightley’s reproof, Emma argues for Harriet’s superiority and touts the belief that Harriet's parents must be gentility. She also alludes to a possible match between Harriet and Mr. Elton, an idea that Mr. Knightley swiftly dismisses.

Analysis: The revelation that Harriet is a constant guest at Hartfield strikes a discordant note. It indicates that Harriet may think of herself as a resident of Hartfield, which would obviously accord her greater status than she deserves. Mr. Knightley prediction seems to be coming true: Harriet is beginning to perceive herself as a member of high society. For Mr. Knightley, the best of example of this is that Harriet turned down Robert Martin. When he thinks that Harriet will marry Robert Martin, he gives Emma credit for improving Harriet. This is the first compliment that he gives to Harriet Smith, but he soon retracts it when he hears of her rejection. Moreover, since Mr. Knightley serves as Austen's voice of reason in the novel, it is clear that, because of Emma, Harriet has made a mistake.

Again, class is the primary consideration for marriage. Because Harriet does not know her parentage, she is unlikely to marry well, and she must rely on a husband to ensure her a place in society. Emma's great fault is making Harriet Smith believe that she can expect a man of higher status than she can actually claim. Thisties in with Emma’s matchmaking plans for Mr. Elton, who is, if not as high as the Woodhouses or Mr. Knightley, nevertheless much higher than Harriet Smith. Mr. Knightley thinks that Mr. Martin is a good match for Harriet because he is close to her rank but is also a rational and reliable man who makes a decent living.

Significantly, when Mr. Knightley and Emma discuss Harriet's possibilities for marriage, they specifically do not mention love. For the characters in novel, the primary consideration is marrying for status and for security, not for any great romantic considerations. Mr. Knightley feels that Harriet should marry Robert Martin because he would provide for her and give her an acceptable (if somewhat low) place. He also mentions that Mr. Elton, in contrast, will want to marry someone who will ensure his place in society: he wants a woman who will bring him respectability through her status and financial security through her dowry. This gives some explanation for his interest in Emma. He may want to marry her for her money and not for love.

Chapter Nine: Mr. Elton gives Emma a poem that she assumes is intended for Harriet. When the riddle is deciphered, it is clearly a love poem, which convinces Emma of Mr. Elton's intentions toward Harriet. She continues to advise Harriet on romantic matters, specifically telling her to not betray her feelings to Mr. Elton. Mr. Woodhouse tells Emma and Harriet that Isabella (Emma's sister) and her family will be coming to Hartfield soon.

Analysis: Once again Mr. Elton makes a romantic overture that is directed to an ambiguous source. The poem he writes is intended for Harriet Smith's collection, yet he first shows it to Emma. The poem itself is equally confusing; the answer to the riddle is “courtship,” yet the object of said courtship is described as a witty, intelligent, and beautiful woman, a description that even Emma cannot relate to Harriet. Manners provide some obstacle to resolving the situation. Since nothing can be openly declared, both Emma and Harriet must rely on the subtle clues that Mr. Elton gives. He can write a private riddle with the solution 'courtship,' but he cannot discuss the actual topic with either woman.

Games and riddles dominate this chapter of the novel, apt metaphors for Mr. Elton's courtship tactics. The title of the poem is "Charade," and its solution is romance. And in this situation Mr. Elton is deliberately engaged in a charade. He now seems quite aware of Emma's intentions and plays along with them to remain close to Emma. He uses a number of means (pronouns with an ambiguous meaning, conditional clauses that indicate his intentions without expressly saying them) to obscure the situation. His actions are certainly deliberate.

The chapter also reinforces the idea that the friendship between Emma and Harriet Smith does neither much good. Austen notes that Emma has done little reading since she became close with Harriet, and that all of their attempts to improve their minds ended with no effect. Furthermore, she gives another reminder that Harriet is intellectually inferior to Emma when they attempt to solve the riddle. Harriet gives only absurd answers, while Emma easily guesses the answer.

Chapter Ten: Emma and Harriet make a charitable visit to a poor family outside Highbury. She tells Harriet that she never wishes to marry because she would have to find someone superior to herself first. She reminds Harriet that, even unmarried, she would never be as pathetic as Miss Bates, for it is a lack of money that makes celibacy contemptible and Emma would still have her fortune. In conversation, Harriet brings up Miss Bates' niece, Jane Fairfax, who Emma dislikes because she is so highly praised. Emma continues to contrive a romance between Harriet and Mr. Elton.

Analysis: The reason that Emma is unmarried becomes clear in this chapter. As a highly independent woman who will never need to marry, she resolves only to marry for love and only to marry when she finds someone superior, a condition that, considering Emma's own vanity, is unlikely to be fully satisfied. Marriage entails a sacrifice: Emma would lose her authority and have to submit to a husband. As a single woman with a fortune, however, she has the power to do whatever she chooses.

This chapter also returns to Austen's distinctions between marriage for love and marriage for status. It is only the very few such as Emma Woodhouse who can marry for love, while status and security must be the overriding concern for women such as Harriet Smith. Austen also contrasts the reputations of Emma Woodhouse and Miss Bates, both of whom are single but are differentiated by fortune.

In addition to providing a contrast to Emma’s comfortable life, the characters of Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates serve as comic relief in the novel. Miss Bates chatters on incessantly about any topic, while Mrs. Bates’ hearing difficulties result in aggravating situations. Yet, Austen also makes it clear that these women deserve pity and compassion, and that is the sole reason why Emma frequently visits the Bates family. It is certainly not, as Emma makes clear, out of any particular regard for the two women.

The introduction of the character Jane Fairfax gives some dimension to Emma's vanity. With the exception of money, Jane is presented as Emma’s equal in terms of beauty, wit, intelligence, and talent. Emma is unsettled by this competition, and her automatic dislike of Jane is no doubt linked to some jealousy on her part.

Chapter Eleven: Mr. John and Mrs. Isabella Knightley visit her father and sister at Hartfield. They discuss Frank Churchill, noting that he has not yet visited the Westons since they have been married. When discussing the Westons, Mr. John Knightley reminds Emma that she is not a wife, and says that few think highly of the Churchill family. Emma dislikes her brother-in-law and wishes to contradict him, thinking that his comments reflect badly on Mr. Weston. Yet, she holds her tongue for the sake of her sister and keeping the peace.

Analysis: John Knightley's pointed remark about Emma's marital status is yet another reminder that Emma has more power as a single woman than a married one. While Emma often seems petty and self-centered in her dealings with Harriet Smith and Mr. Knightley, here she reveals herself to be more honorable, letting her brother-in-law's rude comments about Mr. Weston's social activities pass in order to keep the peace. She behaves with propriety.

This interaction also confirms Austen’s use of manners to define the value of each character. The first descriptions of Mr. John Knightley and his wife mention their manners. While Isabella's manners are acceptable, her husband's are too reserved to be pleasing, and he is too judgmental towards other's behavior. He criticizes Frank Churchill for qualities without possibly knowing whether he possesses these negative qualities.

This chapter also returns to the story of Frank Churchill, foreshadowing that he will soon play an important place in the novel. The fact that he has not yet visited his father since his marriage is presented as an affront to propriety. However, since there is every indication that he has proper manners, there must be a reason that why he has not visited Highbury.

Chapter Twelve: Emma decides that Mr. George Knightley must dine with them upon his brother's visit, as a means for reconciliation over their argument about Harriet and Mr. Martin. Although Emma has no plans to concede the argument, she wishes to restore their friendship. Isabella mentions Jane Fairfax in conversation, claiming that only she could be as accomplished and superior as Emma, a more suitable companion than Harriet Smith.

Analysis: Despite Emma's numerous faults, she has a near-faultless sense of politeness and decorum. She will not admit that she was wrong concerning Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, but her stubbornness is not enough to stand in the way of her friendship with Mr. Knightley.

Interestingly, Austen points out that Emma is not as worldly as she would like to believe. While Isabella and her husband travel a great deal, Emma admits that she has never even seen the ocean. Her father never travels, which is to be expected considering his anxiety over his health, but it is peculiar that Emma never leaves Highbury, when there are numerous instances when other characters do travel often. Perhaps Emma never leaves Highbury because there is no need: she has everything she desires there.

This chapter is also significant for the mention of Jane Fairfax, whose talents and bearing make her a continual aggravation to Emma. Austen contrasts the ideal Jane Fairfax, who would be Emma's intellectual match, with Harriet Smith, who will only flatter Emma. Significantly, only Mr. Woodhouse, who refuses to think badly of his daughter under any circumstances, thinks that Harriet is a perfect friend for Emma.

Chapter Thirteen: Mr. Weston invites members of Highbury society to dine with his family at Randalls on Christmas Eve. Although Harriet Smith is invited, she cannot attend because of a cold. Despite Emma's reluctance, Mr. Elton still resolves to attend. Mr. Woodhouse also attends the party, despite inclement weather that would usually force his absence ­ still, he remains unpleasant and anxious. Emma is displeased that Mr. Elton seems unaffected by Harriet's absence; she is also taken aback by his overly familiar manner in addressing her. Mr. John Knightley comments to Emma how Mr. Elton seems infatuated with her.

Analysis: Emma finally realizes that Mr. Elton has no interest in Harriet Smith and is instead infatuated with Emma herself. Like his brother, Mr. John Knightley serves to shatter Emma's delusions, but in his manner he differs sharply. While Mr. Knightley has impeccable taste and manners, Emma’s brother-in-law abrupt and direct. When Emma realizes that Mr. Elton is interested in her, her opinion of him worsens considerably. She begins to realize his flaws, most importantly that he is too eager to please when it concerns women.

Chapter Fourteen: During her visit with the Westons, Mr. Elton continually attempts to be near Emma, who still hopes that she can fix the situation in Harriet’s favor. Emma hears more about Frank Churchill and begins to wonder about the possibility of a match between them. Of all the men that she knows, Frank seems to suit her the best in terms of age, character, and condition.

Analysis: At the Weston's Christmas Eve party, Emma suffers from her two companions. Mr. Elton is too eager to please, while Mr. John Knightley is completely unwilling to do so. Despite her growing dislike for Mr. Elton, she remains civil to him, still holding some hope that she can fix the situation. Yet again, Emma demonstrates her best trait and bears every slight or inconvenience without making a mistake in etiquette.

This is the first part of the novel in which Emma actually considers marriage for herself. It is significant that even Emma, who can presumably marry anyone she wants, thinks of marriage in practical terms. Her considerations are age, character, and condition, essentially, the same status considerations that other women must take into account. At no point does Austen mention love. It is even more striking that Emma decides that Frank Churchill would be a suitable husband before even meeting him. She already knows what she needs to know—his age, his status, and his familial connections—and other information is secondary.

Frank Churchill's story echoes that of his late mother. The Churchill family exerted great control and influence over their daughter, cutting her off when she disobeyed their wishes by marrying Mr. Weston. Similarly, Frank Churchill's aunt (who raised him) is very demanding, and seems to prevent him from visiting his father. Some bitterness remains from Mr. Weston's first marriage, and thus the Churchill family wishes to keep Frank away from him when at all possible.