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Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 11–12 (Volume 1, Chapters 11–12) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

Emma becomes preoccupied with her sister's family, who have come to Hartfield to spend the Christmas holidays. Isabella Knightley, the mother of five small children, is amiable but not especially bright. John Knightley is a successful lawyer who does not have the social graces of his brother. The conversation turns to Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, and speculation about whether he will visit the newlyweds soon. Emma says, "There was a strong expectation of his coming soon after the marriage, but it ended in nothing." Isabella comments that it is shocking that Mr. Weston allowed Frank to be "taken away from his parents and natural home. ... I really never could think well of any body who proposed such a thing to any body else." John Knightley characterizes Mr. Weston as without strong feelings. Emma is not pleased with his assessment of her friend's husband, but she keeps her opinion to herself.

Chapter 12

Emma has invited the elder Mr. Knightley to the family dinner, and they patch up their quarrel, although neither will give ground on the subject they fought over. Mr. Woodhouse's extreme narcissism is in evidence at the Hartfield gathering. "You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together," he tells Isabella. "My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel," he suggests. But Emma overrides him. He then chides Isabella for going to South End (a seaside resort) in the autumn instead of coming to Hartfield, and Emma changes the subject. Isabella then asks for news about Jane Fairfax and Mrs. and Miss Bates. Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella return to the subject of health, discussing the prevalence of colds and respective opinions of their health-care practitioners. Mr. Woodhouse opines that it's always a "sickly season" in London and then returns to the topic of gruel and next faults his son-in-law for endangering his family's health with a seaside holiday, citing the authority of his apothecary. The younger Mr. Knightley angrily replies, "Mr. Perry ... would do as well to keep his opinion till it is asked for." Mr. Woodhouse becomes agitated, and his daughters smooth his ruffled feathers. In a way, this confrontation between the younger Mr. Knightley and Mr. Woodhouse mirrors many of the confrontations between the elder Mr. Knightley and Emma. Like Emma, her father is spoiled and used to having his way. Both Mr. Knightleys act as the voice of reason.

Analysis

Isabella's visit to Hartfield is an occasion to see Emma from a different perspective. With her family she is mature and sensible, even matriarchal, despite the fact that she is younger than her sister. She negotiates the rough patches in her extended family's mutual relations and holds her tongue rather than offend her brother-in-law, though she does not appreciate his quickness of temper with her father. She feels offended when the younger Mr. Knightley criticizes Mr. Weston, although she does not argue with him. She is sensible enough to see both her brother-in-law's faults and his good qualities and admires his strong family feeling.

As the lady of the house, Emma does not let her earlier quarrel with the elder Mr. Knightley prevent her from inviting him to dine with them so that he can spend time with his brother and his family. When her father begins bringing up subjects that are likely to annoy her brother-in-law, she changes the subject and attempts to avoid a confrontation. When John Knightley finally has had enough of Mr. Woodhouse's criticism of how he runs his family, he snaps at his father-in-law, but Emma does her best to restore Mr. Woodhouse's equilibrium.

These chapters also provide a humorous portrait of Mr. Woodhouse, an aging narcissist who cannot imagine how anyone might like to visit the seaside or eat something other than a bowl of gruel. Even more important, these chapters show Emma's devotion to her only parent. She resents her brother-in-law's occasional harsh treatment of him, despite the fact that her father can be very annoying. Emma is also devoted to her sister and nieces and nephews. It is easy to see that in some ways Emma is the parent to her father and the elder sister to Isabella. Clearly she has the capacity for empathy and can exhibit strong interpersonal skills when she is not captivated by her own imagination.

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