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Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 13 14 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 13–14

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 13–14 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 13–14 (Volume 1, Chapters 13–14) | Summary



Chapter 13

During the holiday visit of the Knightley family, Mr. Weston insists that everyone come to dinner at Randalls, his small estate, on Christmas Eve. Mr. Elton and Harriet are also invited, but Harriet has come down with a bad cold and must stay at Mrs. Goddard's. On the day of the event, Mr. Elton meets Emma on her way out from checking on Harriet. As they walk back to Hartfield together, they run into John Knightley returning from Donwell Abbey, the elder Mr. Knightley's estate. Emma suggests that Mr. Elton stay home on this cold day with a threat of snow, thinking it will give him an opportunity to check on the invalid. But John Knightley offers Mr. Elton a ride in his carriage. After Mr. Elton leaves, John Knightley alludes to the vicar's infatuation with Emma, saying, "I never ... saw a man more intent on being agreeable than Mr. Elton." Emma defends his "perfect good temper and good will," and John Knightley ironically replies, "He seems to have a great deal of good-will towards you." Emma discounts her brother-in-law's observations and assures him that they are only good friends.

Chapter 14

When the party arrives at Randalls, Emma is thrilled to see her old friend Mrs. Weston. While Emma tries to ignore Mr. Elton's unwanted attentions, Mr. Weston excitedly tells the party that he is expecting a visit from his son, Frank Churchill, and it crosses Emma's mind that, if she were to marry, he would be a suitable match for her, even though she has actually never met him. Mrs. Weston mentions how difficult his aunt, Mrs. Churchill, makes it for Frank to get away: "Mrs. Churchill rules at Enscombe, and is a very odd-tempered woman; and his coming now, depends upon her being willing to spare him." Emma wonders why a grown man is so much under the thumb of his relatives.


Emma continues to push her marriage agenda, even as it becomes more and more clear that she is the object of Mr. Elton's affections. Mr. Elton goes to visit Harriet only so that he can report her condition to Emma, and when she suggests he skip the party, he doesn't know what to say until he is rescued by John Knightley. Emma's puzzlement is comic. She thinks, "What a strange thing love is! He can see ready wit in Harriet, but will not dine alone for her." The intelligent part of Emma's mind surely should guess by now what is going on, but the force of her imagination is too strong. Only when Mr. Elton is hovering over her at the Westons does she first think, "Can it really be as my brother imagined?" Still, she continues to ignore the obvious.

Meanwhile, John Knightley exhibits the selfish side of his nature, complaining that Mr. Weston should not have forced the family to leave their home on such a wintry day. He makes a cynical, if truthful, statement when he says, "Here we are setting forward to spend five dull hours in another man's house, with nothing to say or to hear that was not said and heard yesterday, and may not be said and heard again to-morrow." While John Knightley is right, what he is not considering is that such social visits are merely the occasion for people to get together and enjoy one another's company, especially when the ties of affection are strong. The younger Mr. Knightley shows he lacks social finesse and perhaps doesn't entirely understand his responsibilities as Isabella's husband. Emma is looking forward to seeing her friend Mrs. Weston, and the narrator says bitterly, on Emma's behalf, that she "did not find herself equal to give the pleased assent, which no doubt he was in the habit of receiving, to emulate the 'Very true, my love,' which must have been usually administered by his travelling companion." Emma is thinking of how her sister bends to the will of her husband, and this is clearly not something Emma can imagine for herself, were she ever to take on the marriage ordeal.

When Frank Churchill comes up in conversation, Emma's imagination immediately jumps to the idea that he might be a suitable marriage partner. Frank is something of an absent celebrity for the people in Highbury. He has been idealized because his father sings his praises, and he has about him the aura of the "prodigal son"; all of Highbury wishes to welcome him home. Emma is as attracted as anybody to him for this reason and also because he is related to Mrs. Weston. Everyone sympathizes with Frank, who must put up with Mrs. Churchill's whims and unhealthy possessiveness of his person and time. Emma can see how a young woman might easily be kept from her relatives but wonders at a "young man's being under such restraint, as not to be able to spend a week with his father, if he likes." On the other hand, Mr. Weston is perhaps reaping what he has sown. Now that his son is grown, Mr. Weston is anxious to have his company, but perhaps he should have thought about the attachment his son would develop for the Churchills when he agreed to the adoption.

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