Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 15 16 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 15–16 (Volume 1, Chapters 15–16) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 15

After tea, Mr. Elton continues to annoy Emma with his solicitous behavior. Emma now notices that he is exhibiting "the pretense of being in love with her, instead of Harriet" and has to control her temper. With regard to Harriet's illness, he says that Emma is "so scrupulous for others ... and yet so careless for herself!" Before this conversation can get much further, John Knightley comes in to announce that it is snowing hard, says sarcastically, "Another hour or two's snow can hardly make the road impassible; and we are two carriages; if one is blown over ... there will be the other at hand ... I dare say we shall be all safe at Hartfield before midnight." The party decides to leave, and in the haste of trying to get home, John Knightley gets into Mr. Woodhouse's carriage with his wife, leaving Emma to travel alone with Mr. Elton, who seizes the opportunity to declare his love. When Emma brings up Harriet, he says, "Oh, Miss Woodhouse! Who can think of Miss Smith, when Miss Woodhouse is near!" Emma decisively turns him down. He claims that she gave him encouragement, and she vehemently denies it. They both are very angry and spend the rest of the ride in silence. Emma is relieved when she finally gets home.

Chapter 16

Alone at the end of the evening, Emma feels humiliated, but her worst pain is for Harriet as she realizes that "the effects of her blunders" are not "confined to herself." She begins to think back on the events of the imaginary courtship. She understands that she had not been able to look realistically at all the facts. Emma admits to herself that both Knightley brothers have more insight into the situation than she does. She feels angry that the vicar would have the audacity to "raise his eyes to her" in his ambition to marry well. She is provoked by the fact that he would consider himself her "equal in connection or mind" when he is so fine-tuned to "the gradations of rank below him." Moreover, "he must know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior ... that the Woodhouses have been settled for several generations in Hartfield, the younger branch of an ancient family—and that the Eltons were nobody." At the same time, she can see how he was misled by her behavior. She feels remorse for raising Harriet's hopes and dreads having to explain to her friend what has happened.

Analysis

In these chapters, Emma has her first epiphany, which starts her on the road to greater self-knowledge. A better understanding of her character results when Emma recognizes and accepts her flaws.

Before the party breaks up, Emma has begun to realize that Mr. Elton is flirting with her, and she finds his advances to be contemptible. She quickly gets up to get away from him and goes to sit with her sister. In her brother-in-law's haste to get home, however, she inadvertently becomes trapped inside a closed carriage with this abominable man, who then openly declares his love. Emma is further repelled that Harriet's supposed lover is proposing to her. In the most forceful tones she refuses him, and he is justifiably angry; from his perspective, she has given him a lot of encouragement. He cannot imagine how Emma misread his intentions.

When Emma is alone with her thoughts, she calls Mr. Elton "proud, assuming, conceited; very full of his own claims, and little concerned about the feelings of others," which might be true of Mr. Elton but is also true of Emma. She is proud and conceited in her anger toward Mr. Elton, who would dare consider himself her equal. Emma is shocked that Mr. Elton wants to marry well, but that is exactly what she wants for her friend Harriet. Finally, she accuses Mr. Elton of having little concern for the feeling of others, but Emma had no concern for Harriet's real feelings or for Mr. Martin's feelings as she ran roughshod over their budding courtship.

Clearly, Emma has a long way to go in developing self-knowledge and wisdom, but at least she can admit that she led Mr. Elton on. Most of all, Emma is concerned about how Harriet will suffer: "She might never have thought of him but for me, and certainly never have thought of him with hope, if I had not assured her of his attachment." Emma's remorse goes only so far, however, as she still believes that she was right to interfere with Harriet's engagement to Mr. Martin. But Emma also resolves to not do any more matchmaking. Thus, she has taken her first step on the road to maturity by acknowledging she is out of her depth in such matters.

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