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Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 17 18 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 17–18

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 17–18 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 17–18 (Volume 1, Chapters 17–18) | Summary



Chapter 17

When the weather clears, the Knightleys leave and Mr. Elton sends a note to Mr. Woodhouse, saying he is going to Bath for a few weeks to spend time with friends. Emma summons her courage to visit Harriet and tell her about the disastrous proposal. She is mortified by Harriet's grief, abundant and genuine, and thinks that she herself would do better to be more like her artless friend. Still, the narrator ironically comments, "It was rather too late in the day to set about being simple-minded and ignorant; but she left her with every previous resolution confirmed of being humble and discreet, and repressing imagination all the rest of her life." Emma sees it as her duty to comfort Harriet, and she moves Harriet to Hartfield so she can spend most of her time there. Emma at first thinks Harriet will easily get over Mr. Elton, but the younger woman proves herself "more resolutely in love than Emma had foreseen."

Chapter 18

Following upon Mr. Elton's departure, Highbury learns that Frank's visit has been postponed for the usual reasons (his aunt's interference). Emma is too distracted by her own troubles to care much about Frank's doings. When she relates the news to Mr. Knightley, he criticizes Frank for neglecting his duty to his father and new stepmother. His opinion is that Frank falls short of many virtues. Emma defends Frank. She says he has been under the control of the Churchills for so long that it might be hard to change. Mr. Knightley's prejudice surprises Emma, as he is usually more open-minded.


Emma exhibits courage in handling her confession to Harriet, although she doesn't tell anyone else what has happened, keeping at least part of her humiliation hidden. When she witnesses Harriet's response, she is impressed with her pure emotion and thinks she should imitate Harriet. Thus, Emma expresses some genuine humility, which is followed by the realization that her imagination is what got her into hot water. Emma naturally thinks that Mr. Elton's rejection will be enough to extinguish Harriet's feelings for the vicar, but she is not so easily changed, no doubt because Mr. Elton has become for her a projected ideal of the perfect husband. This is a psychological insight that Emma is too immature to grasp.

Because Emma is busy keeping up the appearance of being her normal self, she exhibits an exaggerated concern about Frank and the Westons, which is at least partially the basis for her quarrel with Mr. Knightley. But there is an underlying and unconscious sexual tension in their relationship, and perhaps they like to argue with each other. The argument displays the wit and intelligence of both parties, as Mr. Knightley makes fun of Frank, saying that the amiable young man can be amiable only in French, meaning that he is superficial like the French and has no real depth to his apparent good nature.

Mr. Knightley's appraisal of Frank may be extreme because he is jealous that Emma feels kindly disposed toward him. At the same time, Mr. Knightley clearly states common views about what constitutes manly virtues. His name is Knightley for a reason; he is the embodiment of English chivalry and, even with his flaws, a paragon of English manliness. He is rich and powerful, but he understands that this means he has duties to the other people in his community and that a man shows his strength by facing up to his responsibilities.

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