Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 26 28 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 26–28 (Volume 2, Chapters 8–10) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26

Emma arrives at the Coles' party at the same moment as Mr. Knightley, who is uncharacteristically in a carriage. Emma observes that Mr. Knightley usually travels on foot. At dinner, people are gossiping about a surprise gift of a pianoforte received by Jane Fairfax, an accomplished musician. Emma is sitting next to Frank and tells him the gift may be from Mr. Dixon. Mrs. Weston mentions that Mr. Knightley brought his carriage to escort Jane home and speculates that he might be the one who gifted Jane the piano, but Emma dismisses the idea of any attachment. When the rest of the guests arrive after dinner, she and Jane are asked to play, and Frank sings with both women. Emma notices Mr. Knightley paying a lot of attention to Jane. When the dancing starts and Mr. Knightley does not ask Jane to dance, Emma feels relieved.

Chapter 27

The next day, Emma basks in the afterglow of the party but feels uneasy about "betraying her suspicions of Jane Fairfax's feelings [for Mr. Dixon] to Frank Churchill." Harriet tells her that the Coles mentioned that the Cox daughters are interested in Mr. Martin. Emma dismisses them as "vulgar girls" and accompanies Harriet on a shopping trip in the village. They run into Mrs. Weston and Frank, who are on their way to visit the Bates women. Miss Bates then appears and asks Emma and Harriet to join them at her apartment when they finish shopping. Before they part ways, Miss Bates begins a long, disjointed monologue and happens to mention that Mr. Knightley has kindly sent the last of his apples for Jane.

Chapter 28

Emma and Harriet go to the Bates women's apartment, where guests have gathered to look at the new pianoforte. Frank flirts openly with Emma and surreptitiously with Jane, reminding her of music they heard together at Weymouth. When Jane blushes, Emma thinks it is because Frank has mentioned that Jane's benefactor sent Irish melodies (alluding to Mr. Dixon). Mr. Knightley happens to pass by, and Miss Bates invites him in. He declines when she mentions Frank is present. Miss Bates comically carries on a loud conversation with Mr. Knightley that all can hear.

Analysis

These three chapters highlight how misunderstandings can multiply when people misread the intent of others' actions. Because Jane is in delicate health, Mr. Knightley brings his carriage to take her home from the party. When he finds out that Jane likes apples and that the Bates family has almost exhausted their supply, he sends his remaining apples of the season to them without saving any for himself. At the party, Emma attributes Mr. Knightley's kindness with the carriage to his natural consideration of others, but Mrs. Weston says, "You give him credit for more simple disinterested benevolence in this instance than I do. ... In short, I have made a match between Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax." Emma is appalled by such an idea because she is possessive of Mr. Knightley, whom she considers to be part of her family. Emma takes his proximity for granted and does not admit, even to herself, how deeply she cares for him. Later, she engages him on the matter of the pianoforte and finds out that he disapproves of the fact that the gift was given in secret. This knowledge brings her some relief.

Emma continues to build her fantasy about Jane and Mr. Dixon, sharing her speculation about the pianoforte with Frank at dinner. Frank encourages her misdirection because he is the one who actually sent Jane the instrument. Meanwhile, he keeps up the pretense of being disinterested in Jane and comes to sit next to Emma. Thus, Frank begins using Emma to hide the real object of his affection.

When Emma sees Frank and Jane at the pianoforte the next day, she completely misreads what is going on. Her envious feelings toward Jane cause her to apply the worst motives to her rival. When Frank asks Jane to play a waltz, she blushes because she is remembering how they danced to the tune in Weymouth. He then points out the Irish music that was sent along with the piano, noting that the sender was considerate to include music with the instrument. Jane blushes again because she knows who the sender is. Frank takes a perverse pleasure in playing this double game with the two women, in which neither perceives the messages he is sending the other. Frank knows very well that Emma will think he is teasing Jane about Mr. Dixon, but of course he is not. It is surprising, given his love for Jane, that Frank has no compunction about allowing Emma to think Jane has such a low character—to be in love with a married man and then to relish a gift that was supposedly sent by him. Frank's attitude is a mark of disrespect toward both women. The effect of Frank's upbringing may be at work here, as he was essentially abandoned by his father to an overbearing and dictatorial mother who constricted his ability to grow as an independent man.

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