Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 32 33 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 32–33 (Volume 2, Chapters 14–15) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 32

Mr. Elton returns to Highbury a married man, and Emma is obliged to pay a social call, taking Harriet along to get the first awkward visit out of the way. Emma immediately has a bad impression of the bride but reserves judgment. When the bride pays a visit to Hartfield, Emma confirms that Mrs. Elton is "a vain woman, extremely well satisfied with herself, and thinking much of her own importance." Mrs. Elton brags about her rich brother-in-law, Mr. Suckling, who has a country seat very like Hartfield, she says, and a barouche-landau, the Cadillac of carriages. Mrs. Elton begins dispensing unsolicited advice, such as that Mr. Woodhouse should try Bath to improve his health and that Emma should accompany him so that she may be introduced to Mrs. Elton's acquaintance. Emma is also annoyed by Mrs. Elton's condescending appraisals of the Hartfield gentry, and by the end of the evening she pronounces the woman "insufferable."

Chapter 33

Emma continues to dislike the Eltons, and they return the favor, venting their animosity by treating Harriet poorly. After being rebuffed by Emma, Mrs. Elton attaches herself to Jane as a self-appointed mentor. "I am a great advocate for timidity," Mrs. Elton says.

Emma, Mrs. Weston, and Mr. Knightley speculate about why Jane has accepted the attentions of the odious Mrs. Elton. In the course of the conversation, Mr. Knightley's admiration of Jane is evident, and Emma remarks on it. At first he thinks she is trying to match him with Jane, and he tells Emma that Jane is not his type because she is too reserved. Emma "could not but rejoice to hear that [Jane] had a fault." Mrs. Weston, however, remains unconvinced by his denials.

Analysis

Emma shows some maturity in not holding a grudge against Mr. Elton over their mutual misunderstanding. She is ready to begin with a clean slate, and though she initially has a bad impression of the vicar's new wife, she resolves to give her a chance. Mrs. Elton is so thoroughly obnoxious, however, that Emma pulls back from extending her friendship. Some critics have identified Mrs. Elton as a caricature of Emma. She is a more extreme version of Emma's snobbery and condescension, although she lacks what Mr. Knightley will later call Emma's "serious" side, a depth of character that has not been well-developed, because of her faulty upbringing.

Mrs. Elton is a comic figure; she, who is so overbearing, claims to be a great admirer of timidity. She drops a reference to her sister's barouche landau into as many sentences as possible to remind people how rich her sister's husband is. Meanwhile, his name is Mr. Suckling, and the reader cannot but think of a suckling pig every time she mentions him.

When Emma's friends puzzle over why Jane has accepted Mrs. Elton's friendship, Mrs. Weston mentions that her aunt must become very tiresome after a while, and Mr. Knightley indirectly reproaches Emma by saying that Jane doesn't have a lot of friends to choose from. Emma is not completely convinced that Mr. Knightley is uninterested in Jane, and she asks him point blank. At first he is embarrassed because he thinks she is up to her old matchmaking tricks, but when it becomes apparent it is a real question that touches upon her feelings, he straightforwardly tells her he has no interest. This is in keeping with Mr. Knightley's upright nature. It would not occur to him to try to make Emma jealous by feigning affection for someone else.

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