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Emma | Chapters 34–36 (Volume 2, Chapters 16–18) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34

It is Emma's turn to host the Eltons for dinner, and because Harriet has asked to be excluded from the festivities, Emma invites Jane in order to make an even number of guests. During pre-dinner conversation, John Knightley, who is visiting Hartfield with his children, remarks to Jane that he saw her out in the rain earlier. Jane says she went to the post office. The two exchange conversation about whether letters are worth that much trouble, and Jane says that when the people one cares for are far away, a post office has the power to draw a person out in the worst weather. Soon everyone is eavesdropping on the conversation. Mrs. Elton insists that one of her men fetch Jane's letters and bring them to her in the future. Jane says that it is too much trouble and changes the subject. Emma witnesses the exchange, and her mind goes to Mr. Dixon, especially since Jane has the demeanor of somebody who has heard good news.

Chapter 35

After dinner, Jane grows uncomfortable when the topic turns to her plans to go out as a governess. While Jane is not yet interested in finding a position, Mrs. Elton insists on using her high-flown connections to begin looking for a situation in a good family. She says Jane needs to think about it, as it is already April. Jane says she will find a place when the time comes.

Mr. Weston arrives late because he had business in town (London). He is carrying a letter from Frank, which he has opened. He is elated because the Churchills will be making an extended visit to town, putting Frank within visiting range. Emma finds herself feeling agitated by the news, although she is not entirely sure why.

Chapter 36

As the dinner party winds down, Mr. Weston and Mrs. Elton speak at cross-purposes. Mr. Weston expresses the desire that Mrs. Elton will one day meet his son and talks about how Frank's aunt uses her sickness to manipulate his son. Mrs. Elton takes Mrs. Churchill's part so she can pivot the conversation back to her own family and talk about her sister. Mr. Weston notes that Frank's aunt has "out-Churchill'd them all in high and mighty claims: but in herself, I assure you, she is an upstart." Mrs. Elton voices her own horror of upstarts, and Mr. Weston moves away at the first opportunity.

John Knightley takes his leave of the party; he is heading back to London and leaving his two eldest boys behind in care of their aunt. He asks Emma if she can quite manage them, now that she has become a social butterfly, and she responds that she is more than up for the job, even as the elder Mr. Knightley playfully offers to take them off her hands.

Analysis

These chapters on Emma's dinner party for the Eltons provide another view of Jane Fairfax and Mr. Weston, as well as more comic relief with the antics of Mrs. Elton. Jane has clearly been suffering from separation from a loved one, and when John Knightley gently questions her about her reasons for going out in the rain to fetch the mail, her eyes well up with tears. Jane shows her strength of character when she vigorously rebuffs Mrs. Elton twice—once when she insists that she will collect her own letters, and a second time when she stresses that she is not ready to look for a job yet. But Jane also shows her bitterness about her fate, comparing the governess trade to the slave trade. Although she is secretly engaged to Frank, she doesn't know whether they will ever be able to marry. Like other middle-class women, she considers having to teach other people's children in other people's homes a kind of purgatory. Governesses had no real place in society, as they were neither part of the family nor accepted by the servants. They had no job security and often had to move from job to job as children grew up.

Mr. Weston is overjoyed that his son is coming back, but he expresses a deep resentment of Mrs. Churchill, whom he feels does her best to keep his son away from him. He says she is a snob and an upstart, which might be true, but to some degree he values the things she values. Perhaps if he himself had not been so anxious to raise his status in society, he would have held onto his child and made the best of a difficult situation. Both he and Frank would have suffered financially if he had made that choice, but at least they would have been together. The reader can't help but wonder if a lot of Mr. Weston's pride in Frank stems from the fact that Frank has become a gentleman of a higher class than his father, which is entirely a result of his adoption by the Churchills. Mr. Weston may have, in essence, gotten what he asked for.

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