Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 37 38 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 37–38

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 37–38 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 37–38 (Volume 3, Chapters 1–2) | Summary



Chapter 37

Emma realizes that whatever attachment she had to Frank has subsided, but she is worried about their meeting on his behalf. When he comes down to Highbury to see her and his other acquaintances, "she has no doubt as to his being less in love" as well. The Churchills move from London to Richmond because Mrs. Churchill cannot take the noise of London. Frank will now be only nine miles away from his friends. In Highbury, preparations for the ball resume.

Chapter 38

On the day of the ball, Mrs. Elton claims the privilege of leading in the dancers with Mr. Weston. Mr. Knightley stands aside, not dancing, and as Emma watches him from the floor, the narrator says, "His tall, firm, upright figure ... was such as Emma felt must draw every body's eyes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared to him." At one point, Harriet is without a partner, and Mrs. Weston sees Mr. Elton free and urges him to ask her to dance. Mr. Elton deliberately snubs Harriet, but Mr. Knightley comes to her rescue by dancing with her. Emma and Harriet are both grateful. Later, Mr. Knightley reminds Emma that she wanted Mr. Elton to marry her friend. Emma says, "Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?" Mr. Knightley answers that her serious spirit keeps her on track. He also allows that "Harriet has some first-rate qualities which Mrs. Elton is totally without." Then the two dance together.


When Frank returns to Highbury he is more subdued, probably because he is feeling some frustration about his relationship with Jane, which he is still hiding from his relatives and the world. Perhaps he also realized, during his last leave-taking, that Emma could have misconstrued his attentions, so he is being more careful. This may be why Emma perceives him as being "less in love" with her. On her side, enough time has passed (two months) for her to return to normal. A flirtation is fun and raises a person's self-esteem, but she knows she is not in love. Yet she senses some crisis is brewing—she just doesn't know from what quarter it will come.

Emma is slowly coming to terms with her feelings for Mr. Knightley. He smiles at her whenever he catches her eye, and the non-verbal communication that passes between them shows how much they are in sympathy. When Emma speaks to Mr. Knightley after supper, he asks her why the Eltons are her enemy, and when she makes no answer, it is clear that he can guess why. In the course of their conversation, Emma admits how wrong she was about Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley admits that Harriet is a better woman than he gave her credit for. Emma points out that they are not brother and sister and they ought to dance, which indicates that Mr. Knightley is changing categories in her mind.

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