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Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 39 40 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 39–40

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 39–40 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 39–40 (Volume 3, Chapters 3–4) | Summary



Chapter 39

Emma reflects on what happened at the ball and concludes that "Mr. Elton was not the superior creature she had believed him." Her reverie is interrupted when Frank walks in with a fainting Harriet. He says he came upon her just in time to rescue her from a band of gypsies demanding money. When Harriet recovers, Emma's mind jumps to the romantic possibilities of Frank's chivalrous rescue, but she promises herself not to attempt any more schemes on Harriet's behalf.

Chapter 40

A few days later, Harriet comes to Emma with a parcel of keepsakes. These pathetic treasures include a piece of court plaster (a type of sticky plaster applied to superficial wounds) that Mr. Elton had fidgeted with and a pencil stub without lead that he had discarded. She tells her friend that she plans to burn these mementos. Harriet says she will never marry, but she confesses that she now has feelings for another man who is out of her reach. Neither woman names the man, but Emma believes it is Frank Churchill. She advises Harriet to be cautious.


When Harriet is attacked by the gypsies, Frank shows some chivalry, and once again Emma's imagination goes into overdrive. Old habits die hard, but at least Emma decides not to take an active part in putting them together.

When Harriet comes to Emma to burn her cherished mementos, Emma feels shame, wonder, and amusement, the narrator says. But she is relieved that Harriet is ready to move on from Mr. Elton. When Harriet says she shall never marry, Emma realizes that the new man she is pining for is out of her social reach. This time Harriet is cognizant of the distance between herself and her beloved. Emma's mind jumps to Frank, but Harriet is talking about someone else.

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