Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 4 6 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 4–6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 4–6 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 4–6 (Volume 1, Chapters 4–6) | Summary



Chapter 4

Emma learns that Harriet spent two months with the Martins, yeoman farmers renting Mr. Knightley's land. As a result, Harriet has developed an attachment to the head of the family, 24-year-old Mr. Robert Martin, who provides for his mother and sisters. Harriet describes Mr. Martin as someone she no longer thinks of as plain, and when she asks Emma if she knows him, Emma superciliously replies, "A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the last person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do." Emma strongly discourages further acquaintanceship with a family she regards as socially inferior. She would like to see her friend "permanently well connected." Emma proposes the vicar, Mr. Elton, as the model of a gentleman and someone worthy of Harriet's consideration.

Chapter 5

Mr. Knightley tells Mrs. Weston (the former Miss Taylor) that he has reservations about the growing friendship between Emma and Harriet. Mrs. Weston defends Emma, saying that her former pupil may be inspired to do more reading if she intends to mentor Harriet, and that would be a good thing. But Mr. Knightley knows Emma well and recalls the many lists of books she has drawn up for the purpose of study—but never actually read. Mr. Knightley says Emma has never been forced to apply herself.

Rather than argue with Mr. Knightley, Mrs. Weston changes the subject and remarks on how pretty Emma looked the previous night. Mr. Knightley confesses that he has seldom seen "a face or figure more pleasing to me than her's. But I am a partial old friend." Mrs. Weston then assures him that Emma may have "little faults" but "she will never lead any one really wrong." Mr. Knightley responds with renewed concern, recalling Emma's declaration that she will never marry. He says, "I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good."

Chapter 6

Mr. Elton has entered into friendship with Harriet and Emma. He praises Emma for improving Harriet, while Emma stresses her friend's natural charm. To further interest Mr. Elton in Harriet, Emma hits on the idea of drawing Harriet's portrait, and Mr. Elton strongly encourages her. When Emma pulls out her portfolio, he praises her half-finished work, and when she begins drawing Harriet, he closely follows the progress of the drawing. When it is finished, he volunteers to take the sketch to London to get it framed.


Emma takes Harriet under her wing in large part to replace the new Mrs. Weston, whose marriage has left Emma upset. Emma's imagination is large, and she often confuses her fantasies with reality. She tells Harriet that she is a "gentleman's daughter" but has no rational reason to think so. The fact that Harriet is a parlor boarder who socializes with Mrs. Goddard's family means only that her benefactor is wealthy. Emma's idea is generated mostly by Harriet possession of a certain type of beauty that Emma admires. Emma's fantasy also fits with her plans to find a spouse for Mr. Elton, who is a gentleman in need of a wife. For this reason, Emma discourages Harriet's attachment to Mr. Martin and instead points her in the direction of the vicar.

Mr. Knightley knows Emma very well and understands the basis for Emma's new interest in Harriet. He warns Mrs. Weston that the friendship can come to no good. The two young women are poorly matched—in both social standing and intellect. He is dissuaded from taking the matter further when Mrs. Weston reminds him about Emma's good qualities.

Mr. Knightley's concern for Emma's future—and especially about whether she will marry—touches directly on an important theme in this novel, which is what the critic Ronald Blythe called "the marriage ordeal." Mr. Knightley openly admits to Mrs. Weston that he has a sincere interest in Emma. The age difference between them is 16 or 17 years, so he has known her since she was born. Early on, he was Emma's surrogate older brother, and now he has a closer tie with her by marriage. But he switches to third person when he says "one feels for Emma," perhaps to hide his feelings from Mrs. Weston and from himself. He has a deep well of empathy, so he feels for Emma in her situation, and he also cares for her, perhaps more than he'd like to admit. He clearly thinks she is beautiful, although he covers that by saying he is partial as an old friend. Finally, in his wish to see Emma in love and in some doubt of the other's feelings, he may be projecting onto Emma his own predicament. Emma clearly cares for him, but how much and in what way? Despite their difference in age and experience, both Emma and Mr. Knightley are single, and both have yet to go through the "marriage ordeal."

As Mr. Knightley ponders Emma's future, Emma is busy planning Harriet's, and it would appear that Mrs. Weston couldn't be more wrong in thinking Emma is harmless. She has invited Mr. Elton into her circle at Hartfield with the express purpose of engineering his attachment to her young friend. Mr. Elton is on his best and most chivalric behavior. He goes along with all of Emma's schemes, and he praises Harriet to please Emma, but he hovers near Emma while she draws Harriet's picture. When he volunteers to get the sketch framed, Emma thinks it is for love of Harriet, although her assumption is not entirely reasonable. He calls the sketch a "precious deposit" because Emma created it; he does not indicate that he values the model from which the sketch was made. Emma deliberately blinds herself to the likely object of his theatrical affection—a gentlewoman of means who can bring him up in the world.

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