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Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 41 42 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 41–42

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 41–42 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 41–42 (Volume 3, Chapters 5–6) | Summary



Chapter 41

Mr. Knightley suspects Frank of "some double dealing in his pursuit of Emma," as well as "an inclination to trifle with Jane Fairfax." During a group walk, Frank lets one of Jane's confidences slip, attributing it to Mrs. Weston. When the gathering goes indoors, Frank plays a word game with Emma and Jane. For Jane, he jumbles the letters for "blunder," referring to his slip of the tongue. For Emma, he jumbles the letters for "Dixon," and when she spells it out, he shows it to Jane, who gets angry. When everyone leaves, Mr. Knightley asks Emma the meaning of the word game, but she evades his question. He reveals to her his suspicions about Frank and Jane, but Emma tells him with great confidence that he is mistaken, and he becomes very irritated by her attitude and leaves abruptly.

Chapter 42

The Highbury gentry decide to combine forces for a picnic to Box Hill, which is postponed because a carriage horse goes lame. After Mrs. Elton complains, Mr. Knightley suggests everyone come to Donwell Abbey instead to pick strawberries. The horse heals, so the Box Hill outing is planned for the following day. At Donwell Abbey, Emma admires the majesty of Knightley's estate. She then encounters a distraught Jane, who plans to leave early and walk home alone. Emma at first insists on a carriage, but then she agrees to Jane's decision to leave by herself. At the last minute, Frank shows up and seems to be in a bad mood.


Once again Frank's carelessness and malice, which masquerades as high spirits, is on display in his treatment of Emma and Jane. When the Highbury party are out walking, he mentions that Mr. Perry may be thinking of setting up a carriage, but this information is private and has been revealed by Mrs. Coles only to the Bates women and Jane. Clearly Frank has heard the news from Jane. Rather than feel embarrassed about his slip, he asks Emma for the box of letters her nephews use to play a word game, and when he gives Jane "blunder" to spell, he is apologizing for his mistake somewhat publicly and assumes no one will catch his meaning. Not to leave Emma out, he gives her "Dixon" to spell, but if that weren't bad enough, he shows the word to Jane, who understandably becomes angry. How much has he told her about Emma's suppositions about her and Mr. Dixon? Probably quite a lot. In a sense, he is making fun of both Emma and Jane.

Mr. Knightley is now aware that Frank has been communicating nonverbally with Jane in public gatherings, and he must wonder how much Emma knows about it. This is why he asks her about the word game. This word game, as well as the earlier one that Mr. Elton plays with Emma, symbolizes the misunderstandings people have because of a lack of communication—which is either inadvertent or deliberate. The games also represent the emotional games people play with one another's feelings. When Emma so adamantly denies Mr. Knightley's suspicions about Jane and Frank, he gets aggravated because she is pompous in her answer, accusing him of letting his imagination wander. She implies that she is entirely in Frank's confidence, and this annoys Mr. Knightley, first because he knows she is wrong and doesn't want to see her get hurt, and second because he is jealous.

By the time Highbury's residents come to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries, things have heated up between Jane and Frank. A very angry and upset Jane leaves early, and when Frank comes from his aunt's he seems angry. Clearly a lover's quarrel has taken place, although nobody recognizes it as such. Meanwhile, Emma, like a typical Austenian heroine, has her moment when she views Knightley's estate: "It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive." Emma doesn't know it yet, but someday she will be mistress of all that she sees.

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