Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 43 44 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapters 43–44

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 43–44 of Jane Austen's novel Emma.

Emma | Chapters 43–44 (Volume 3, Chapters 7–8) | Summary



Chapter 43

The Box Hill outing falters when people separate into parties. The Eltons are one party, the Westons and Mr. Woodhouse another. Mr. Knightley stays with Miss Bates and Jane, while Frank, Harriet, and Emma form their own party. Frank's bad mood infects Emma. While the parties attempt to mix, there seems to be a fundamental breach that cannot be mended. Frank begins openly flirting with Emma, and she responds to him mostly because she feels out of sorts. At one point he demands on her behalf that each person say either one thing that is clever, two things moderately clever, or three things that are dull. Miss Bates immediately says she will say three dull things as soon as she opens her mouth; Emma cannot resist and says, "Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once."

The Eltons walk off, and Frank says they are lucky that they suit one another, as it is not easy to tell a person's disposition when two people meet only briefly before marriage. "How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!" Jane answers, "There is time to recover from it afterward."

Miss Bates is very hurt by Emma's remarks about her dullness, and before the party breaks up, Mr. Knightley scolds Emma in strong terms for her cruelty. He tells her that to show such disrespect to an elder who suffers so much adversity does her no credit. Emma is immediately remorseful and begins crying when she gets in the carriage.

Chapter 44

Emma visit Miss Bates the next day to make amends for her behavior and finds that Jane is sick and will not see company. Miss Bates tells Emma that Jane has decided to take Mrs. Elton up on her offer of a post in the family of one of her acquaintances. She also learns that Frank has gone back to Richmond. Emma begins reflecting on Jane's situation versus Mrs. Churchill's and the huge power differential between them. That leads her to think of the pianoforte and all the nasty conjectures she has made, and she feels ashamed.


The Box Hill picnic brings Frank and Jane's relationship to a crisis and also is a turning point for Emma in terms of her character formation. She is destined to change from a superficial person to a mature gentlewoman of power and means who can take her place beside Mr. Knightley as a responsible grande dame. In Emma, social gatherings are symbolic of community cohesiveness, and everything goes wrong at Box Hill because friends and neighbors are harboring secrets and unresolved animosity. The Eltons are still very angry at Emma and Harriet. Frank and Jane are continuing what seems to be a very nasty lover's quarrel. Frank uses Emma to make Jane jealous by openly flirting with her. Emma senses that his flirtation has no meaning, but she is unaware that he is using her as a weapon. Frank exchanges angry words with Jane, inferring that he didn't really know who she was when he met her in Weymouth and that he was perhaps mistaken in falling in love. He implies that now that he knows her better, he might not want to spend the rest of his life with her. She answers that he certainly doesn't need to; he has plenty of time to withdraw from his commitment. Here, Jane is criticizing Frank for being weak and irresolute; their future together is being held hostage by his aunt, who arbitrarily orders him about.

Emma is certainly not positively influenced by the company she keeps, and Frank's nastiness rubs off on her at Box Hill, culminating in her insult of Miss Bates. Mr. Knightley is appalled by her bad behavior and feels it is his duty to call her on it. He says, "I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. ... were she your equal in situation—but Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. ... Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed!" Emma is mortified by her own behavior as Mr. Knightley holds the mirror up for her, and she is also sorry to have sunk so low in his estimation. Mr. Knightley's drubbing is just the shock she needs to set a new course. When she visits Miss Bates the next day to make amends, she is genuinely sorry. She wants to reach out to Jane too, but Jane refuses to come out of the bedroom. The intelligent Emma reflects on how one woman, Mrs. Churchill, gets to do whatever she wants because she is rich, while the other, Jane Fairfax, will be trapped forever by her economic circumstances and have few choices available to her.

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