Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 47 48 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 47–48 (Volume 3, Chapters 11–12) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 47

Emma suffers pangs of remorse as she thinks about how she led her friend Harriet astray for a second time. She remembers Mr. Knightley's accusation that she is no friend to Harriet Smith. Emma is more angry with herself than she is at Frank. She also realizes that Jane's avoidance of her over the past several months was because of jealousy, but at least she can put her mind to rest about Jane's troubles, which seem to be coming to an end.

With trepidation, Emma approaches Harriet to tell her about the engagement, but her friend has already heard. Harriet reveals that she is in love not with Frank but with Mr. Knightley, who rescued her on the dance floor. Emma has a sudden epiphany that "Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!" She realizes that she alone is responsible for Harriet's having "the presumption to raise her thoughts to Mr. Knightley!" Emma does not reveal her feelings to Harriet but instead asks her if she has any reason to hope. Harriet claims that Mr. Knightley has been paying more attention to her, and Emma has to concede that she is not wrong. She only hopes that Harriet has not captured Mr. Knightley's heart.

Chapter 48

Emma continues to ruminate on how her happiness depends on her being loved by Mr. Knightley. Emma feels that perhaps she has endangered that love with her treatment of Miss Bates. Or perhaps Harriet has already captured his heart.

Mrs. Weston interrupts Emma's thoughts with a visit. She is just back from speaking with Jane, who told Mrs. Weston how much she suffered through the secret engagement. Jane apologizes for her aloof behavior and also conveys her thanks to Emma for her kindness during her illness. These revelations are additional reasons for Emma to feel humiliation and remorse for her own bad behavior toward Jane.

Analysis

Emma has come to the place in her story where the chickens come home to roost. At first she is relieved to hear that Harriet is not pining for Frank, but when Harriet tells her who she is in love with, Emma is astonished. Not only does she suddenly realize she is in love with Mr. Knightley herself, but she also sees how improperly she has been acting with Harriet. "What blindness, what madness, had led her on! It struck her with a dreadful force, and she was ready to give it every bad name in the world." Critic Barbara Thaden has called Frank Churchill another parody of Emma, as they are both privileged people who toy with other people's emotions. Frank spent a lot of the time in Hartfield trifling with Jane and Emma, and in some ways he treated them as his playthings. Emma did a similar thing to Harriet, taking her on as a project, deciding the trajectory that her life would take, interfering in the natural course of her relationship with Robert Martin, and deciding whom she should and should not socialize with and how far she might look above her station to make an advantageous match. Certainly, Emma wants Harriet to look above her, but not so high as Mr. Knightley.

After Emma leaves Harriet, she wonders how she got to such a place, recognizing "the blindness of her own head and heart." She wonders how long Mr. Knightley has held his primary place in her heart. She realizes that her pretense that this was not the case has been a delusion, and in fact she was never in love with Frank. Moreover, if she hadn't brought Harriet into her life, she would have nothing to fear from her with regard to Mr. Knightley.

A combination of loneliness and ennui, along with an excess of pride, condescension, and imagination, put Emma on a path to take Harriet as her pet project and attempt to improve her and "marry her up." But why has Emma hidden from herself her true feelings about Mr. Knightley? Perhaps partially because he is so much a part of her and who she is that she has taken their love for granted, like the air that she breathes. Another reason may be that, as a proud and independent woman, she does not wish to go through the marriage ordeal. Whenever there is strong love and attachment, and especially when it is accompanied by sexual love, both parties must be willing to give themselves up. And traditionally—and most definitely for a woman in the Regency era—loving a man means sacrificing one's own selfhood and independence. The romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley provides a lot of latitude for Emma, but it is still not a union between equals. Emma knows that when she surrenders to the marriage ordeal, she will be permanently transformed. No doubt there will be many ways in which love and marriage will improve Emma, but she will lose a part of herself when she becomes Mrs. George Knightley.

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