Literature Study GuidesEmmaChapters 49 50 Summary

Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Emma | Chapters 49–50 (Volume 3, Chapters 13–14) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 49

Mr. Knightley returns from London to console Emma for what he imagines is a broken heart. Emma lets him know that she is aware of the engagement and is not distressed, and in his relief he calls Frank "a disgrace to the name of man" and expresses his fear for Jane's happiness. Emma further explains her initial attraction to Frank—he was nearby, he was the stepson of Mrs. Weston, and he flattered her vanity—but that she was never attached to him. Mr. Knightley reiterates that he never liked Frank and claims that he is an extremely fortunate young man whom everyone wants to forgive. Emma says he sounds like he envies Frank, and Mr. Knightley answers that indeed he does. Mr. Knightley prods Emma to ask him why he is envious, but she fears to hear, thinking he wants to confess his love for Harriet. When she sees he is mortified, she tells him to continue, and she will listen as a friend. He then confesses his feelings and says, "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." Emma happily accepts Mr. Knightley's declaration of love and does not tell him why she hesitated. On his side, he is overjoyed that she does not love Frank after all, and is still "his own Emma."

Chapter 50

Emma writes a letter to Harriet to inform her that she is engaged to Mr. Knightley and plans to arrange a visit to London for Harriet with Emma's sister, Isabella. Emma is worried not only about Harriet's response to the news, but also about Mr. Woodhouse's: "She hardly knew yet what Mr. Knightley would ask; but a very short parley with her own heart produced the most solemn resolution of never quitting her father." After she spends some time with Mr. Knightley and he leaves, Emma gets a letter from Mrs. Weston, which is Frank's promised letter to his stepmother.

In the letter, Frank asks forgiveness, alluding to why he had to keep the engagement a secret. He says he thought Emma suspected his attachment to Jane, and, in any case, he sensed that she had no strong feeling for him. He relates that he quarreled with Jane, first at Donwell Abbey and then again at Box Hill, over his attentions to Emma and his lack of discretion. He claims he doubted Jane's love for him, which is why he behaved so badly at the Box Hill picnic. Jane then wrote to him to break off the engagement, but in the turmoil of his aunt's death, he did not post his response. When he received his parcel of letters back from Jane, he realized she was leaving him and had applied for a job as a governess, and that is when he asked for his uncle's blessing.

Analysis

Slowly the knot of misunderstanding is being unraveled. Mr. Knightley lets Emma know that he has come to comfort her, and she tells him the absolute truth—that she doesn't care for Frank and never did. This allows him to open up to her about his own feelings. Emma at first fears he will tell her about his feelings for Harriet, but her love for him overrides her own painful doubts, and so he is able to confess how he feels. Mr. Knightley is not entirely without blame in their misunderstandings. On the one hand, Emma knows that he loves her, but on the other, he has not made it clear that he is interested. He has not given her any conventional, outward signs that he is courting her or has any intentions of doing so. He would have done better, perhaps, to scold her less and allow her to be privy to his feelings more, especially when Frank came into the picture.

Frank's letter shows he has not changed at all nor learned any lessons. He begs for everyone's forgiveness, but his apologies are more a matter of form than substance. By now he must know that Emma had no idea he was attached to Jane, and yet he says in his letter he was sure she had some knowledge of his feelings and speaks of his assumptions as if they are matters of fact. He claims he thought Jane did not care about him because of her reserve, but that's hard to believe considering he was the one who imposed the rules of secrecy on their relations. More realistically, he got angry with Jane because he did not get his way in the moment. To punish her, he acted abominably at Box Hill and then expected her to "make the first advances." When he left Highbury and she broke off the engagement, he wrote back but misplaced his response, which seems an act of carelessness. All in all, his letter is a rationalization, not an apology, and it remains unconvincing.

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